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How ISIS’s Brutal Project in the Middle East was Finally Overthrown

Tue, 2019-03-26 16:04

Jawad Shaar • CC BY 4.0

Up to its dying days the self-declared Islamic State has retained the ability to top the news agenda, even as its fighters were losing their last battle for bomb-shattered villages in the deserts of eastern Syria. When their spokesman promised retaliation for the massacre of Muslims in the Christchurch mosques his threat was taken seriously.

Given the record of Isis atrocities it is not surprising that nobody can discount its ability to exact revenge through existing adherents, new converts or those using its name to spread terror. This is not just western paranoia: in Syria and Iraq people speak continually of Isis sleeper cells waiting to emerge and exact revenge.

There is a largely sterile debate about whether or not Isis – whose territory once stretched from the outskirts of Baghdad to the hills overlooking the Mediterranean – is dead and buried, as Donald Trump claims. Could it be reborn if the pressure against it is relaxed? The answer is simple enough: Isis is defeated as a state apparatus that once ruled eight million people, but it can persist as a terrorist and guerrilla organisation.

I was in Baghdad in June 2014 when Isis was advancing south towards the capital, capturing cities and towns like Tikrit and Baiji with scarcely a shot being fired. The rout of the Iraqi army seemed total and for several days there was no defensive lines between us and Isis advance patrols. As many as 1,700 Shia air force cadets were massacred amid the ruins of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces on the banks of the Tigris river near Tikrit.

Isis had 100 days of stunning victories in Iraq and Syria but its emirs were never to reach the same level of success again. Instead of focusing all their forces on seizing Baghdad, they moved north and attacked the autonomous and near independent Iraqi Kurdish enclave. The US and its allies started using their devastating air power. If Isis ever had a chance of complete victory, it came and went very quickly.

The success of its blitzkrieg tactics in 2014 depended in part on Isis’s ability to spread terror through the internet by broadcasting its atrocities. Iraqi families would watch them and tell their soldier sons to desert the army and keep out of the fighting. The unexpected capture of Mosul in 2014 gave the impression to many Sunni Arabs in Iraq and Syria that the forces of the newly declared caliphate were divinely inspired. Isis commanders certainly believed this.

But now with obliteration on the battlefield Isis can no longer make any convincing claim for divine inspiration or support. One of the great attractions of Isis – that it had almost magical powers guaranteeing victory – has gone. For the eight million Iraqi and Syrians whom Isis once controlled, its rule brought nothing but death and destruction. Almost all of Raqqa, its Syrian de facto capital, and much of Mosul, its Iraqi counterpart, are in ruins. Tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs in both countries have died in the relentless US-led bomb and artillery bombardments that finally overwhelmed Isis defences.

But could the thousands of dispersed Isis fighters that the Pentagon says are hiding out in the vast deserts and semi-deserts between Syria and Iraq reorganise and stage a convincing counter-attack? After all, the US “Surge” in Iraq in between 2007 and 2009 was trumpeted at the time as marking the final defeat of al-Qaeda in there, which was Isis under another name. Isis commanders are reported to draw inspiration from that period, arguing that they have come back before and they will do so again.

It is not very likely that favourable circumstances will once more combine in such a way that Isis could relaunch itself. It has lost the advantage of surprise and has too many enemies who may not like each other but know what Isis can do given half a chance. In 2014 it enjoyed a certain tolerance and even support from Sunni states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar which is no longer there.

But this not quite the same as saying that Isis is finished. The deserts of Syria and Iraq are vast and impossible to police in their entirety. Occupation forces, be they Kurds in Raqqa or Iraqi Shia troops in Sunni parts of Iraq, are resented and often hated by Sunni Arabs and Isis could benefit from their disaffection. And even if Isis does not regain such popularity as it once enjoyed in these places, its reputation for homicidal fury means that it does not have to do very much to spread terror.

Isis as Isis has probably had its day. But could it transmute into something else? The defeat of Isis does not mean the defeat of al-Qaeda of which Isis was only a single clone. In north-west Syria Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), despite several changes of name, has been for over a year the largest jihadi or al-Qaeda type movement in the country. In western Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo provinces it has displaced other armed opposition groups. It now may have as many as 50,000 fighters and control three million people. HTS might also establish itself as an ally of Turkey in northern Syria which would allow the al-Qaeda brand to live on.

But one should not let such possibilities to run riot and pretend that the old al-Qaeda formula of making war – with suicide attacks as acts of faith – has the destructive power it once did. President Trump is largely right in his claims that Islamic State is destroyed – even if he is grossly, even ludicrously, inflating his own role in its demise.

 

Categories: News for progressives

To Celebrate or to Not? The Mueller Question

Tue, 2019-03-26 16:02

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Finally, it’s over. Well, sort of, anyway. Late Sunday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr released his much-anticipated summary of Bob Mueller’s Russia investigation. The big news, of course, was that nobody in Trump’s orbit “knowingly” coordinated with Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election. Trump won’t be charged with obstruction of justice and not a single American was indicted for conspiracy.

To the delight of Russiagate skeptics, it was a complete vindication. To the dismay of the liberal establishment and MSDNC — who all cashed in on the chaos — it was an enormous letdown.

Much of the celebration, however, took on a twisted form. Matt Taibbi was the most contorted, writing in a column that, “WMD was a pimple compared to Russiagate. The sheer scale of the errors and exaggerations this time around dwarfs the last mess.”

There’s no question Russiagate was a colossal abstraction, but comparing Russia-mania to the WMD deception, which led to an illegal war that killed a half million people while germinating ISIS, was a depraved mischaracterization.

The Intercept‘s $500,000 man Glenn Greenwald wasn’t far behind Taibbi’s glee, exclaiming on Democracy Now! that the last two years was “the saddest media spectacle I’ve ever seen.” Like Taibbi, Greenwald appears to have a memory lapse, forgetting just how culpable mainstream media was in perpetuating the lies that led us into the bloody war on Iraq. Maybe we should cut him some slack. It could just be that Greenwald wasn’t keeping tabs on the media’s mishaps back then, as he never abandoned his “trust in the Bush administration,” and accepted Bush’s “judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.”

Yes, Glenn, Russiagate was bad, but it didn’t lead us into an endless string of wars in the Middle East. Just a reminder, millions of us were ahead of the curve in opposing the fucking monstrosity and we never for a second bought Bush’s bullshit lies.

Greenwald’s childish delight was also contradictory. The same report he glorified in exonerating Trump on collusion matters also found that Russia attempted to “conduct disinformation and social media operations” in an attempt to interfere with the 2016 election. A part of that effort, claims Mueller, was the hack of the Democratic Party by the Russian government that included caches of emails from John Podesta and the DNC, which were later handed over to Wikileaks and trusted journalists like Greenwald at The Intercept. As Barr’s summary notes:

“The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including Wikileaks.”

Let’s break it down. According to Mueller, Wikileaks along with Greenwald, were spoon-fed Democratic emails that were hacked by Russian operatives in the form of Guccifer 2.0 that were intended to damage Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. One doesn’t have to be a fan on Hillary to understand the motives and implications behind Russia’s alleged disruption campaign, but a transparent journalist, at least in hindsight, would be honest about their source’s motives as well as the timing of the dump, which happened at the same moment Trump’s p-grabbing tape from Access Hollywood hit the airwaves. Yet, Greenwald is cherishing the portion of Mueller’s report that claims there was no collusion while ignoring the Russian meddling charge, specifically his role in the matter. Don’t expect that to change. If Greenwald were to ponder whether or not Mueller’s team got it right on the DNC hack, it would throw the veracity of the whole report into question.

For the record, as many of our readers know, CounterPunch was also a target of alleged Russian interference in the form of the fictitious reporter Alice Donovan, who was directly named in Mueller’s July indictment. Donovan was accused by Mueller as having been the first persona to promote the DCLeaks project around social media. We published one story by Donovan during the election on cyber-warfare. Even though we were catfished, we were skeptical early on of the real intent of the Russia fixation and opted to reserve judgment on the Mueller report until it was wrapped up.

There’s no doubt Russiagate infected many liberal minds that obsessed over the prospect of Trump as a Russian agent beholden to Putin’s masculine appeal. The most pompous among them was Rachel Maddow, who, during a six-week stretch in 2017, covered Russiagate more than all other news topics combined. Maddow’s fear-mongering delirium only served as a 24/7 distraction to Trump’s much more tangible crimes. It was all by design, as Maddow’s sky-high ratings kept her show smoldering atop the stinky pile of cable news punditry.

Unfortunately, Russiagate isn’t likely to die a slow death. Wikileaks, who Mueller says played a role in disseminating the Democrats’ hacked emails, is still under investigation. The Julian Assange saga, whose indictment appears to be under seal, doesn’t look to be ending soon either. Chelsea Manning remains in solitary confinement for refusing a grand jury subpoena that’s tied to the Fed’s investigation of Assange. And on Monday, the Supreme Court decided it would not hear a challenge by an unknown foreign financial institution that’s fighting a Mueller subpoena. Then there is Michael Cohen’s ongoing cooperation and the dangling matters of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

The tentacles of the Mueller inquiry are likely to slither on for years in the form of probes by the Southern District of New York and others involving campaign finance and Trump Organization affairs. The House Judiciary Committee, the final arbiter on the question of impeachment, will continue its own investigation, utilizing its subpoena powers while pressing for the full release of the Mueller report, which the public deserves to untangle. In other words, the buck doesn’t stop with Bob Mueller and Bill Barr.

Despite the outright jubilation by the likes of Greenwald, the tepid denial by MSDNC, and sanctimonious relief by Republicans that there were no indictments filed against Trump, it’s pertinent to remember that criminal offenses aren’t always impeachable, and impeachable offenses aren’t always criminal in nature.

This administration has committed so many crimes, perpetrated so much destruction, it makes little difference if they “colluded” with Russia to influence the election or not, there is still much more fodder. Remember, Russia isn’t the real enemy. The entire bi-partisan establishment is.

Categories: News for progressives

The Fox in the Henhouse: Bernhardt at Interior

Tue, 2019-03-26 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Everyone has heard the old saying about “the fox guarding the hen house” — which generally means you wind up with a fat fox and dead chickens. That’s something Montana’s senators should keep in mind when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee weighs Donald Trump’s nomination of former oil, gas and mining lobbyist David Bernhardt to be the next Secretary of the Interior following the December resignation of ethics-plagued Ryan Zinke. And yes, that means Republican Sen. Steve Daines is going to have to decide if putting Trump’s raper-scraper in charge of 245 million acres of America’s public lands and their wildlife is in the best interests of his Montana constituents and future generations.

There’s no question that Bernhardt is very, very familiar with the structure and duties of the Department of the Interior. After all, the function of a lobbyist is to understand the law, rules, regulations and mission of the federal agencies with which they interact. And when it comes to industry lobbyists, make no mistake, their primary interest is to serve the interests of their clients.

Unfortunately for the rest of the populace, these highly skilled and very well-funded operatives generally have myopic vision when it comes to the ancillary consequences of their actions. In that regard, Bernhardt has already shown his true colors — and no surprise, they’re the color of money in the form of profits for extractive industries.

Since Bernhardt has already been inserted into the Interior Department, his track record is known — and it isn’t pretty. First off, as one might expect from a fossil fuel lobbyist, Bernhardt is a climate change denier. That, in and of itself, should be reason enough to disqualify him as the nation and planet struggle with ever-increasing impacts from an obviously warming climate.

But Bernhardt doesn’t stop there. As generally happens with industry lobbyists, one of their great targets in the lawmaking arena is getting rid of pesky regulations they consider “hurdles” for their clients. In Bernhardt’s case, that means gutting the Endangered Species Act under the rubric of “bringing it into the 21st century.” That’s not likely to happen with the new Democratic majority in the House, however.

Bernhardt has already upended the sage grouse conservation plan that was intended to keep the birds from being listed for Endangered Species Act protections. One can argue that the conservation groups who collaborated with industry to keep sage grouse from being listed got snookered. Reducing the 9 million acres of habitat formerly dedicated to sage grouse recovery by 80 percent means the Bernhardt fox has already doomed recovery efforts for the sage grouse hens.

Daines should consider that opening those millions of acres to more oil, gas and coal extraction is likely to push the sage grouse onto the endangered species list, where it will receive far more stringent restrictions on industry and agriculture than the discarded recovery plan.

Bernhardt’s loyalty to the fossil fuel industry doesn’t stop there, though. He’s also supporting opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling — despite the fact that the U.S. is now a net exporter of oil and gas.

By law, Bernhardt’s job is to manage and conserve our vast public lands for the “benefit and enjoyment of the American people.” So far, his track record indicates he thinks resource extraction industries are “the American people.” They are not. These lands belong to all 325 million Americans — and Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines should weigh that reality against the “extraction at any cost” credo of David Bernhardt, and vote against his confirmation.

Categories: News for progressives

Corporate Bullshit

Tue, 2019-03-26 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Business bullshit is about the meaningless language conjured up in schools, in banks, in consultancy firms, in politics, and in the media. This language drives thousands of business schools. It is this language that is handed down to MBAs. It releases MBAs happy to spread the managerial buzz-word language of business bullshit. When pro-business management academics, management writers, CEOs, and other upper level managers invent bullshit language, they fabricate something that gets in the way of businesses.

The historical origins of business bullshit and its pathological language came with Kroning and AT&T’s management guru, who was hired to change the AT&T corporation. According to Colvin’s Fortune Magazine obituary of Peter Drucker, Drucker once said a management guru is someone named so by people who can’t spell charlatan. In the case of AT&T’s business bullshit, it was the Russian mystic George Gurdjieff and his ideas that introduced an entire new set of bullshit language to management.

It might certainly be true that Kroning may have been killed off while Kronese has lived on. Management charlatans like Gurdjieff, even when changing just one company (AT&T), may have had an global impact. It contributed to managerial bullshit language. Bullshit language is part of an ideology that is used to legitimise and stabilize capitalism. Ideologies are not concerned with the truth. Instead, they are designed to eliminate contradictions and stabilize domination. Hence, the managerial bullshitter has a lack of connection or concern for the truth.

Needless to say, it is true that bullshitters are not concerned that their grand pronouncements might be illogical, unintelligible and downright baffling. All they care about is whether people will listen to them. Their jargon can become a linguistic barbed wire fence, which stops unfortunate amateurs from trespassing on territory already claimed by experts. Not surprisingly, one finds that many managerial practices are not adopted because they work, but because they are fashionable. And the bullshit merchant can find a lucrative trade in any large organization.

These are what anthropologist David Graeber called Bullshit Jobs. These are jobs in which people experience their work as utterly meaningless, contributing nothing to the world and they think should not exist. Those in managerial bullshit jobs use image enhancement had had one economic impact: the CEO’s pay went up. Even the otherwise extremely business friendly Fortune Magazine had to admit recently that the pay gap between average workers and CEOs stands at a whopping 271%.

As macro-level neoliberalism and micro-level Managerialism took hold, universities became marketing/ PR institutions with their presidents not yet called CEOs. Undeterred, they create what is calls a PR university. What is happening is the conversion of universities based on research and teaching into PR driven marketing institutions driven. The managerial PR university focuses on Fleck’s Impact Factor Fetishism. While MBAs learning and making use of business jargon, those on the receiving end of the Managerialism-speak merchants are coerced into what ultimately results in silence is the best policy. Meanwhile, workers under Managerialism are forced to adhere to an old feudal policy: when the great lord passes by, the wise peasant bows deeply and farts silently. Today, it is: when the great CEO passes by, the wise worker bows deeply and farts silently. All too often those at the receiving end of all this, i.e. workers are not just forgotten but deliberately eliminated from the public.

Aligned to this is the fact that despite the widespread stories about the decline of bureaucracy sclerosis, we have actually experienced an explosion of bureaucracy. We have seen an explosion of management mutating into Managerialism. When seeking to stabilize Managerialism, as is often done by business schools, their next task is to infuse new MBAs with the latest managerial buzzwords and weasel worlds. Set apart from corporate reality, it is not at all surprising to uncover that many management ideas are cooked up far away from the day-to-day realities of a workplace. Many management ideas are not designed to have much to do with the day-to-day realities of management. Far from workplace reality, business bullshit buzz words have a rather different task.

A notable example that seeks to achieve the task set out by ideology, is bosses continue to demand loyalty from their subordinates while those at the top get the lion’s share of rewards. Not surprisingly, bosses rake it in big time. Meanwhile Managerialism creates a huge number of bullshit jobs, such as PR agents and corporate lawyers. The central task of bullshit managers is to create a vast and apparently unbroken complex of rules and regulations, which increasingly infiltrate all of our lives. Meanwhile, rafts of business schools professors are ready to be the PR agents of corporations. Perhaps American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Upton Sinclair, hits the nail on the head when noting “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Creating business bullshit and its language has never been the job of workers. It remains utterly the job of upper-level managers. Office workers are managerially controlled, supervised, monitored, watched, assessed and measured by KPIs, the infamous key performance indicators. It is not workers, but managers who are responsible for complex of rules and regulations. These govern us – those who need to work. And indeed, corporations, companies, business and even business schools love deregulation as it takes the state out of the equation. Taking out the regulative capacity of the state means opening up an unregulated space. This allows managers to re-regulate such spaces. As a consequence, we find incidents of macho-management. Just as the old saying goes: Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

More and more workers spend time answering emails, sitting in meetings and updating your LinkedIn profile they are also required to spend time trying to optimize the way workers process this bullshit. This acts as a double-edged sword for the workers in the form of bullshit time: 1) wasted time satisfying the upper echelons of Managerialism and 2) real working time, e.g. doing your job. Beyond that many workers complain about the stratospheric increase of sitting in often useless meetings. The sheer endless number of internet-transmitted jokes about meetings tells one as much.

Worse, some workers are annually forced into applying for their own jobs. In those cases, human resources (HR) management’s internal labor market is driven to extremes by upper-mangers. Being hooked on Managerialism often means being hooked on the systemic and structural casualization of the workforce often camouflaged as being part of strategic management and being flexible. Beyond that, it legitimizes upper management as they organize the entire recruitment and selection process from analyzing jobs, positioning job descriptions and advertising the position to creating short-lists and holding actual job interviews. More often than not, many of these activities are done to feed the management machine.

Many at the top of the managerial pyramid who believe in management fundamentalism see those at the bottom of Henry Fayol’s chain of command(1916) in the following way, you’re just a sheet of paper. This sheet of paper might appear to be business bullshit. However, management likes to condense workers’ contributions and working lives to a sheet of paper called balanced scorecard.Whether employees are denigrated to human resource assigned an individual profit indicting numbers on an (often not really) balancedscorecard or Excel file for the purpose of performance management, they are forced to toe the line. This is a line invented and handed out by upper management. More often than not, this occurs in a my way or the highway’ approach.

Being forced into the lockstep mode of management  means you can be cynical about management bullshit all you want in private, but in public you need to pretend you are signing up. These are authoritarian workplaces without democracy reflective of mixture of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four. Managerialism mixes Orwellian-style some animals are more equal than others with Big Brother style workplace surveillance. Management critiques have labeled this Impression Management.

On a slightly more philosophical note, what this means might be reflective of French philosopher Baudrillard’s Simulacra. Many workers no longer really partake in management bullshit. Instead, they merely simulate signing up. Working in today’s companies becomes mere simulation. And this remains so irrespective of working with the corporate psychopath or not. Of course, it is not only ordinary office workers who are drowning in shit. It is the key theme of universities and business schools. As Don Watson once said “Managerialism came to universities as the German army came to Poland.”

One set of academic staff experienced these effects as plans for a new building for an international center for democracy and conflict resolution being cancelled in favor of a new building for the business school. The more we are made to believe that ‘we live in a democracy’, the more it seems it is taken away from us. Terms resembling workplace democracy and industrial democracy have been extinct. Google.Books suggests industrial democracy has become severely eroded since the 1970s. It has effectively been eliminated from the public domain and even more so from academia.

Industrial democracy is no longer taught at universities. In the managerialised university, teaching and research have been substituted by the classical insignia of Managerialism. Now it is university league tables, beauty contests, rankings and the aforementioned impact factor fetishism – the crown king of scholarly achievement. What counts in universities as in the business school itself is the routinely undergone brand-building and brand-refreshing exercises each time there is a change of Deans or a new cohort of management consultants being hired. This is an activity spiced up with the eternally performed treadmill of business restructuring.

In any university apparatus inflated by Managerialism, the number of administrators has increased rapidly while the number of academics has stays relatively flat. When the managerialist university is Selling Students Short it does so with more managers and fewer academics. Meanwhile, the real work is no longer doing research and teaching and other things a university is supposed to do. Rather, the real work has become dealing with bullshit to make universities appear more business-like.

Eccentrics and math genius, Alan Turing for example, may well be the people who told the truth but in today’s university their reputation is on the line and their jobs too. Today, university management will performance management you out of here if you do not measure up. The case of London’s Imperial College and Stefan Grimm has shown this. Business bullshit in the form of Managerialism has many more serious consequences, reaching far beyond mere lip service. Much of this has been so exquisitely described in Schrijvers’ The Way of the Rat. Interestingly, business bullshit terms such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business ethics are part management bullshit. Business bullshit has to do with power, capitalism, Managerialism and the ideology that legitimizes management.

Andre Spicer’s Bullshit Business is published by Routledge Press.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Detectives on Smollett Case Have Troubling Backgrounds

Tue, 2019-03-26 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Chicago Police department calls a survivor of violence a ‘liar’ and the world agrees?  Nah.  Whether we look at it logically, legally, or historically, there’s much more to the story than that.

I had never heard of Jussie Smollett before the attack and media coverage.  I don’t watch TV and had never watched Empire, but something seemed off in the way the story developed so I started investigating.  Though it may seem to be merely the story of one celebrity, easily-dismissed, it is a precedent-setting situation – and the attempted precedent is extremely dangerous.

It must be remembered that Jussie did not want to call the police after he was attacked by two people yelling racial and homophobic slurs.  His 60-year-old friend called 911 and convinced him to file a police report.  This is written on the police report.

What kind of officer arrived?  The three detectives on the police report – Kim Murray and Vincent Cecchin, and their supervisor, Joseph Considine – have 35 criminal allegations on their records from Chicago civilians.  This data can be found in the Citizens Police Data Project created by the Invisible Institute who sued the city of Chicago to “reveal in-depth information on the complaint histories of selected Chicago police officers.”

It would be helpful to look at the conduct history of all the detectives who allegedly joined the investigation in the following days.

Within weeks, a huge scandal erupted.  Chicago police talked about an ongoing investigation in unprecedented ways then charged Jussie with lying.  Criminalizing the reporting of a hate crime by charging the reporter with ‘lying’ and 16 felonies is an extremely dangerous thing to allow in this country during these times.

A Question of Character

The allegations against the three detectives include false arrests, criminal sexual assault, searching without a warrant, verbal abuse, a domestic incident, drug/alcohol abuse, use of force, neglect of duty, and allegations regarding personal property in prison, among others.

The civilians who reported the allegations are diverse: Black women, Hispanic women, White women, Black men, etc.  Only two of the allegations resulted in discipline.  Murray was given a 10 day suspension for driving under the influence while off duty.  Notably, she was also accused of verbally abusing a Black man regarding his sexual orientation in 2008.

The other disciplined allegation was for Considine, the supervising investigator listed on Jussie’s police report.  The first complaint of Considine’s career was for criminal sexual assault, but this was not the one that resulted in discipline.  Instead, he was suspended for three days for neglect of duty.  Considine’s complaints paint a harsh picture: he allegedly commits crimes in groups with officers who also have many civilian complaints.  One of these officers had 30 people go to the police department to file a complaint against him – yet nothing was done.  That officer now works as a ‘forensic services evidence technician’ with a colleague who has 34 complaints, and another who has 37 complaints.

Many Chicago officers have no civilian allegations, but those who have them tend to have a lot.  Murray and Considine more civilian allegations than 79% of their peers.

Jussie speaks, sings, and protests against police lawlessness and brutality and filed a police report reluctantly after being attacked.  The detectives have extremely troubling backgrounds which have been overlooked.  Much of the public simply took the police at their word before the trial had even begun and, like watching a TV cop show, consumed a wool-over-eyes view of Jussie’s case.

Jussie’s voice has been muted and conspicuously absent recently.  However, his artistic body of work paints a clear picture.  He’s often used his platform to give voice to the struggles of people and to authentic history.  He said, “Whether you’re talking to two people or 2 million people, you can change the world by being you.  But if millions of people are listening, shouldn’t you speak on the subjects that make the world a little bit better?”

This is a man who dressed up as an elf in 2018 to help throw a Christmas party for kids in Flint, and then on Christmas day bought out three movie theaters so people could watch the James Baldwin movie If Beale Street Could Talk for free.  This voice was muted when CPD gave their version of reality, that he – a Black man – LGBTQ – was ‘a liar.’  The deeper reality, as he sang in a song he wrote, is much deeper: “Change comes when all take a stand.  Stand up.”

Believing survivors is a reoccurring topic – an important one.

If You Don’t Clean Your House You’ll Have a Dirty House

The Chicago police force is definitely no stranger to scandal and corruption.  Two former detectives won $2 million for a whistleblower lawsuit after being retaliated against for trying to expose extensive CPD drug trade corruption and stealing of citizens’ money.  63 people – and counting – have been exonerated in the last few years because they were falsely arrested by corrupt officers.

Recent investigations show the existence of units in Chicago full of officers who each have extensive allegations against them.  The sickness in the Chicago police department is enormous.

Only 7% of allegations result in discipline, such as the three-day suspension Consindine received.  Civilian allegations take months or years for a ruling, during which the officer is still on the streets.

Youth on the South Side of Chicago spoke with the Mandel Clinic and Invisible Institute about their encounters with the police, describing officers’ routine abuse of power, cruelty, and lawlessness.  These young people described their relationship with CPD, saying, “they’re over you, you’re under them, therefore you don’t matter. Their word will prevail over yours,” and that the constant police misconduct “makes you feel less of a person.”  One young man said, “I have no idea what they could be capable of if they could be that disrespectful and assume I’m a criminal when I’m just one boy walking down the street.”

Many of the youth wouldn’t call the police, saying, “nobody really wants to put their trust in somebody’s hands who they can’t trust” and “now I realize there are some bad cops and when I call, what’s gonna come, a good cop or a bad cop?  Are they gonna be effective, do their job, ask questions, investigate, or criminalize and penalize me before even knowing me?” Because of the entrenched nature of the police abuse they experience, many youth could not imagine the situation changing.

Communities living under the reign of lawless police tend to live in neighborhoods where drugs and guns flow freely, where murder is common, where constant crime drives the majority inside to watch TV.  To grow up feeling “less of a person” in a suspiciously lawless environment is a catastrophe of enormous proportions.  Forced to deal with constant trauma, then slandered and ignored, the multi-generational pain of these communities is a colossal crime.  But who will stand trial for that?

Instead of accusing Jussie of corruption and lying, calling him “shameful,” and stacking up ‘evidence’ that falls like a house of cards, the Chicago police department would better uphold their responsibilities by heeding a call that has been made for generations – to correct themselves and clean up their own house.

The Media Spun the Case

The mass media’s coverage of the case consists mostly of repeating CPD’s statements and is a grave disservice to the country.  Many initially felt compassion for Jussie, but it turned quickly to scorn, hatred, and aversion when his story was told through the perspective of the Chicago police and mass media.  This is incredibly telling and should be a warning sign for everyone.

The Osundairo brothers’ story changed many times, but the media is not making this clear.  The Osundairo’s lawyer, initially “said her clients are adamant they had nothing to do with the alleged attack on Smollett. ‘They are baffled about why they are people of interest… It’s an awful thing that happened to Jussie, but it’s not my guys.'”  Then, “at hour 47 – one hour before police had to either charge the men or release them – [CPD Superintendent] Johnson said the two confessed to what they had done. They were subsequently released without being charged.”

Recently, “when asked directly, she would not confirm that Smollett asked her clients to stage the attack or if they agreed to do it.  Instead Schmidt praised her clients’ cooperation with Chicago police.”  The public is not allowed to know if the brothers received a deal in return for their statements against Jussie.

Jussie did not want to report the attack to the police.  The reason for this is now obvious.  His story never changed, and he maintains his innocence to the accusations CPD made after he reported a crime to them.  He maintains his innocence despite a mass media lynching and police misconduct, scorn and mockery, leaked lies and 47th hour confessions, despite the absurdity that, in a city where police are not disciplined at all for serious crimes, he has been charged with 16 felony counts for ‘lying.’

Many who understand this story beyond the media version are witnessing a man who reflects our ability to face and transform the sickness in this country, someone who has often spoken about the need for more love in the world.  He sings with Alicia Keys in a song he wrote, “There’s so much strength in you and me.  Powerful, a breath away from victory.  I matter, you matter, we matter. …Every shade was beautifully made.”

He may not wear a uniform, but his words are no less important.

Categories: News for progressives

12 Ways to Make Sense of the Border Mess

Tue, 2019-03-26 15:58

Photograph Source U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Borders are cruel. I know this because I’ve been studying the U.S.-Mexico border for more than 40 years. It features prominently in two of my books, written in different decades. It keeps pulling me back. Every time I cross that border, I say to myself that this is no big deal — I’m used to it. And every time, I feel that familiar fear-or-flight jolt of adrenaline and hear the inner warning: Watch out! Things go wrong here.

The border is cruel because it gives some people what they want and denies the needs of almost everybody else. Still, the hopeful come, lately in swelling numbers. Sadly, the cruelty of the border has ratcheted upward. It didn’t have to. U.S. policies have added unnecessary meanness to the innate hurt of the dividing line we share with Mexico. Here are a dozen “realities” of the border that I try to keep in mind while mulling the latest disasters.

1) Nothing will “fix” the border, not a wall, not troops, not presidential bombast 

Some of the thousands of families from Central America now streaming to the border and surrendering themselves to U.S. authorities are desperate because crop failure and poverty have denied them the means of subsistence. Others are desperate because the gangs that now control large portions of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador threaten them with murder, extortion, and persecution. In many cases the families are desperate for both reasons.

This is an immigration phenomenon of recent vintage, but it belongs to an old tradition. Steep differences in wealth, opportunity, and political security divide the societies on either side of the border and, as long as those differences exist, have-nots on the poorer side will keep trying to join the haves on the other.

Unsolvable predicaments like this require management — continuous care, if you will — in the same way that chronic disease or steadily rising sea levels require it. Our efforts to manage the situation can be wise or stupid, mostly benign or downright sadistic, cost-effective or absurdly wasteful, realistic or hallucinatory. The task facing this country is to make it less awful and more humane than we have so far shown much talent for doing.

2) Donald Trump’s “Great Wall” is about gratification, not immigration

For every complex problem, there exists a simple solution — which is completely wrong. In the case of the U.S.-Mexico border, Exhibit A is the president’s proposal to build a 30-foot-high (or 55-foot-high), 1,900-mile (or 1,000-mile) wall — the president’s numbers vary with the moment — to provide security. The imperative behind his fixation arises from his boisterous, demagogic, and chronically over-counted political rallies. More than Fox News, more than the sycophants who surround him, the rallies are the mirror before which he preens. They are his political Viagra, a drug that takes effect when the crowd begins to chant. Even two years into his presidency, Trump can’t stop talking about Hillary Clinton and, when he mentions her, his admirers rock the rafters, yelling “Lock her up!” It’s the MAGA mob’s way of reconfirming that he hates who we hate, which is the DNA of Trump’s appeal.

Another chant at every rally is invariably “Build the Wall!” Its origins are instructive. The problem the border wall was initially intended to address was candidate Trump’s lack of mental discipline. It began as a mnemonic. Advisers Roger Stone and Sam Nunberg wanted to ensure that Trump pushed the hot button of immigration at his campaign rallies. They correctly thought that the simple, monosyllabic notion of a wall would help him remember to do so.

The Trump campaign soon learned that invocations of a wall embraced a larger range of prejudices. Like yelling about Hillary, it indulged the visceral enjoyment of hatred. It celebrated keeping people out and putting them in their place. It was racist, but more than that as well. The incantation “Build the wall!” conjured up walling out and excluding everything that was threatening — dark-skinned people, scary ideas, social and economic change, even complexity itself. Trump’s present desire is not so much to build an actual wall as to keep the chant going or, even better for purposes of the 2020 election, to morph it into “We built the wall!”

3) Support for a border wall decreases the closer you get to the actual border

People who live on the border know that walls don’t work. Instead, wall construction diverts money from more pressing needs, while damaging land and communities. In sleepy Columbus, New Mexico, which jarred to full wakefulness in 1916 when Mexican revolutionaries set the town on fire, opinion runs 90% to 10% against Trump’s border wall. All nine congresspersons representing districts along the border similarly oppose the wall. The same may be said of most local governments in the borderlands.

It’s not that local officials don’t want to address border problems. It’s just that they would rather see federal money applied to strengthen law enforcement, improve vehicle inspections, and speed traffic through busy ports of entry. These are the places where, as seizure statistics show, the vast majority of hard drugs actually pass from Mexico into the U.S. Even less publicized is the reality that official ports of entry are also where the preponderance of illegal arms, as well as considerable amounts of cash from drug revenues, pass in the other direction, from this country to Mexico.

4) Drugs underlie the crisis at the border, but not the way Trump says

The U.S. imports drugs because people want them. Appetites for hard drugs here are the driving force behind a significant portion of the global traffic in illegal substances, whose value is estimated in the trillions of dollars. The cash spent by American citizens in the pursuit of getting high is sufficiently astronomical to corrupt governments and destabilize nations. The rise of gang rule in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador partly results from those countries serving as conduits for moving Colombian cocaine and other drugs into this country. Put simply, the U.S. imports drugs and exports anarchy. That anarchy, in turn, puts people in motion.

5) The identity of border crossers has changed — again

In the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration launched Operation Gatekeeper and began building walls to curb illegal entry, the typical migrant was a Mexican male seeking work in the U.S. The idea behind Gatekeeper was that, by walling off the border in urban centers like San Diego/Tijuana and El Paso/Juarez, migrants would have to cross through desert so inhospitable that they would desist. Of course, they didn’t. Crossing just became more arduous and expensive because a migrant now needed a guide — a coyote — to find his way through harsh terrain and reach contacts on the other side.

An unintended consequence of this policy was to curtail the “circularity” of migration. Because border crossing had become more difficult and costly, workers couldn’t regularly go home to see their families and return to jobs in el norte. So they called for their families to join them. This triggered a shift in the identities of the migrantes. Women and children began to make up a growing proportion of the “illegals” entering the U.S.

In recent years, the mix of migrants shifted again, with an increasing proportion consisting of asylum-seekers, often whole families, fleeing the destabilization of Central America. They sometimes travel in caravans hoping that the strength of numbers will protect them from gangs that they are trying to escape. Their intention is not to sneak across the border but to get to the border and ask for asylum.

So here’s the rub: the infrastructure of the border is designed to deal with young Mexican men seeking work, not families, including young children, who arrive destitute and often sick. Although the border agreement that ended the recent government shutdown authorized upwards of $400 million for new facilities — the total is debated, with some Republicans arguing that as much as $750 million might be available — adequate structures don’t yet exist. And so people, often children, have been held in cages in jury-rigged, overcrowded, and distinctly punitive facilities.

6) But asylum seekers shouldn’t need to be detained

Ports of entry could be equipped and staffed to process asylum requests quickly and in volume instead of the “metered” trickle that is current practice — sometimes 10 or less a day. The immigration court system also needs to be fully staffed (funding exists for 107 more judges than the 427 currently serving), as well as expanded. The effect of this bottleneck, in an echo of Operation Gatekeeper, is to force groups of refugees into the desert where they cross the border illegally and at great risk (meanwhile distracting Border Patrol officers from legitimate law enforcement duties). Once in the U.S., they surrender themselves so that their cases will have to be addressed.

Another alternative is to allow prospective immigrants to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates in their home countries, as was the case for certain foreigners under an Obama-era policy that the Trump administration curtailed. (The administration recently took yet another step backward by ordering the closure of all U.S. immigration offices abroad.) A third alternative, presently applied in limited fashion, would be to release asylum seekers in this country under the sponsorship of third parties while their cases are pending.

7) The cruelty business

The hurt inflicted at the border increases when people behave like… well, people. Every job has frustrations, and border work has more than most. Maybe an officer twisted his knee working double shifts or got scared one night when he thought he saw a narco with a gun. So he roughs up a few people or tightens their handcuffs until they hurt. To be sure, U.S. Border Patrol officers commit many acts of mercy in their work, but they also sometimes deny or delay medical treatment for people in need or slash life-saving water jugs set out by humanitarians to aid migrants crossing the desert (and sometimes federal attorneys then prosecute the humanitarians).

Even harder to understand is the cranked-up air conditioning in Customs and Border Protection facilities. For good reason the detainees call the holding centers hieleras (iceboxes). Most migrants have no jackets or extra clothing. They receive a flimsy foil or paper “blanket,” one for each person, and then must sleep on cold slab floors for days at a time. Many a mother will double wrap her baby and shiver on her own until she and her child are released. This is what happened to Deña, a Salvadoran asylum seeker who spoke to a friend of mine in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in January. She came out of the hielera sick, a frequent result of the widespread and needless refrigeration of detainees.

The most extreme cruelties, however, come from the highest levels. The forcible separation of young children from their parents, when carried out by civilians, is called kidnapping. When carried out by the Trump administration, such barbarity fell under the rubric of “zero-tolerance.” The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that thousands more children than the 2,737 identified in a 2018 court case have been involved. Scandalously, the Department of Homeland Security and other responsible agencies failed to keep thorough records so that, even after the policy was reversed, no one could be sure that all of the children were properly reunited with their families. Moreover, separations, without the sanction of policy, apparently continue.

At the top of the cruelty list as well are the deaths from exposure, heat stroke, and dehydration caused by wall construction that drives migrants to undertake longer treks through ever more inhospitable terrain. The NGO Humane Borders has cataloged and mapped 3,244 migrant fatalities since 1999 in Arizona alone, but the actual number of deaths is acknowledged to be considerably higher, as many bodies remain undiscovered and unrecorded. What’s going on in the desert these days is not a war, but it’s producing war-level suffering and casualties.

8) Both Republicans and Democrats have built sections of the border wall

But until Trump came along, both parties ran from the semantics of calling it a “wall.” Officially, it was a border fence. The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations feared castigation for applying a second-century technology to a twentieth- and twenty-first-century problem. The optics of being identified with other famous wall-builders — Roman Emperor Hadrian (122 CE), China’s Ming Dynasty (14th-17th centuries), the USSR (Berlin, 1961), or even contemporary Israel — were considered unappealing. Of course, President Trump not only embraced the negative connotations of wall construction, but pretended that the 654 miles of barriers, including approximately 354 miles of wall, erected by his predecessors did not exist.

9) If Trump gets his way, the steel in his border wall will contain a high percentage of irony

The U.S. went to war in 1846, ostensibly to assert that its southern border was the Rio Grande and not the Nueces River, as Mexico claimed. Trump’s campaign for a border wall, however, puts the U.S. in retreat, sovereignty be damned, because it effectively returns to Mexico some of the land conquered in the Mexican War.

Let me explain: you can’t build a wall in the middle of a river. The river will eventually wash the wall away, or it will make a new channel where no one wants it. It is also inadvisable to build a wall in the floodplain adjacent to the river, because, well, it floods. Moreover, a wall designed to keep humans out can’t have big gaps or people will get through, and in a flood small drainage gaps quickly clog with debris, backing up flows, causing property damage, and undermining the wall itself. (Even away from the river, the wall causes flooding and damage in places like downtown Nogales, Sonora, where its design ignored local drainage.)

Because the Rio Grande is a low-volume river with big-river storm flows, new sections of wall are nowadays sited on high ground out of the flood zone and some distance from the main river channel. This means the border will effectively be moved back from its internationally agreed placement in the middle of the river. No deed will change hands, but this de facto relocation of the southern boundary of the U.S. is tantamount to a cession of land to Mexico. One wonders if this matter has received the attention of America’s chest-thumper-in-chief.

10) As usual, the environment takes a blow

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a significant chunk of floodplain and adjacent ground where Trump’s great wall is to be built. So does the chain of protected areas constituting the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) National Wildlife Refuge, as well as other nature preserves held by private non-profits. Past wall construction has already fragmented portions of the area. Additional wall construction will decimate it. At stake is vital habitat for the last ocelots existing in the U.S., as well as for scores of other species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculates that planned wall segments will negatively affect 60%-75% of the LRGV’s lands. The wall would also plow through the National Butterfly Sanctuary like a superhighway.

Across the borderlands, the roster of species detrimentally affected by Trump’s wall amounts to a who’s who of southwestern fauna — from jaguars, Mexican gray wolves, pronghorn antelopes, and bison (yes, there is a wild herd in the Chihuahuan desert) to cactus ferruginous pygmy owls (which fly close to the ground and so can’t cross the wall), leopard frogs, and lesser long-nosed bats. The Center for Biological Diversity reports that “a minimum of 93 species at risk of extinction will be further imperiled by construction of Trump’s border wall, including impacts to critical habitat for 25 of these species.”

12) Defense-in-depth works better

An excellent book on the border is the late Jefferson Morganthaler’s The River Has Never Divided UsMorganthaler explains that, from the Spanish colonial era forward, defending the border as a hard barrier has rarely been an effective strategy. It “seduces us into establishing our own Maginot Line. It lures us into attempting the impossible… and distracts us from more promising solutions.” The most appealing alternative, applied in the eighteenth century by Spain’s Teodoro de Croix, was defense in depth: addressing “problems at their source and destination, rather than trying to dam them up somewhere in the middle.” Accepting amnesty applications at U.S. facilities in the applicants’ countries of origin would be a modern adaptation of such a policy.

12) Get ready for the problems of migration to worsen

The president and just about all the members of his administration believe in walls but not in climate change, a guarantee of disaster. It’s possible that refugees now appearing at the southern border, who say that the corn they planted last year failed to produce a harvest, are lying or are bad farmers. It’s far more likely, however, that they are climate-change refugees. One thing is certain: as climate change intensifies, it will displace ever more people. Subsistence agriculture is always a gamble. When the weather changes so radically that subsistence farmers can’t bring in a crop, they have to move. At least in the short term, the vigor and diversity of the U.S. economy will buffer most of its citizens against the full effects of climate disruptions. There will be no such buffer for people hoeing milpas in Central America. This is not a matter of speculation and one consequence is clear. People who lack the means of subsistence will pick up and move. Wall or no wall, a fair portion of them will head northward.

Maybe the best borderland novel of recent years is Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, in which an early scene pretty well sums up future prospects for the southern border, especially if current policies persist. A sheriff and his deputy are near the Rio Grande, inspecting the aftermath of a shootout between narco gangs. They walk past smoldering vehicles and gory corpses. The deputy says, “It’s a mess, aint it sheriff?”

And the sheriff replies, “If it aint it’ll do till a mess gets here.”

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

Ardern’s Response to Christchurch has Put Other Leaders to Shame, But Not for Its Compassion Alone

Tue, 2019-03-26 15:54

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman. Jacinda Ardern won her spurs last week with her response to the Christchurch atrocity. But the world’s praise for her eloquence and compassion missed the point.

Ardern was different. She fought from the start like a real politician, scorning the killer, attacking racism and slapping back at Turkish president Erdogan’s revolting election propaganda – which used the murderer’s own video – then hitting out at US president Trump. And insisting that New Zealand’s gun laws would change forever.

That was the measure of her. Humanity came armed with political leadership. And what a sorry lot Ardern showed our own hapless “leaders” to be. 

Most of them have reacted to mass murders with instant cliches of sorrow and endless waffle about “terror”, and then operatic – and often inappropriate – praise for security forces who have in most cases failed to prevent the crime from taking place. In Christchurch, the cops appear to have driven the murderer off the road before he moved to a third mosque.

“They are us,” Ardern said of the Muslims slaughtered in her country. It’s the sort of remark we might have expected from a Trudeau, or even a Macron – but we shouldn’t get caught in the comparison game. Ardern was on her own. And she talked in global terms. If the rest of the world is happier talking about “global jihadism”, she talked of global white supremacism. 

When Australia’s own racist senator Fraser Anning – he who once spoke of a “final solution” to immigration – blamed the Christchurch bloodbath on “the immigration programme that allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate”, Ardern simply called his remark “a disgrace”. 

In any case, the Christchurch crime against humanity was clearly the work of an Australian immigrant fanatic. And Australia’s own recent history of brutality towards Muslims and immigrants – a sinister characteristic often obscured by our own affection for the rough edges of our “cobbers” down under – is now being studied rather more seriously.

Much of the journalistic response to this epic drama, of course, was pitiful. Several in the New Zealand media as well as British newspapers used the murderer’s own video, along with his crazed manifesto, to promote their stories. It was an utter failure. The Daily Mirror editor tried to explain that his paper ended up removing the footage because “it is not in line with our policy relating to terrorist propaganda videos.” Who on earth needs a “policy” to tell them not to publish material in a way that has the effect of abetting an act of murder? 

And in Australia itself, the moment Anning punched a young man who slapped an egg on his head, this – not his obscene remarks about Muslims – became the “story”. Reporters naturally visited the hometown of the mass killer – and discovered that he was once an “angelic” child. But what did this mean? 

There is a photograph in existence which shows a dark-haired baby boy in a romper-suit with woollen socks – every mother’s little angel, of course, except that he happens to be Hitler. The picture is in the Bundesarchiv (the German federal archives). 

Babies are inevitably innocent and murderers were always once little angels and thus – go back far enough – and you’ll find an innocent little Australian living in the nondescript (until now) town of Grafton. It was hitherto famous, journalists told us, for its jacaranda trees. Get it? Beauty and springtime surrounded our little angel-turned-murderer.

And all this when the relatives of the Mosque victims were speaking in the language of real angels – in expressing their love for their country of asylum, their affection for their white friends and neighbours, and their admiration for Ardern. Refugees don’t usually demand democracy – although the Muslim immigrants in New Zealand (refugees or not) clearly live in a democracy – but they always expect dignity and justice. 

That, precisely, is what Jacinda Ardern offered them. Yet as I write these words, I have been able to find – on the website page of a New Zealand television station in a “moderated” YouTube comment – that it “would have been better if this dumb PM had been gunned down too”.

Yes, Jacinda Ardern was quite right to condemn social media for spreading video of the attack – and for dismissing a journalist’s suggestion of a visit from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg because “I’m not interested in a PR exercise”. 

That is why she also dispatched her foreign minister Winston Peters to Istanbul to “confront” Erdogan over his own outrageous use of the murder-video in an election rally. Erdogan had also said that anyone who comes to Turkey with anti-Muslim sentiments would be sent home in their coffins “like their grandfathers were” during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. 

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent MindsErdogan, like Anning, is what my mum and dad would have called “a very nasty piece of work”. New Zealanders, as well as Australians, were lo killed in large numbers at Gallipoli. The folly of their invasion of the Ottoman empire was followed by the 1915 genocide of Turkey’s Christian countrymen and women – one and a half million Armenians. It was a mass murder infinitely greater than that of Christchurch, but one which Erdogan has always denied.

As for Trump, he was asked by Ardern to express “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities”. And the best Trump could do was to dismiss – that very same evening – any idea that white supremacist “terror” was a growing lethal threat. “Not really,” he replied. This was not global politics. This was a mean, repulsive comment. But what do you expect when both an Australian killer and an American president talk the same language?

No one should turn Jacinda Ardern into an angel. Politicians can ascend to great heights if they have the spittle for it – I quote Sir Thomas More – but we live in an age where political leadership is crumbling in the lands which once fought world wars for their freedom. 

So let us not compare New Zealand’s premier right now with the self-harming prime minister who is helping to destroy Britain. Brexit, too, is part of the same anti-immigrant sentiment which propelled an Australian to commit mass murder last week.

Categories: News for progressives

Disinviting Jordan Peterson: the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge and Approved Ideas

Tue, 2019-03-26 15:50

He has sent so many cliques and groups into titters of anger, and the indignant have attempted to turn on him.  The university environment should be the last place where dangerous ideas, and views, are stifled and stomped upon. In actual fact, we are seeing the reverse; from students unions to middle- and upper-managerial parasites and administrators, the contrarian idea must be boxed, the controversial speaker silenced and sent beyond the pale. Dissent and disagreement are lethal toxin to such affected notions as “diversity” and “inclusiveness”.

It should be very clear that meaningless terms such as diversity and inclusiveness do very little to the content of actual intellectual conversation.  Ideas are there to be debated, not accepted by high caste strictures.  The modern academic environment suggests something quite opposite: a policing rationale, an insistence on thought control that is insidious and all too common in managed structures.  When incorporated into the university structure, the bureaucrat takes precedence over the intellectual, the mindless cherry picker over the polymath. The more ideas you have, the more of a threat you will be, requiring regulation and the occasional ostracising. In broader public spaces, this may even require you losing a platform altogether.

Which leads us, then, to Jordan Peterson, agent provocateur and psychology professor at University of Toronto who was led to believe that he would be taking up residence for two months at the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge University in Michaelmas Term.  In a statement to the Cambridge student newspaper, Varsity, a University spokesperson confirmed “that Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review.”

In a bitter irony that should have been apparent, the Canadian academic had his invitation rescinded in the name of “inclusiveness”, a baffling justification given its very opposite interpretation. In a statement to the Guardian, the University spokesman proclaimed Cambridge “an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot”. Now there speaks the virtue of an intolerant tolerance.

Left hanging with menacing dullness is the entire lack of precision as to what those politburo designated principles are. Even more to the point, the Faculty of Divinity is left looking buffoonish having first extended an invitation in the first place, presumably because it was in the spirit of the University’s values.  Those values, in turn, must have been flipped in an act of feeble mind changing.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guide on Freedom of Expression for higher education providers and students’ unions in England and Wales is instructive here. It notes section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, which places a legal duty on universities and Higher Education Providers more broadly to take “reasonably practicable” steps to protect freedom of speech within the law for their members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

There is no “right” for any group or speaker to speak to students at Student Unions or HEP premises. But once a speaker has been invited to speak at any meeting or event, he or she “should not be stopped from doing so unless they are likely to express unlawful speech or their attendance would lead the host organisation to breach other legal obligations and no reasonably practicable steps can be taken to reduce these risks.”

As Peterson tetchily noted, he not only requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity but been extended an invitation.  “You bloody virtue-signalling cowards,” he tweeted.  He also deemed the Faculty of Divinity’s publicity on the issue misrepresentative, having “not equally” publicised “the initial agreement/invitation” while giving the impression that he had gone “cap-in-hand to the school for the fellowship.”

So what is it about Peterson that could possibly fall within those extreme instances?  Causing offense, perhaps, but certainly nothing illegal or criminal.  He had, after all, visited Cambridge last November during the course of a book tour.  He spoke at the Corn Exchange.  He met faculty staff members.  He also recorded videos and podcasts with the noted philosopher and Cambridge don Sir Roger Scruton, presented at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism and Stephen Blackwood, founding President of Ralston College.  But perhaps most importantly, he was invited to address the venerable, and student-run Cambridge Union to a packed house.

The Cambridge University Student Union had a different take.  They were “relieved” at the rescinding of the offer. “It is a political act to associate the University with an academic’s work through offers which legitimise figures such as Peterson.  His work and views are not representative of the student body and as such we do not see his visit as a valuable contribution to the University, but as one that works in opposition to the principles of the University.”

The statement is riddled with daft, anti-intellectual claptrap.  It is stingingly parochial.  It is also dangerous.  The only “political act” in this entire affair is one affirming that a speaker with certain views associated or otherwise with the student body cannot take up residence to discuss views that are not approved by prior screening. The CUSU has taken it upon itself to deliberate over what a “valuable contribution” from an academic might look like, suggesting that it already has a set of acceptable, stock ideas that are beyond challenge.  The statement is also vacuous on one fundamental point: to merely allow someone to debate a position is to legitimise him (note – not even the idea, but the person), a position presuming that an attempt at understanding is the same as approval.

Varsity has gone through the supposedly precarious resume that is Peterson’s: his opposition to an anti-discrimination bill adding gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Code in 2016 as an infringement of free speech; his refusal to use any gender neutral pronoun; his claimed defence of white privilege and masculinity.  Even this laundry list is hardly a credible basis for denying him a place to engage in debate; if anything, those card carrying CUSU members, not to mention Faculty staff, might wish to engage and confront Peterson in gladiatorial bouts of the mind. But not so; far easier to pull the platform away, and simply claim to know the whole truth.

Instead of showing the very resilience that should be encouraged in thinking, the opposite is being fostered by such decisions. An enfeebled student and academic community is being encouraged, because it is free of controversy and packed with acceptable behavioural norms.  The latter is distinctly geared towards a beastly toadyism at universities, where students prefer to attack certain contrarian ideas rather than the very class that detests them: university management.

When brands are being advertised, names promoted, thoughts only count in a bland, inoffensive sense.  The sweet is preferred over the bitter; the discomforting eschewed in favour of Aldous Huxley’s pneumatic chair.  Any complement of controversial ideas must be approved of in advance.  Given that Peterson has no interest in complying with this diktat, he has become, inadvertently to many, a torch for intellectual freedom.  Attempting to shut, and shutdown the man, is mere confirmation of many of his claims, even if you disagree with a good number of them.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Poisonous History of Neo-Classical Economics

Tue, 2019-03-26 15:45

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

— Edward Bernays

The U.S. and other western nations are blindly marching themselves into an intractable societal conflagration.  Debt rating agencies have been measuring social-cohesion as a risk factor across the U.S. and Europe for over a decade.  However, the unnamed risk is not just poverty but uber-wealth concentrations at levels not seen since the French revolution or the height of the British Empire.

Headlines in January 2019 claim that 26 individuals have as much wealth as half of the earth’s population (here).  This is a stunning reversal of the previous 240 years, over which time classical economics expanded the economy, resulting in massive wealth creation, broad income opportunities and an upward shift in the standard of living for all.

This reversal of fortunes, from the many to the few, happened under the stewardship of neo-classical economic policies over the last 40 years.  Much like the feudal and aristocratic past, this concentration of wealth has led to the accumulation of massive debts, economic stagnation and the subordination of sovereign states under an increasingly rentier-based (here)economy.  It is everything that classical economics set out to eradicate.

All broad measures of economic outcomes across the U.S. and other western economies that have adopted neo classical economics confirms that the long-term application of these policies increasingly serves the interests of financial actors at the expense of everyone else, resulting in the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

The rise in support for political actors like Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and the ‘Infamous AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)’ only reflect a deep-cycle trend in history.  Today’s massive wealth inequality reflects the pre-classical world’s cycle of rising socialist, communist, anarchist and revolutionary movements.

History suggests that these sorts of political actors will increase in proportion and intensity with further increases in economic inequity, resulting in social, economic and geo-political instability and eventually war(s).

To understand how this happened we must first explore what neo classical economics is and the history and process of how it displaced classical economics: the dominant model for the first 200 years of American history.

But first, let’s begin with the history of economics as it evolved from a zero-growth feudal & aristocratic system to classical economics, a system based on the measured outcomes of empirical observation, to neo-classical economics, a system based on mathematical modeling and self-referential theory.

A Brief History of Economic Evolution

Historically the nascent profession of economics was an adjunct agent of the Crown.  Its primary function was to offer up various justifications for the ways, means and mechanisms of conducting the economy for the benefit of the Crown.  It provided a pan-European ethical construct for conducting business among and between people of a similar skin tone and faith.  The Church provided a more aggressive construct for dealing with everyone else.

During the feudal and aristocratic periods, the Crown’s interests incorporated the interest of the noble & aristocratic class, the landed gentry and the bankers.  Early economic thinking was constrained by the regimentation of the prevailing feudal / aristocratic systems and the large outstanding debts of the sovereign.

Under these systems ‘economic gain’ was largely based on conquest, funded by the bankers and the Crown’s transfer of title (and titles of nobility) over productive lands and estates – it was a zero-sum game for everyone but the bankers.

The industrial revolution and the development of a new continent radically altered these systems.  Development, industry, trade and commerce, conducted largely by the non-nobility, altered potential economic outcomes.  The pie had become larger and new rules of conduct were needed if the Crown was to retain its share of wealth and power.  That new system evolved into the science of classical economics.

Classical economics proved to be good for the Crown, the European colonial economies and bankers because it subjugated the relative status of the aristocracy, noble classes and landed gentry: the rentier classes.

The rentier class, is comprised of all non-productive economic actors whose income is based on rental income, income from debt, monopoly income, usury income, inherited wealth (passive investments) or income from agricultural production under feudal-serf, share-cropper or slave holder relationships.

The Finance, Insurance and Real Estate industry (FIRE) are the dominant rentier actors in today’s economy.  None of these industries actually produce anything.

For example, finance is nothing more than a transaction cost, or friction in the system.  The Finance industry is the most loathsome as it equates to a top-line cost on the formation of real physical capital (plant & equipment). The finance industries ‘take’ on the overall economy has increased over 400% since the turn of the 19thcentury, from less than 2% to over 9%, while costs in all other non-FIRE industries fell over the same period (here).

Insurance is also a non-productive expense to the system that exists to protect the interests of investors and financial backers of a commercial enterprise, and to an equal extent, the underlying business.

Real estate, measured as residential buildings and structures (brick and mortar), do not produce wealth in the classical sense of producing manufactured goods.   Classical economics viewed physical real estate as a non-productive asset.

Historically much of the real estate used for domestic residences and agricultural production were owned by the landed gentry, noble classes or the Crown, who collected rents from the working population.

In classical economics “rent(s)” were equated with freeloading, as in the rich collected rent in their sleep.

Today, the defense, pharmaceutical, legal, communications and energy industries also enjoy rental income, income above unfettered market rates, due to government controls, other protections or barriers.

All of these actors extract rental income from society at large.

The new system was challenged by various competing economic narratives until the neo-classical model successfully trans-mutated classical economics, with the goal of inverting outcomes, while demonizing all other schools of economic thought.

Today neo classical economics and its bag of economic policy prescriptions are applied in all G-20 nations, to varying degrees.  Most other nations are forced to integrate or conform to its more exploitive features if they want to utilize or benefit from institutions like the IMF, World Bank, various international trading facilities or other NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

Non-compliant actors like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran are subject to monetary manipulation (here), sanctions and covert actions that are designed to generate the appearance of internal instability, with the objective of regime change (spoiler alert: this is what your CIA directed tax dollars are used for).

The Origin of Scientific Principles in Economics

During the later-part of the 18thcentury a dynamic shift in England and Continental Europe’s many burgeoning Colonies had evolved, to varying degrees, into various hybrid economic systems. These systems, unlike a purely feudal agricultural system, were demonstrating real organic growth.

The early classical economists turned their eyes to this new phenomenon; subjecting it to intense scientific study.  What they found was that these economies had evolved into a semi-gentrified system of traditional rents and monopolies and the emergence of something entirely new: private businesses, independent ventures & trading companies.  Unfettered by feudal constraints and the direct control of the Crown, these new economic features gave rise to something new: organic growth and the entrepreneur.

Early classical economists could see the vast potential of these new systems. Adam Smith’s work, and that of the other classical economists (excluding Ricardo, who promoted the interest of banker and other rent seekers), adapted the scientific method to study these new economic systems – putting them under close inspection and evaluation, with the goal of establishing the conditions and parameters of both growth and stagnation.

Classical economics measured the interaction of independent actors (with the tools available at the time), subjected to varying degrees of influence from the Crown and rentier actors, against resulting economic outcomes.  It was the first science-based economic system: employing the scientific method to measure outcomes against various conditions, policies and predictions.

What they confirmed was that feudal and rentier-based economies were incapable of internal organic growth and that monopolistic pricing caused economic stagnation and privation for many.

Growth, internal organic economic growth, was only possible when economic actors were free of traditional feudal, monopolistic and rentier constraints.  All of these conclusions were offered up as a blue-print for establishment of modern economies in Smith’s master-work “The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”.

One of the objectives of classical economics was to minimize or eliminate rentier and monopoly practices, viewed as a hold-over from the economically stagnant feudal and aristocratic past.

Smith, primarily, was an unabashed ‘economic nationalist’and patron of the new entrepreneurial class.  His goal was for the establishment of a more liberal form of mercantilism.  He was for eliminating market barriers for productive actors but also encouraged regulation and taxation of rent seeking actors.

Smith and other classical economist understood that the profession of economics gained much of its validation from the Crown.  So, it is no surprise that his overarching argument for freeing markets was justified on the condition that it enhanced the competitiveness of domestic business and enriched the Crown.  In short, Smith was a neo-mercantilist.

This is in contrast to what is taught in most undergraduate and graduate economics courses.  Today all universities teach that Adam Smith was a rabid anti-mercantilist.  This is an obvious falsehood if one bothers to read Smith’s Wealth of Nations in context (but no one does).

It’s a curious reversal of our history that “economic nationalism”, the foundational-basis of classical economics, is now a pejorative term.

The 18th, 19thand much of the 20th century flourished under this new hybrid economic system, reflecting the interests of the Crown and the new entrepreneurial class.  It was a system of neo-mercantilism among the colonial powers and the exploitation of non-European people, resources and lands.

Mutiny of the Moneyed Class

These principles did not sit well with powerful and long-established interests with their feet planted deeply in the economic past.

Legacy interests were increasingly subjected to ‘liberal’ government policies, such as paying taxes to the Crown like everyone else. The noble, aristocratic and landed classes’ historical entitlementswere fading.  The gross economic disparities of the past were slipping away because craftsmen, traders and entrepreneurial class were no loner encumbered under the feudal and aristocrat system that locked everyone to their ‘respective’ place in society.  Push-back was inevitable.

In response to the rapid expansion of classical economic policies alternate economic narratives were put forward to defend and reinstate the feudal, monopolistic and rentier practices of the past.

These early narratives focused on the merit of the ruling classes, rejecting any contributing economic factors from the state, universal taxation, regulations or the un-anointed emerging class.

Some of these economic ideologies eventually morphed into the Austrian School of Economics, an ideology reflecting the beliefs and interests of the established legacy-ruling-class and rent seekers.

Its relatively small audience failed to effect the desired change mostly because governments were protective of their own interests that were now attached to an expanding electorate, largely connected to labor, skilled workers and the emerging entrepreneurial class.

Ultimately the Crown deferred to its own interests and the classical economist carried the day.

Enter the Neo-Classical Priesthood

Money never sleeps, it stays awake and makes plans for an ever more prosperous tomorrow, built on the probability of infinitely compounded returns.  The resulting aspirational goal was that Money would become the master and arbiter of all things: naturally…

For that to happen Money had to overturn classical economics; all questions regarding national interests, obligations to employees & local community, questions of morality, egalitarian taxation & economic participation must be eliminated from economic policy.  Money had to be free of communal and collective mores.

Beginning in about 1970, the moneyed class set out to establish an ideological challenge to classical economics.  The goal, or result, was to create a narrative economic construct that negated all ethical & moral question in economics.

The problem was that the classical system had gained a reverential reputation over the last 200 years.  Classical economics was a humanities-based science. Its underlying premise was collective. To openly dismantle the system was problematic.

A solution was found in the voice of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics.  By using the techniques of Edward Bernays, Friedman and others simply ‘re-branded’ their preferential outcomes within the language of classical economics: a faux-classical economics 2.0.

In truth, neo-classical economics is not ‘new’.  It has more in common with feudal economics than classical economics, but is dressed up in modern terminology and its self-referential models.

Friedman and others hid their contrarian designs in simplistic narratives supported by self-confirming mathematical models, circular proofs and technical sounding terms, but wrapped it in the language of Smith and other classical economists.

Members of Congress and the public in general had come to trust the basic principles of classical economics and simply deferred to the expertise of these self-anointed agents of modernization.

From 1970 onward, neoclassical economists published self-confirming semantic dictums and policy prescriptions designed to enhance the power of money & capital, but packaged it in classical language.

Unlike classical economics, that subjected itself to measured outcomes, neo classical economists freed themselves of this loathsome task through the magic of mathematics. According to neo classical economist’s the rigor and elegance of their mathematical models were superior to measuring real world outcomes.  Consequently, none of the economic outcomes resulting from their policy prescriptions are subject to empirical observation or measurement.

Neo classical economics expanded rapidly across academia and found its first patron and practitioner in Augusto Pinochet’s military junta in Chile (here), (here).

Beyond the mass disappearances and extra-judicial killings, the ultimate economic goal of this experiment was to transfer Chile’s wealth and resources into the hands of U.S. / multi-national corporations.  The long-term consequential outcome for Chile was a measurable failure.

Back in the U.S., one of their first sematic deviations was introduced in the early 1970s, something called a “multi-national corporation”.  The term was innocuous enough, but it empowered formerly U.S.-centric corporations to divest any allegiance to their home country and to define corporate responsibilities exclusively by the interest of their shareholders.  It was a reversal of classical economics’ nationalistic foundation.

Central to all of this was the core neoclassical principle of shareholder primacy, the most pernicious scheme employed by neo classical economists.  Simply put, it commands that the interests of the shareholder reigns above all others.

This made it possible to eliminate social and ethical issues from the corporate decision-making process; placing employees, community, bond holders and national interests outside the boardroom calculus.  Today every publicly traded company in the western world is bound to these principles under corporate bylaws and its regimentation is assured under ‘modern’ financial accounting standards.

Shareholder supremacy allowed management, board members and shareholders to establish compensation incentive systems that direct management to manage for stock price above all other measures.  The obvious conflicts are buried within the self-confirming neo classical model: as in, ‘all of the conspiring actors are also shareholders’, sort of logic…

Neoclassical economists also successfully achieved the aims of its ideological predecessor’s by undermining the need for government regulations with a simplistic ‘free market narrative’that inexorably resulted in self-regulating markets (more on this later).  This was ‘confirmed’in self-referential formulas and proofsderived from something called efficient market theory (more on this later)

Never mind that when used as directed, your ideological product would always result in inverted outcomes.

Friedman’s neo classical policies also found a home within the Regan Administration.  It manifested itself in leveraged buyouts, tax policies that rewarded short term transactions over capital formation, deregulation and the sale of public assets.  These policy prescriptions, better known as ‘trickle-down economics’, became the centerpiece of U.S. economic policy ever since.

What follows is a short list of classical economic terms and neo classical public policy prescriptions that were semantically distorted to hide their desired outcomes from the public, regulators and policy makers.

Free Trade:  The neo-classical argument for ‘free trade’, conditioned on the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers, is literally the opposite of the classical arguments set forth by Smith and others.

Classical economics, as outlined in “Wealth of Nations”, allowed for tariffs (here).  Tariffs were used to raise revenues for the Crown, retaliate against foreign obstructions to trade and to promote domestic industry so that they could compete or dominate in international markets.

Managed tariffs were the engine of America’s economic power for its first 200 years and are now successfully utilized by China to manages its economy today – results speak for themselves.

The neo-classical definition allowed multi-national corporations to capture price differentials in non-comparative economies that were formerly reflected in tariffs.

This resulted in the transfer of pricing and costs-differentials across unequal economies for the exclusive benefit of the corporation while the loss of industry, taxes and displaced workforce fell on the host government and working-class people.

The long-term result of allowing corporations to pocket trade differentials that were traditionally moderated by tariffs is reflected in our government’s massive budget & trade deficits, national decay, failing infrastructure and rising social instability.

Trickle Down Economics:  In Smith’s time ‘trickle down’ economics would have represented the type of economic deformations that the classical economists set out to eliminate.  Trickle down policy expressed itself as massive tax breaks, including passive investments and other forms of unearned (rentier) income, for the wealthy.  In other words, this is a rebranding of rentier economics – nothing more.

The neoclassical policy prediction asserted tax breaks for the wealthy would trickle down to the working class and the poor.  What actually happened was that the wealthy benefited from an orgy of short-term financial transactions, leveraged buyouts and the off-shoring of technology and jobs. All of these gains were passed on to management and shareholders, via stock market gains, while all of the costs were passed on to the public at large.

Other noteworthy neoclassical frauds and failures:

Efficient Market Theory: This neoclassical ruse states that markets will always arrive at optimal pricing, on all things, in the absence of government interference.   This theory was successfully argued to deregulate the financial industry, utilities and the elimination of other regulatory protections.

The fraud of this argument is overwhelmingly obvious, but ignored.  If the market was “efficient,” as in fully reflecting all information, then market ‘corrections’, sudden price changes in commodities, interest rates & equities or fraudulent IPOs, accounting scams, Ponzi schemes and public externality cost like pollution would be impossible.

Of course, neo classical economics blames all of these failures on tangential government regulations in its self-referential framework.

Deregulation (financial markets and other): Smith specifically argued for the regulation of bankers and other rentier actors.  Everything else was subject to the interest of the Crown.

However, the neoclassical argument is that regulations on financial transactions and the existence of public assets restricts wealth creation and distort optimal ‘efficient market’ outcomes (self-referencing again).

Neo classical economists argued that deregulation and the sale of public assets would result in maximizing efficiency and wealth creation.

Presumably these gains would be shared with all, but the current level of wealth disparity tells a different story.

In regards to the sale of sale of public assets into private hands, ‘efficiency’ gains typically corresponded with reduced maintenance of formerly public assets, in order to maximize profits, resulting their degradation over time.

Other forms of deregulation resulted in the elimination of costs related to access / universal service, quality standards, labor-safety or environmental concerns in order to raise profits.

Financial deregulation’s ultimate objective was to externalizes costs and shifted risk to the public domain (specifics follow).

The 2008 banking failure is a perfect example.  Greenspan famously stated that deregulation would “unleash the creative powers of modern finance”.  It unleashed something – that is for sure.

Shareholder Supremacy & Wealth Creation: The neoclassical argument states that prioritizing shareholders above all others is the only way to maximize “wealth creation” within corporate structures.

Shareholder supremacy ultimately resulted in what amounts to self-dealing between executive managers, the compensation committee (also a beneficiary of these schemes), board members, investment banks and shareholders as corporations conspire to manipulate stock price and accounting measures at the expense of the underlying business.

Under this subterfuge the symbiotic relationship between corporations and their local environs were killed-off.  The expectation that corporations would conform with local, state or the federal governments’ interest died giving birth to the multi-national corporation and the respective interests of the shareholder.

This ruse did not result in wealth creation as promised, but wealth transfer and the liquidation of much of our nation’s legacy capital.

It is important to understand that shareholders are transient by nature.  They exist to capture gains and then move on to the next company.  Historically this behavior was moderated by high transaction and capital gains taxation costs.

Today, capital gains and transaction cost are inconsequential.  As a result, the majority of all equities, on all exchanges, are traded via computer based high frequency, quantitative & momentum-based models.  Neo classical economic policy has transformed rent-seeking into a global-pandemic virus transmitted at something close to the speed of light.

By applying the rules of modern game-theory, and in practice, it amounts to looting of the underlying assets.

Service Economy: I think it is fair to say that the much-touted transition away from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy did not conform to any of the neo classical economic predictions.

By classical economic standards ‘service economy’ work ranks near the bottom in terms of its economic contributions the broader economy and the interests of the Crown.  True wealth creation happened on the factory floor or agricultural fields across America.

Today many of these ‘service’ jobs are performed outside the U.S., manufacturing was mostly off-shored and the agricultural economy is drowning in debt (here)(here).

The Global Economy: Neoclassical economists and financial pundits never tire of stating that the new global economy will benefit all.

This would be true if you defined “all” as the top 5% or less of the U.S population.  Honest economics would require that the lower prices at Wal-Mart must be discounted against the loss of formerly gainful-employment by most Wal-Mart shoppers.

The neo classical goal of promoting a ‘global economy’ is about the unimpeded flow of capital so that it can capture unequal price differentials in taxation, labor and environmental standards across national economies.  It is the ultimate slippery slope to the lowest common denominator; and that denominator is capital.

From a U.S. economic standpoint this neo classical policy prescription has grossly distorted domestic capital formation through off-shoring, capital & IP divestment & dislocations for one-time gains (passed along to the transient shareholder and exiting upper management through higher stock prices) and largely contributed to the unconstrained growth in state and federal debt, urban decay, underemployment and the attrition of high skilled workers.

These outcomes are exactly the opposite of their promised benefit, unless you are a multi-national corporation or one of its shareholders.

Austerity Programs: Promoted as neo classical and Austrian economic theory, the standard IMF prescription of austerity includes the sale of public assets; ultimately transferring tax revenue producing assets from the delinquent state into private hands (here).

Austerity results in fiscal deflation, shrinks the economy, lowers employment, causes capital flight, the loss of tax revenue and the transferring of public assets into private hands; making loan repayment even more difficult.  The result, and goal, is to set the country up for another round of austerity and privatization of public assets.  IMF and World Bank activities in many less developed economies is nothing more than a confiscation racket.

Austerity programs do not violate classical economic theory if they are used to exploit third world countries for the benefit of the Crown — but they are repugnant. However, today they are also use on first world countries for the exclusive benefit of financial actors.

Consider Ireland who was forced to nationalize the private debts of domestic banks to assure against losses for the larger multi-national banks, or Greece who was stripped of its public assets and democratic institutions to make larger EU bankers whole.

All Economists know this, but few dare speak the truth (here).

Lower Corporate Taxes: The mantra that lowering corporate taxes would create jobs has resulted in the opposite outcome.

Beginning in the early 80s, these tax breaks helped fuel an acquisition spree (leveraged buyouts) that primarily resulted in massive layoffs, downward pressure on wages, accumulation of corporate debt, soaring stock prices for the target and acquiring corporations and the breakup and hyper-sectoring of corporations: making them less resilient to economic turn-downs.

There is no empirical data that even modestly suggests that this stunt has ever worked as advertised.

Despite its measurable failure over the last 30 years the Trump Administration instigated a new round of tax breaks for corporations.  The resulting corporate ‘income’ (tax transfers) was primarily used for share buybacks, pay raises and one-time bonuses to officers & directors and dividends to shareholders.  Specifically, share buybacks increased 71 percent over the previous record year of buybacks, exceeding $1 trillion (here). Corporate domestic spending on new factories, updated equipment and R&D remained flat or fell, relative to historic trends, as of the publishing of this paper.

Thus managers, directors and board members conspired to spend this taxpayer funded windfall to pump up stock prices ‘for the benefit of shareholders’ (and themselves) with no regard for the underlying operational or capital investment requirements of the business and no concern for the predictable long-term consequences of forgoing investment into the underlying business.

In other words, U.S. tax policy subsidized shareholder gains and corporate executive bonuses – making the likes of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerbergultra-uber-welfare queen’s under this policy ?.

This outcome is the exact opposite of the ‘predicted’ neo-classical policy prescription and undermines capital formation & the efficient utilization and distribution of capital as defined by classical economics.

Lower Capital Gains Tax: The claim that lower taxes on stock market transactions somehow creates jobs is comical, as lower capital gains alters long term investments into a profiteering racket.

Lowering capital gains on stock market holdings, commodities or currencies reduces investment horizons to near-zero as transaction cost are lowered.

This ultimately puts pressure on ‘investment’ horizon’s and corporate decision making as it relates to R&D, fuzzy accounting practices, reinvestment, and the liquidation or monetization of real assets to buy back shares.

By definition this translates into the rapid divestment of capital.

There is no real-world data that suggests otherwise.

Lowering Financial Transaction Costs: This fraud is typically promoted as benefiting liquidity or democratizing markets, but its only measurable effect is in lowering investment horizons to below one-millionth of a second time-intervals, or High Frequency Trading.

High Frequency Trading, the majority of all trading on U.S. exchanges today, allows large investment banks to front run their clients and the market in general.  It also promotes momentum-based investments: something that is in strict conflict with classical capital formation and contributes to the creation of asset-class bubbles.  This only exacerbates the problem as financial traders make money in ether direction: up or down.

If economists would bother to apply behavior and game theory concepts to a ‘market environment’ with near-zero transaction cost operating at close to the speed of light their models would replicate High Frequency Trading – a trading format that operates nearly-exclusively on non-fundamental data (price momentum & volume data) and can only result in the degradation of capital formation.

fyi: raising transaction and capital gains costs would proportionately reduce high frequency trading and greatly expand investment horizons for real assets. That is how it used to work back in the day

All of the above were promoted to the public, policy makers and regulators as policy mechanisms that would enhance economic activity, wealth creation, market transparency & self-regulation, U.S. living standards and capital formation.

The ultimate outcome for each of these policy prescriptions is the opposite of the stated prediction (unless you consider accounting gimmicks, short term profiteering and off-shoring to enrich shareholders, management and board members as wealth creation – as neo classical economist do).

The predicable failures are all obvious but the neo classical economic profession never applies scientific standards to its prescribed policy outcomes.

The broader ‘economic profession’ remains silent.

The “Liquidity” Deception requires a section of its own:

Derivatives, hailed by Alan Greenspan and others as “financial innovation”, are complex, unregulated, interdependent, heterogeneous and highly leveraged financial instruments beyond the constraints and controls of any regulatory body.

Western banks and financial institutions now hold over $1 quadrillion of these “financial weapons of mass destruction (Warren Buffet)” and are not on the hook for them if things go horribly wrong.

This sleight of hand was accomplished under the cover of the 2015 Continuing Resolution and Omnibus Spending Actthat amended provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Actregarding derivatives.  The change allows banks to book derivatives along-side other regulated and insured debts, giving derivatives seniority over bank creditors.  Those bank creditors, under normal accounting standards and as defined under Dodd-Frank Under Title II, Section 209 (b), include the savings and checking accounts of the American public (here), (here).  Similar bail-in ‘banking reforms’ were also instigated in the EU (here)).

This mix of what is largely the hypothecation of bets on bets, counter-bets, contingency bets and hedges on bets has resulted in a web of un-extractable collateral interdependencies across all asset classes and across all western economies.

This has no place in classical economics.

High Frequency Trading, a mechanism used by investment banks to front-run their clients and public and private pension funds, amounts to sanctioned criminal activity.

Ditto.

Collateralized Mortgage Obligation (CMOs) styled investment products now include home loans, auto loans, student loans, credit card debt, pay-day loans and just about anything else you can find in a dumpster.

Ditto.

Dark Pool Exchanges, now equal to 40% of all exchange trading, represent the continuing de-democratization of markets. Again, the opposite of what neo classical economist want us to believe.

Ditto.

All of the above are promoted to regulators and the public as mechanisms for enhancing market liquidity, but all are in fact and effect designed to asymmetrically mitigate or transfer risk and costs to others.

Based on the long history of easily observable ‘outcome failures’ one must conclude that these inverted outcomes are intended and that neo-classical economist are not economist at all, but instead, partisan actors seeking the uneven, inefficient and inequitable distribution of wealth and financial outcomes for the benefit of their patrons.

If these inverted outcomes are not accidental, as I assert that they are not, one must also conclude that the ultimate goal of these ‘failed’ outcomes is to reverse all of the historical gains of classical economics, with the net effect of transferring economic power to the financial classes.

Intended or not, the outcome is the same.  The global financial system, linked as it is through central banks, investment banks and bond markets, has gained sovereignty over the traditional nation state.

The Assent of Money

Throughout history all monarchies and nation states have jealously guarded their sovereign powers against ‘the money lender’.  Greek and Roman statesmen, many leading figures in American’s revolution of independence, members of Congress and past Presidents have prophetically warned against the evils of debt. Throughout history leading figures of government and public policy have proclaimed that debt as the mortal enemy of democratic or republican institutions.

Despite these warnings, debt is now the foundation 0f most of this nation’s ‘wealth’ in our excessively financialized economy.  The global financial system is predominantly debt. Global regulated banking debts now exceed global GDP, but unregulated banking debts are at least double that number in something called the shadow banking system (here).  Total global public and private debt has reached an all-time high of $215 trillion in nominal terms, or the equivalent of 325 percent of global GDP based on 2017 data(here).  However, most public and private real assets are pledged against various forms of debt, re-hypothecated and cross-collateralized into something called derivative instruments that are 7 to 17 times larger than the total global economy (here).  The world is drowning in debt and debt in the hands of the creditor equates to wealth and power in this system.

Today even human capital is monetized through debt, as student loans. The current level of debt attached to the future earnings potential of a relatively small proportion of the U.S. population now exceed $1 trillion.  As a consequence, America’s managerial, technical and medical professionals now enter the workforce as indentured servants (here).

The judicative superiority of debt over real assets is central to all of this.  It is not widely recognized, but in the U.S. and other western economies debt, in its multiplicity of forms, is assigned legal rights, seniority and even super-seniority over and above the underlying ‘owners’ of real assets — allowing economic actors to use debt and financial instruments (think interest rates and financial futures) as a weapon.

The value of debt is determined by interest rates. Central banks, like the Federal Reserve, actively manipulate interest rates for the benefit of their owners: large private banks, investment banks, and the financial industry at large.

Debt is now the most powerful economic agent in the world.  Today nearly all public and private assets are subordinated to debt, directly or indirectly.  This fact stands traditional “capitalism” on its head.

Global Finance Has Become A Game of Three Card Monty:

With this as our shared history, how is it that essentially all modern democratic representative governments have fallen victim to this destructive menace?

History is nothing more than a timeline-narrative of economic trends and change.  But change in a representative democracy,one would argue, is subject to the perceived self-interests of history’s actors.

Unfortunately. the larger public was unable to assess or protect its interests due to the misleading semantics and technical jargonused by neo-classical economists.  It was a silent and un-perceived coup.

In short, the collective governments of the western world were fooled by a simple ‘rebranding’ of feudal and rentier economics.  Debt gives neo classical agents power over all things, including sovereign governments.

In practice, neoclassical economics has resurrected what amounts to a super-sovereign rentier based global monetary economy with unbounded deference to debt, finance and capital.  The state is subordinated and the citizenry is largely reduced to financial serfdom (here), (here).

Neo classical economists established what amounts to a pre-classical economic system that once favored noble, aristocratic, landed, rentier class, monopoly and banker interests — the precursor of the so-called deep statethroughout our collective history: but now Money itself is the state, the noble class and the aristocracy.  It is the new almighty trinity.

Who Is The Fat Kid On The Teeter-Totter:

Historically, industry and labor were powerful political actors in the pre-1980 classical economic era. Banking and finance were second and third string actors.

Neo classical economics required a different balance.  This change in balance was achieved through the multi-decade attrition of manufacturing (mostly off-shored), related technologies and the high skilled jobs supporting these industries.

The transition was buoyed by the empty promises floated by neo classical economists, promoting the new service economy as the American worker’s new promise land.  It is largely ignored that most of these service jobs were also eventually offshored – again, neo classical economists do not measure outcomes.

The transitional pain and dislocation were partly anesthetized with near-universal access to easy credit and recycling a fraction of the one-time gains from off-shoring jobs and industries into the financial market.

With the introduction of broad participation in 401Ks and other financial devices the American workers were told that they were now owners, participants and partners in the ultimate arbiter of wealth: the market.

The last political domino to fall was when President William Jefferson Clinton rang Wall Street’s bell and consummated the Democratic Party’s open relationship with Wall Street.

More specifically, by allowing Travelers Insurance to merge with Citi Bank, including the integration of its investment banking and brokerage assets and the consequential passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Clinton effectively overturned the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932 (here), allowing for a decade of mergers between regulated banks and insurance companies with unregulated investment banks, brokerages and mortgage originators & dealers, making the 2008 and future economic collapses possible / inevitable (here).

Global Monetary Sovereignty

This section explores how and why democratic governments and their electorates were collectively induced into political and economic servitude.  It is a story of wealth corrupting our democratic institutions and why the natural balance of power has shifted away from the state.

Neo-classical economics has radically distorted the global economic order to the advantage of their patrons: the banking and financial classes.

Money, finance and capital have achieved super-sovereignty.  Money, without borders, has become paramount.  The state has become subservient.

It all happened in plain sight.

Over the last few decades this nascent phenomenon could only be discerned through the growing comparative negotiating strength of large multi-national corporations and investment capital against local, state, regional and national governments.

For example, hot money can negotiate concessions and exemptions in developing economies or massive tax incentives and out-sized financial packages in larger, more advanced economies.

Over time the interests of financial and corporate capital gained political leverage over the EU and the U.S. for very different reasons.

In the EU, with its constricting single monetary system and overarching centralized EU bureaucracy, corporate and financial interests were initially able to leverage against the comparative advantages in labor costs between individual EU states and the promotion of ‘liberal’ immigration policies.  The mass immigration of cheap labor benefited corporations but destabilized social norms.  Over time corporate and financial interests were able to integrate their interests into the EU’s vast bureaucracy of interlocking institutions.

In the U.S. the financial class gained leverage from the expansion of money in the political process, culminating in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (here), .

This was compounded by a rapidly shrinking industrial base and the related loss of manufacturing and other skill-based jobs.

This financial arms racepushed both political parties deeper into the arms of Wall Street.  As a result, the interests of the electorate were displaced and financial interests, via corporate dollars, increasingly direct government policy.

On a technical note the Democratic Party’s gets much of its financial support from the same unholy trinity as the Republican Party: Wall Street, defense contractors and PACs (political action committees that largely represent the interest of individuals).  Opposition politics, a functioning two party system, is impossible if all of the political actors are pandering to the same institutions and wealth individuals.

These ever-increasing powers were recently aggregated and codified within the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreements.

The TTP & TTIP, in essence, amounted to a ‘Declaration of Independence’ for all large economic players against what now amounts to the parochial interests of individual and collective nations.  When these laws are universally passed representative democracy will cease to exist within all signatory states (and all states subjected to the powers of this new financial amalgamation).

The Emperor Sheds His Clothes

The naked power of the financial institutions was in full display for all to see in the post 2008 banking crisis.

The international banking industry, unconstrained by national borders or regulatory controls and directly enabled by most ‘western governments’, was able to transfer its massive private losses onto the public and in some instances assume dictatorial powers that displaced national democratic institutions.  It was all done under the auspices of financial stability.

As a result of this self-inflictedcrisis the “too big to fail” became “too big to prosecute”.  All post 2008 financial regulations in the U.S. amount enabling devices (here).  As Wall Street continues to roll back Dodd-Frank, its primary function has devolved into an irrevocable ‘hall pass” that codifies most of the high-risk financial activities that caused the 2008 crash into law.  In its current form the public is once again on the hook when anything goes wrong.

What followed this entirely self-inflicted economic crisis were the muted mea- culpas from the financial industry, financial regulators and economic elites who were responsible for promoting these ideological policies and deregulation (here).

These confessions and the expansive collateral damage were lost on all as Eugene Fama was awarded the Noble prize for his post 2008 gift of absolutionto the Federal Reserve, regulators and everyone else in the financial industry.  Fama’s work basically asserted that ‘markets, perfectly efficient as they are, do not need regulation’.  The irony of this was apparently lost on all.

The Scepter of Power

What is the basis for the financial industries power over world governments and how was it that they were able to preserve their undemocratic and anti-nationalistic powers from re-regulation?

Their secret weapon was revealed in their expressed threat to crash global markets through their ‘control’ over a $1 quadrillion network of unregulated derivatives, a complex web of interdependent financial interconnections across all asset classes, in all markets, across all borders: and it worked.

No meaningful regulations were imposed on the banking industry and their unregulated derivatives markets have continued to grow.

Today Money, largely wielded as some form of debt, has become a new borderless anti-state: a financial-super-sovereign interlinked across the globe through the world’s central banks, investment banks, bond markets, stock markets and controlled and coordinated through a vast digital leger of wealth and power.

They operate freely in our congress, national parliaments, inter-governmental agencies and multi-national organizations across the globe.  They hold no allegiance to any country, people or this planet.

They have altered the understanding of capitalism,free marketsand history through the inversion of classical economics.  This poisonous ideology has successfully morphed into a monetary theology that controls our society.

The age of monetary feudalism has arrived, a new global political economy based on the sovereignty of money over the nation state. This is an observable and measurable fact, yet this fact is largely ignored by the media, academics and the broader economic profession.

The colonial empire model is nearly played out. The third world has been largely monetized.  There is little left to exploit outside the pan-European and U.S. theater.  Global financial interests have turned inward. They are now feeding on the U.S. and other western governments.  Europe and the U.S. are now just soup du jour.  Monetary cannibalism is the here and now.

The vector of continued wealth aggregation only weakens the state and undermines social norms and institutions as the aggregators of financial power assume ever greater political capital.  States and democratic institutions are crumbling under the weight and power of money.

Conclusion

Today the center of power has changed.  The Crown has been dethroned.  The moneyed-class has asserted itself as the central sovereign figure in global economics. Nation states are now supplicants to Wealth.

This transition from independent democratic institutions to a system of global monetary sovereignty was built on a foundation of semantics: nothing more.

The continued denial of these observable realities confirms that neo classical economic, the dominant economic ideology, is nothing more than a public relations industry for one-tenth of the 1 percent and we are all its dupes.

Failure to reform will render the larger economic profession’s role in history to that of an accessory. The economic profession must evict all neo classical ideology, principles and prescriptions from public policy before the powers of this new global monetary super-sovereign fully monetize, amortize and depreciate this planet to extinction.

To remain silent is to willfully submit under the yoke of this economically reductive system as it moves us all towards a global financial singularity.

In conclusion, I am promoting an open assault on the anti-scientific methods and asymmetric public policy prescriptions of neoclassical economics that are nurturing a world-wide dystopia of monetary sovereignty and neo-feudal servitude that has deformed our governments, degraded our economies and off-shored our collective futures.

I am openly promoting the re-revolution of classical economics.

Categories: News for progressives

Quentin Crisp’s Posthumous Book, the Sequel

Tue, 2019-03-26 15:30

Those of us lucky enough, by which I suppose I mean old enough, to have known Quentin Crisp’s work while he was alive, are probably aware of the third volume of his autobiography, The Last Word, published posthumously in 2017, on the 18th anniversary of his death.  That wonderful book, simpler and more direct than had been his custom, introduced us to the man behind the eminently quotable persona.  Answering questions about his life and attitudes, The Last Word was a gift of himself stripped of the style which had made him famous and a beacon for gay men or indeed anyone seeking the courage to be himself.

How thrilling, then, to discover that the swan-song was to be followed by an encore.  Composed of miscellaneous short pieces which didn’t fit with the theme of The Last Word, And One More Thing holds its own captivating rewards.

The Table of Contents offers a hint of the breadth of topics on which the unlikely life-coach muses.  A piece on supermodels is followed by one on children; another, on “Flapper Girls and Walt Disney,” by reflections on the religious right.  Bill, Hillary and Monica lead reasonably enough to the British royal family, but before you know it, we’re hearing about the oddest couple of all:  “Philosophers and Human Beings.”  Finally, from “Married Couples,” via drag queens and their various satellites, we arrive at “Television Hosts.”

Some of the thoughts voiced on these pages will be familiar to fans but diehards will nonetheless welcome the new variations on old themes.  There is still so much about Crisp that remains enigmatic that each detail functions as a clue into how and why this most solitary and, for his formative years, despised of creatures came to be so widely admired and loved.

The answer is hidden in plain view:  He was honest.  So honest, no one was sure whether to take him seriously.  As has been quoted extensively, he maintained, “[I]f you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you are called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you are called a satirist.”

The same deadpan honesty remains alive and well in And One More Thing; for instance, when he explains his deeply ingrained thrift. “In order to spend more freely… I would have to work. And I don’t like work. It ages you terribly. So, before I do anything… I have formed the habit of asking myself, ‘Could I possibly get out of this?’”  Anyone who ever visited his one-room bedsitter with the hot plate, bed and chair missing a leg will affirm that this is no fanciful exaggeration; it is literal truth.

On why he kept his phone number listed:  “[I]f you are not listed, you may well be stuck with your current friends. Now, I like my friends, but I’m mad about strangers.”  That one I can personally vouch for.  When I wrote to him after reading The Naked Civil Servant, saying I thought he should get the Nobel Prize but I also thought it extremely unlikely (a comment whose whimsy is lost in this politically correct era – it won’t be long before the winner is a transsexual from a country requiring him or her to seek political asylum) he responded, enclosing the aforementioned phone number.  I took the hint and he became a frequent dinner guest for the next fifteen years.

However, not all his observations come dressed up as aphorisms.  Many are the fruit of years of abuse at the hands of neighborhood toughs in an era when homosexuality was not simply frowned upon; it was also, in his native country of Britain, illegal.  “That which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”  Or crazy.  In Crisp’s case, though he embodied hardly anyone’s idea of strength, (he once explained, “I never take a superior position in any relationship with people; instead, I consider myself the slave and as a result I am not to blame for anything”) and though, despite his embrace of New York and its customs, he didn’t indulge in psychotherapy, he had a wisdom which lesser mortals take years to attain.  “I think it is a grave mistake to sit in your room wondering what some wretched man on another street is thinking about you. What does it matter? What matters is what you think about yourself.”

It was man’s relationship to himself that Crisp claimed as his bailiwick, for despite some long-term friendships, particularly with Phillip Ward who, along with Pink News editor Laurence Watts, edited this book as well as the last, he seems to have kept other people at arm’s length.

Thus does he reach conclusions on love which would probably not strike a chord with anyone outside a monastery:

Generally, I try not to regard one person above another. I think that is wrong. If we give more of our time, our money or our interest to one person rather than another, they will become the millionaires of love. And I come from a generation of people who wanted to redistribute the wealth of the world. So, to me, investing so much love in one person is to spend it unwisely. What then will happen to love’s paupers? They should be our first concern: the unloved. So, there has never been a great love in my life. If there were, he would have to be somebody who was weaker, poorer and less equipped for life than I. So what kind of a man would he have been?

(Unusual notions of love seem to have run in the family.  When his sister consulted a doctor after five years of marriage, asking why she was not yet pregnant, the doctor explained, “Because you are still a virgin.”  How this could have happened mystified Crisp as much as anyone else but he goes on to explain that sex “wasn’t part of the school curriculum back then and she did, of course, marry a clergyman.”)

In fact, the only thing he admits to loving is words.  And nowhere is that love more apparent than in this final book, where a number of his poems are published for the first time.  Perhaps because they are contained within the rigors of rhyming iambic pentameter or similarly demanding verse forms, these, more than any work previously seen, offer a glimpse into the agony he endured as well as the rage that formed in response and lay at the heart of his exquisite manners and style:

If I had deigned to guzzle at the plate,
Whose contents seemed egregiously to please
A squalid world that I have come to hate,
Or tried to run its race with mudded knees
And absolutely no hope of success,
Could I at last, perhaps with greater ease,
Outstretch my feeble hand and try to bless
That world that said my love was a disease?
Would I have written nobler lines than these?

Categories: News for progressives

My Russia Hot-Air Balloon

Tue, 2019-03-26 14:12

Wouldn’t you like to ride in my Russia hot-air balloon?
Wouldn’t you like to malign in my Russia hot-air balloon?
We’ll rig the vote with media folk together, you and I,
For we can LIE!!!
Up, up and unaware in my propaganda tool, my Russia hot-air balloon!

The world’s a surreal place in my propaganda tool balloon.
It wears a nasty woman’s face in my Russia hot-air balloon.
We’ll keep out throngs of human pawns for that darn socialist guy.
For we can LIE!!!
Up, up and unaware in my propaganda tool, my Russia hot-air balloon!

Suspended under a rightwing duopoly,
We’ll search the matrix for a deep state op to guide us.
If by some chance you find yourself jeopardized by me,
We’ll find some media clod to hide us, keep the cash beside us.

Success is hovering there in my Russia hot-air balloon.
Crushing the people’s will is fair in my propaganda tool balloon.
If you’ll hold my hand we’ll pull more scams on that Bernie guy.
For we can LIE!!!

Up, up and unaware in my propaganda tool, my Russia hot-air
ballooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon!

Up and unaware, up, up and unaware … up, up and unaware!!!

Categories: News for progressives

Three Lessons for the Left from the Mueller Inquiry

Mon, 2019-03-25 16:10

White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian


Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts. 

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage. 

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin. 

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too. 

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”. 

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate. 

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices. 

Trump empowered 

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy. 

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly. 

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children. 

Trump’s genius – his only genius – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait 

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate. 

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

 The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted. 

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us. 

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course. 

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most maginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges. 

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme. 

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping. 

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the rightwing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one. 

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive leftwinger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since. 

Simple-minded identity politics

 What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left. 

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a leftwing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Categories: News for progressives

The TSA’s Role as Journalist Harasser and Media ‘Watchdog’

Mon, 2019-03-25 16:03

Sometimes you have to leave the United States to understand how far this country has evolved towards becoming a police state.

I got a good example of this just last week on a trip with my harpsichordist wife to Vienna where she had been contracted to perform on Austrian State Radio in Vienna a concert of music by a leftist Jewish composer who settled in the US after fleeing from Austria just ahead of the Nazi Anschluss that took over and incorporated that country into Germany.

In retrospect, the first indication of a problem occurred the night before our flight, when we tried to make our seat assignments and print our boarding passes for the next day’s flight. My wife managed to easily get both her passes for the London Heathrow leg and for the leg on to the Vienna International Airport. My boarding pass for the second leg of the trip came up and got printed okay too, but when we tried to print my boarding pass from Philly to London, it wouldn’t come up.  Instead there was a message on the website saying we’d have to obtain that pass at the check-in counter. (Eventually by trying on both the American Airlines and the partner British Airlines site, she was able to get that boarding pass printed too, somehow.)

At the Philadelphia International Airport, the next day, I got my initial boarding pass without a problem. But going through the TSA security checkpoint, I was pulled aside for what i was told was a  “random” special inspection. Later, at our plane change at Heathrow Airport in the UK, at the point in the flight transfer process where we had to go through a passport and security check, I was told my boarding pass was “not recognized” and that I’d need to go to the airline check-in counter in an adjacent room to obtain a new one. It seemed a little odd — my wife’s boarding pass had checked out fine, and our itinerary showed both our names and our adjacent seat reservations for the next flight. But I still naively marked the glitch up to bureaucracy or an inadequate home printer that wasn’t working in the scanner

Silly me.

A week later, when it came time to book our seats for the return flight home,  the American Airlines website let us make our seat reservations for the entire trip and to place my wife’s boarding passes for the two legs of the flight home on her cell phone. But I was only able to access and print the boarding pass for the first leg from Vienna back to Heathrow.  Each time we tried to get my second boarding pass for the Heathrow-to-Philadelphia leg , as  had happened a week earlier before our first flight, a message appeared saying we’d have to go the airline ticket counter in London, show my passport, and obtain a boarding pass there.

Clearly, this was much more than a glitch.

At the Vienna airport, we received all four of our passes from the ticket agent, this time reprinted on the official cardstock at the airline check-in counter.

Everything went smoothly going through security at the Vienna airport from that point and we flew off to London, but when I got to the automated boarding pass checkpoint again at Heathrow, the turnstile gate wouldn’t open and instead I got a message on the screen saying my newly acquired official boarding pass was “invalid” instructing me to see an immigration officer. I walked over to a manned gate and after checking my boarding pass and passport the immigration officer told me I needed to go to the airline’s transfer desk a room away. There an agent scanned my passport, and then printed me a new boarding pass. Before handing it to me, he stamped on it in red the words “ICE Security.” Asking what that meant, I was told, “You’d have to ask Homeland Security, sir.”

Remember dear reader, that looking back, it was clear at this point that the initial flagging of my boarding pass happened in the US, , but now the placing of a red pre-made “ICE Security” stamp on the new boarding pass by the person at the airline transfer service desk of Heathrow Terminal 3 happened in Britain, not the US. It was all being handled by British security and British airline personnel based upon information provided to them by my own country’s Dept. of Homeland Security. This made it clear beyond a doubt that I am on some internationally circulated watch list produced by my own country’s Homeland Security authorities — an action that it is equally clear was being taken on account of my work as a journalist.

So much for the First Amendment, and probably the Fourth, too if my computer and/or phone was searched.

As we still had two hours of transfer time to kill, we went on to the waiting lounge for Terminal 5 where our flight was leaving from and had lunch, finally heading off to our departure gate when the gate number was posted on the schedule board.

As we approached our flight’s gate we heard our names blared out on a loudspeaker that was presumably blasting all over the terminal, saying we should to report to our gate immediately for a security check. As we had just arrived there, I went over to the boarding pass checker at the gate entrance and said I was David LIndorff and that my wife was with me. He announced on his phone to someone that “the Lindorff’s have arrived,” and then turned to us and said, “You need to come with me sir, with your bags and electronic equipment, for a special security check.”

My wife, not wanting me led off alone (a common practice in the US where Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are involved), said, “I want to go with him. Can I go with him?”  The gate person said that would be okay and let her join me.  (We had heard an account from a former student of my wife’s, a pianist who lives in Spain and holds a Dutch passport. Trying to enter the US in Seattle on a flight from Mexico City a few months ago, he found himself barred from entry by ICE officers, locked for hours in a windowless room with his computer and cell phone confiscated, and with no food, and 11 hours later was deported on a flight back to Mexico which he had to pay for. He was never given a good explanation for being turned away.  Understandably, my wife  didn’t want the same kind of thing to happen to me.)

As I started down the stairs as directed for my inspection ahead of her, my wife turned and asked the gate boarding pass checker,  “Is my husband getting searched because there’s some kind of code on his boarding pass?”

He responded, “You will have to ask Homeland Security about that.”  He added, “You don’t have that much to worry about. It’s people of color that have to worry,  if you know what I mean.”

When we got to the bottom of the  stairs we found several UK airport security staff  waiting behind two tables. At one table, a well-dressed man with light brown skin was having his luggage searched.  There were two other people —  a man and a woman — who were either packing up from their searches or waiting to be searched.

A British security officer with a strong Indian accent politely asked me to place my carry-on bag on the table between us, first asking me to zip it open for his inspection. He also had me remove my computer and cellphone and place them in front of him.  He perfunctorily rifled through all the clothes, papers, etc., in my small wheeled suitcase, then went over my computer and cell phone with a special device which, I presumed at the time was for detecting explosives, but which it later occurred to me might have been hoovering up my data. Then he checked my hands, front and back, for explosives residue with a different device.

Asked why I kept having problems going through airport security, and why there was this special red security stamp on my boarding pass, he said, “It was ordered by your country’s Homeland Security Office, sir.”

I said, “Yeah, I’m a journalist and our president doesn’t like journalists.”

He replied, “Yes sir, you’ve got a lot of problems over there, I know.”

I told him, “I know my writing is unpopular with the government, but I don’t see what that has to do with checking me for explosives.”  He didn’t respond to that, just saying, “Okay sir. We’re done. You can go ahead and board.”

I turned to the others who were being checked and asked, “Just out of curiosity, are any of you journalists like me?”

None replied, but the man who had been security checked at the same time as me later told me, as we were stepping onto the plane, “I think I was stopped because I’m from Brazil.”

I said, ‘It could be. We all know how popular Latin Americans are with our US ICE squads.”   It turned out that this guy was seated in First Class, so he was probably well off (not that money counts for much to our now quite openly racist and xenophobic government).

Remember, the initial flagging of my boarding pass happened in the US, , and the placing of a red pre-made stamp on the new boarding pass by the person at the airline transfer service desk of Heathrow Terminal 3 happened in Britain, not the US, and the whole process was all handled by British security and airline personnel based on information provided to them by my own country’s Dept. of Homeland Security. This made it clear that I am on some internationally circulated watch list for my work as a journalist.

This has happened before to me, in the period after the Iraq War was launched by the Bush/Cheney administration. Living and working for five months in early 2004 as a Fulbright Professor at a university in Taiwan, and for a couple of years thereafter when I was traveling around the US by air promoting my book The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), whenever I would check in and get my boarding pass, the counter agent would look up my reservation and then write a prominent “S” in pen and circle it before handing it to me. I asked a couple of times what the letter meant, and finally one agent told me, “It means special security check,”  and indeed, every time I flew in those years I would have to be patted down, scanned with a hand-held metal detector, and have my carry-on bag opened and pawed through by a TSA employee, or some equivalent person in the foreign country I was in.

Back in November 2002, I wrote a long article for Salon Magazine about the US government’s post-9/11 “No Fly” list. In the course of my research, I learned from a source in Homeland Security something that nobody else seemed to have discovered: that there were actually two government lists. One, the existence of which had been publicly announced, was of people deemed by the FBI and other intelligence agencies to be risks to air safety, i.e., potential terrorists who it was believed might try to bomb or hijack a plane, but for whom there was insufficient evidence for an arrest. People on that list are simply turned away if they try to fly.  My suspicion was that there had to be a second list though, because many people were being repeatedly harassed but then allowed to fly.  These suspicions of mine were confirmed in a second article I did for Salon that ran the following year headlined “Grounding the Flying Nun.”  There were, I learned, a few hundred people on the first list, some with common names like  Muhammed Islam — just people with the misfortune of having a name identical to someone who was a suspected terrorist. Then there was another much longer list, containing thousands of names, which was of people who were known to oppose the US government and its policies — particularly its foreign policy and its wars. These people, like a 71-year-old pacifist nun and also my impeachment book co-author Barbara Olshansky, a lead attorney on the legal team challenging the Guantanamo prison camp, were not so much barred from flying as harassed whenever they tried to fly.

Sometimes, as in the “non-flying nun’s” case, the harassment could involve being taken away to a room and questioned for so long she’d miss her flight to join some protest action, for example at the School of the Americas where she was a regular. Other times it was just a case of harassment.  Barbara, who at the time worked for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said she and her boss, the late CCR Director Michael Ratner,  both prominent civil liberties lawyers, joked that they had to allow extra time for every flight they went on because they were continually being pulled aside and searched — sometimes even strip searched — before being allowed to board.

So, after having flown for almost a decade without encountering any problems at TSA inspections, I’ve been alerted by this latest experience flying to Vienna for a week that I’m now back on that second list, and have to anticipate a regime of harassment when I travel by air. My guess is that it was my impeachment book and perhaps an earlier book I wrote on the Bush/Cheney government’s attacks on civil liberties and its criminal wars on “Terror” and on Afghanistan and Iraq, that led to my first several years of inclusion on the list. Now I suspect it is my December article in the Nation magazine exposing the Pentagon’s fraudulent accounting, or perhaps another article run on a number of news sites exposing  the US government’s decades-long effort, still underway, to develop the ability to launch a massive first-strike nuclear attack on Russia that could cripple any chance of Russia’s being able to counter with a significant retaliatory strike, that have put me back on it.

I’ll admit that it’s a pain in the ass to be hauled to the side at TSA checkpoints to be patted down and then forced to stand around while some glorified transit cop in a blue shirt paws grimly through my luggage. On the positive side, as least foreknowledge of being targeted forces one to get to the airport earlier and not be caught racing down some long terminal hallway trying to get to a gate before boarding closes, in order to allow for the extra inspection time. But my experience on this latest journey is also a reminder of how far we in the US have gone down the road towards becoming a police state.

The proof that my being on a Homeland Security airport harassment list as opposed to a terrorist watch list, and that my inclusion on the former is all about my being a journalist and government critic, and has nothing to do with being suspected of potential terrorism, is that though the authorities knew my wife and I were booked together for our Austria trip, no effort was made to check her suitcase or to have her remove her shoes for inspection (though she says they did run a device over her hands while she was waiting for my inspection, to see if there were traces of explosives).

Come to think of it, the several times I flew between the US and Taiwan, sometimes with my wife and our then 11-year-old son, and sometimes just with my son, security personnel never checked any carry-on luggage other than the one bag I identified as mine. And of course, for all they knew I could have been misinforming them that the suitcase they were checking was mine.

The reason they are harassing me and other journalists is obvious. As with the journalists and lawyers we’ve learned that the government is tracking, questioning and even detaining as they try to cover and to defend immigrants at the southern US border, they are not afraid at all of what I might do on a plane.

Categories: News for progressives

Epifanio Camacho: a Militant Farmworker Brushed Out of History

Mon, 2019-03-25 16:00

Cesar Chavez is perhaps best known for his role in the 1965-1970 Delano grape strike and boycott and his nonviolent tactics in those protests.

Although Chavez insisted on nonviolence, there was dissent within the National Farmworkers Association as some workers believed more militant tactics were necessary. One of these workers was Epifanio Camacho.  With Cesar Chavez day approaching, it is important to remember the work and life of Epifanio Camacho, who recently published his memoir.

Epifanio Camacho: The Making of a Militant

Camacho’s life story is critical to understanding how and why he became militant.

Epifanio Camacho was born in San Agustín, a village of about 150 inhabitants, in the province of Tamaulipas, Mexico, on the eve of the Mexican Revolution. Camacho spent his formative years in Mexico and migrated to the United States in 1955 when he was in his thirties.

Camacho’s first job was in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he worked as a gravedigger. His employer consistently underpaid him and Camacho eventually tired of this and left. He went to Oklahoma to pick cotton and then to Arizona to do the same. From there, he went to the Coachella Valley in California, where he picked dates. Eventually, he got a job at Montebello Rose in McFarland, California grafting rose plants.

The Rose Grafting Strike in McFarland

In McFarland, Camacho realized that he could not run from one employer to the next in the hope of finding one who would pay him fairly. Thus, when his employer at Konklyn Nursery withheld his wages, Camacho went to the Labor Commission to complain. His boss showed up at his hearing and offered Camacho $30.00 in back pay, a fraction of what he was owed. Camacho refused the check and demanded his full pay. The judge was not sympathetic and closed the case. After the hearing, Camacho was blacklisted from rose grafting.

Camacho began to see that he was not going to win the battle against bosses alone. One of his co-workers, Manuel Rivera, told him about Cesar Chavez, who was organizing farm workers in Delano, just five miles north of McFarland. Camacho went to Delano and joined Chavez’s organization, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).

Cesar Chavez told Camacho that his strategy was to get as many members as possible to create a strong political force to get the laws changed. Camacho suggested that they organize a strike. Chavez was unwilling to do so as he did not think they were strong enough yet. Camacho insisted on a strike and Chavez told him to invite workers to a meeting where they could discuss it more. After a series of meetings, the rose grafters eventually agreed to strike in April 1965.

The principal demands of the strikers were recognition of the NFWA as the representative of the farm workers and an increase to $2.50 for every 1000 rose plants processed for grafters and binders.  At first, the strike was effective, as it was difficult for the bosses to replace the skilled workers.  The company responded by offering the workers a pay raise on condition that they returned to work on a specified day. Everyone showed up to work after four days, and the bosses kept their promise of higher wages. The other four rose companies raised their wages to stay competitive.

The rose strike gave workers a sense of their potential strength if they united and fought. Camacho played a key role in uniting the workers and instilling confidence in them.

The Vineyard Strike

The other major source of agricultural production in the area is vineyards. The vineyard workers were eager for change after hearing about the strike among the rose grafters. The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) came to Delano in the summer of 1965 to organize a strike. Initially the AWOC strike only involved the Filipino workers. However, when the growers refused to negotiate with AWOC, the NFWA called a meeting of their workers, and they resolved to join the grape strike.

The principal NFWA demands were recognition of a union and collective bargaining contracts.  The AWOC was mainly interested in a pay raise, both an increase in the hourly wage and the piece rate. Thus, there were two strikes – one led by the Filipino AWOC and one led by the NFWA. The Filipinos often lived in the bosses’ fields, and the bosses cut off their water, electricity, and gas to pressure them during a strike.

To deal with this situation, AWOC had Filipino Hall provide free food and a place to stay for the striking Filipino workers. When Mexican workers came to the picket lines hungry, Filipino workers invited them to Filipino Hall to eat.

At the Jasmin Company, where Camacho was the picket captain, the strikers did not let scabs cross the line. After Camacho was arrested because of a confrontation with a scab, Chavez replaced him with Jim Drake, a local pastor, as picket captain. Drake practiced nonviolence and thus did not physically prevent scabs from crossing the picket line. Camacho explains, in his memoir, that Chavez used his arrests as an example to generate fear in other strikers so that they would also practice nonviolence. Ironically, once Camacho was no longer on the picket line, Chavez asked him to serve as his personal body guard.

The strike, which would last, more than three years, created 100 or so activists, some farmworkers and some volunteers, who would for the next five years provide leadership to the farmworkers’ movement.

The March from Delano to Sacramento

One of the strikers, Jorge Zaragoza, suggested they march to Sacramento about 250 miles to the north. The workers selected Camacho to lead the march. However, when he demanded that no religious symbols or nationalist flags be displayed in the march, Cesar Chavez and others in the leadership disagreed. They asked Manuel Camacho (unrelated), but he also demanded the same conditions. The same thing happened when they asked Jorge Zaragoza to lead the march. So, they chose another leader, who agreed without setting any conditions.

The march was set to begin March 15, 1966. Fifty strikers volunteered to make the trip. The police, believing that Camacho would lead the march, arrested him the night before. The march proceeded anyway. The police tried to stop the march, but eventually succumbed to pressure and let the workers exercise their right to freedom of assembly.Camacho was released from jail and caught up with the marchers in Ducor about 20 miles from the start. The size of the march increased with each town they passed. In April as the marched neared Sacramento, the Schendley Company agreed it would recognize the NFWA as the representative of the workers and would negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. On April 10, 1966, 25 days after the march began, they arrived in Sacramento. 57 had marched the whole way.  A crowd of over 5,000 greeted them.

The march to Sacramento generated publicity across the country and similar strikes broke out in Texas and Arizona. The DiGiorgio Corporation tried to sidestep the strikers by entering into an agreement with the Teamsters. But, when an election was held, the workers chose to be represented by the NFWA, and a collective bargaining agreement was signed on August 30, 1967.

After the victory at DiGiorgio, the NFWA decided to declare a boycott of Giumarra products. This strategy meant that the NFWA had to send workers across the country to spread the word about the boycott. As a result, they did not have many workers left on the picket line.

Camacho stayed behind on the picket line with about 15 other strikers. In February 1968, scabs arrived to work on pruning the vineyards. There was a thick fog in the vineyards so it was difficult for the scabs to see where they were going or what was happening. According to Camacho, the devil came and beat the scabs to scare them off the fields.

Both Camacho and Chavez faced charges for the violence against the scabs, although they both denied any wrongdoing. Chavez strongly denounced the people who had been on the picket line the day the scabs were beaten. Camacho insisted that the strikers were elderly men who were incapable of carrying out such a beating.

Chavez’s response was to go on a hunger strike in an effort to promote pacifism in response to the attacks on the scabs. Chavez’s view eventually prevailed. Chavez turned his efforts to promoting Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign. Camacho went along for a while, but became disillusioned because he believed the workers in the field were being neglected. He went back to Delano to continue his work with the grape boycott.

Camacho and the other strikers followed the grape shipments that left daily for stores and organized picket lines in front of the stores to aid the boycott. The boycott grew in strength nationally, and was helped by support from students who were also organizing against the Vietnam War.

It was during the Guimarra Vineyards strike that major political differences between Camacho and Chavez developed.

Chavez, Huerta, and Camacho: A Clash of Visions

Chavez contacted the INS and help facilitate attacks on undocumented workers. In one raid, 62 striking workers were arrested. The fast that occurred during the strike was in reality an attack on Camacho and other militant farmworkers who favored a strong strike movement over boycotts.  Instead of relying on farmworkers to lead the struggle, Chavez turned to politicians like Robert Kennedy and Jerry Brown for help.  Over the next five years, these political errors would undermine the UFW.

By June 1970, the bosses of the thirty-three agricultural companies were left with no other choice than to sign collective bargaining contracts with what was now the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). The NFWA had for some time been in the AFL-ClO, which was the group that created the name UFWOC. It was with this group that the ranchers signed three-year contracts.

The boycott, although initially effective, was a limited tactic, as Camacho explains:

After the victory over the ranch owners, Chavez idealized the boycott as a unique weapon, infallible, against any and all agricultural companies to gain collective bargaining contracts. Supposedly just the threat of a boycott of their products would be sufficient to sway the bosses without the necessity of a strike. He was so enamored of his magical weapon that he even named his dog Boycott. But he was wrong. Ironically he was never again able to win another collective bargaining contract through its use once the Vietnam War was over. The best weapon of struggle against the bosses, with exception of armed struggle by the workers, continues to be strikes at the point of production, the militancy of the workers on the picket lines and a take no prisoners war against the traitorous scabs. Everything else is totally secondary.

With the contracts, the workers received medical benefits and found themselves in a far better situation. However, the union excluded undocumented workers, putting an enormous sign above the window that said: “No workers without legal residency papers in the U.S. may work where there are contracts, and may not be members of this Union.” So these workers could not obtain the benefits or protections that they had hoped to achieve through the union. This was just the beginning of a ferocious campaign that Chavez let loose later against the “undocumented” workers. By 1973, Chavez had established what came to be known publicly as the “Wet Line” in the area of Yuma, Arizona. It consisted of a number of army tents along the border with a group of men in each tent. Chavez’s cousin, Manuel Chavez, was in charge of assisting the immigration agents in detaining anyone who tried to cross the border into the U.S. illegally.

It was difficult for Camacho to find work. The company had blacklisted him, even though the union was in charge of hiring. Camacho decided that he was not going to put up with this. The union had hired scabs and he had been at the forefront of the fight. He demanded that he be hired and eventually won and began working again at the Jasmin Company. Two days after beginning work, Camacho was elected to be the workers’ committee representative to the company.

Every time there was a violation of the contract, the workers responded with work stoppages. For example, if the water barrel was too far away or lacked ice, the workers stopped work until the problem was resolved. If the toilet was too far away or was dirty, again they stopped working. This strategy was effective, and they even were able to improve the contract.

For example, the contract stated, “Nine hours a day, six days a week”. However, in the winter the days have fewer hours of sun and there is too much fog in the mornings, making it dangerous for the workers on the roads. There were frequent accidents due to low visibility. They decided to negotiate with the boss to get eight hours a day. They pointed out that his accident insurance did not cover workers while they were on the road. He finally accepted the eight-hour day provision.

The contracts were set to expire in June 1973, so in April 1972, Camacho and a group of grape workers went to La Paz, the headquarters of the UFW, for a meeting with Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Camacho met privately with Chavez and Huerta and told them the growers were not going to renew the contracts and that the union needed to prepare for a big fight. They disagreed.

Camacho explains:

I discussed all of my concerns with Chavez and Huerta that we were going to have problems again. Chavez even dared say to me, “You’re crazy. Look, for example, when the contract ends at Inter Harvest (a lettuce producer in Salinas, CA), all I have to do is pick up the telephone, and from here I can make them renew the contract.” That is how incredibly stupid Chavez’s estimation of the situation was. But I did warn them what was coming. And it came about exactly like I said.

When the contracts were set to expire, Camacho was working at Robert Farms. He and the other workers received the news that Robert Farms as well as the other companies had signed contracts with the Teamsters Union. The union leadership called an emergency meeting and decided to strike again as they did not want to be represented by the Teamsters, who they viewed as the bosses’ union. Camacho explained what happened:

When the appointed day to declare the strike arrived, many had brought their union flags in their cars and others had them hidden in their clothes. At exactly 10 in the morning when the cry of “STRIKE!” went up, we all pulled out our flags and ran to our cars. We went around the entire area with other groups and ensured that nobody stayed at work. That is to say that none of the tractor drivers, irrigators, weeders, truckers had remained in the fields. We spent the whole day making sure that everyone in the area had left work. The next day we were all at the picket lines and each line had its captain. I was left as a private. The leadership did not want me in charge of any pickets because, according to them, I was very violent and the strike had to be very pacifist. But that didn’t affect me because in a strike such as ours there are many forms of militancy and I was not going to stay behind.

The workers organized themselves into clandestine groups in order to maintain the strike and to avoid spies. The clandestine groups damaged irrigation lines, burned water pumps, damaged the tires of scabs, and destroyed plantations. The Teamsters also sent thugs out – not to attack scabs, but to attack the picket lines. One day in Lamont, these Teamster thugs brutally attacked a picket line with sticks and baseball bats. Chavez told the workers to turn the other cheek. However, when the Delano workers heard that the thugs were coming to their town, they armed themselves with knives and the thugs never showed up. Chavez grew increasingly frustrated with the militancy of the strikers and their lack of commitment to pacifism.

Despite the strikes, the growers refused to renew most of the contracts. Chavez’s policies of attacking undocumented workers during the three previous years, his discriminatory policies toward Filipinos, and his unfair policies at union hiring halls alienated many farmworkers from the UFW and created a ready force of scabs. His fasts and alliances with Jerry Brown, the governor of California were useless in the fight against the growers.

Camacho and other rank and file workers fought several strikes, the scabs and the thugs, many from the Teamster union backed by the state and local police, carried the day, and the strikes were mostly lost. Chavez then began a purge of the left forces in the union.

In 1972, the UFW had mobilized to defeat Proposition 22, which would have limited the power of the union and the right to boycott. But by 1976, when the UFW union tried to pass Proposition 14 to strengthen the laws protecting farm workers, it lost overwhelmingly.

As the 1970s came to an end, the UFW was a shadow of its militant past. Liberal politicians continued to support Chavez and build a cult around him so as to sway the growing Chicano movement in the Southwest to support the Democratic Party.

But with Camacho expelled from the union and many rank and file militants demoralized, the UFW became a service organization supported by the foundations and the churches but devoid of any class struggle.

Camacho and Chavez constantly were in conflict because they had different visions of how change happens. Camacho believed in militancy and class struggle whereas Chavez prioritized non-violent action.

Camacho developed a revolutionary consciousness through his struggles. He eventually joined the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) and began to organize workers in McFarland and other towns in the Central Valley to join the PLP and to become communists. Chavez continued to work with politicians and to organize consumer boycotts to make changes to the existing system. Chavez and Huerta have become heroes, while Camacho and other militant workers have been airbrushed out of farmworker history.

Tanya Golash-Boza is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her most recent book is: Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism, published by New York University Press. She tweets at @tanyaboza  Michael Golash is a former president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the transit workers union in Washington, DC. He tweets at @mikeg1917
Categories: News for progressives

Don’t Believe the Hype: Here’s Why ISIS Hasn’t Been Defeated

Mon, 2019-03-25 16:00

After all the headlines about the supposed defeat of Isis, anyone who doesn’t believe a word of it may seem a bit of a spoilsport. But whenever I read that victory has been declared – whether it be of the Bush “mission accomplished” variety or the “last Isis stronghold about to fall” fantasy – I draw in my breath. Because you can make a safe bet that it’s not true.

Not just because the fighting around Baghouz is, in fact, still continuing outside the wrecked town. But because there are plenty of Isis fighters still under arms and ready to fight in the Syrian province of Idlib, along with their Hayat Tahrir al Sham, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda comrades – almost surrounded by Syrian government troops but with a narrow corridor in which they could escape to Turkey; always supposing that Sultan Erdogan will let them. There are Russian troop outposts inside these Islamist front lines, along with Turkish military forces but the tentative ceasefire which held for five months has become a lot more tenuous in the past few weeks.

Maybe it’s a failure of our institutional memory – or it’s just plain simpler to go along with the simplest story – but Idlib has for three years been the dumping ground of all Syria’s Islamist enemies, or at least the antagonists who didn’t surrender when they fled the big cities under Syrian and Russian bombardment.

Last September – though we seem to have forgotten this – Trump and the UNwere warning of the impending “last battle” for Idlib, fearing – so they said – that the Syrians and Russians would use chemical weapons in their assault on Isis and its chums. Even the Syrian army announced the impending conflict, minus the chemicals, in a military website called “Dawn at Idlib”.

But I took a long trip around the Syrian front lines at Idlib, from the Turkish frontier then south, east and north again up to Aleppo and saw no tank convoys, no troop transporters, few Syrian helicopters, no supply trains and concluded – even as the warnings of final extinction continued – that this particular “last battle” was still a long way away. On the day I arrived south of Jisr al-Shughur, al-Nusra and Isis had fired a few mortars at Syrian army positions – the Syrians had fired a few shells back at them – but that was it.

A complicated truce agreement, involving both the Turks and the Russians, managed to forestall the carnage everyone predicted. There was much talk of the Isis, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda men – some of whom are Saudis – being shipped out by the Turks under a laissez passer to the wilds of Saudi Arabia for a little “re-education”. I always hoped this might be the woefully hot Empty Quarter where their superheated theology might be turned to a crisp.

But they are still in Idlib, happy no doubt to hear that the west thinks it has scored its “final victory” over Isis. The battle for Baghouz, of course, was always likely to pick up the headlines. The American air bombings and the presence of the friendly (and very brave) Kurds made this a more accessible – although still dangerous – story. And it switched attention away from other questions: like who invented the title “Syrian Democratic Forces” – which are in fact mostly Kurdish, many of whose members would prefer not to be thought of as Syrians, and whose ranks never enjoyed a democratic election in their lives.

If the Americans are in fact leaving at last, the Kurds are still going to be betrayed and left to the mercy of their enemies – be this Turkey or the Syrian regime (with whom the Kurds held some not very successful talks last year). A good time for the Americans, therefore, to call it a day outside Baghouz – a victorious one of course – and get the hell out. Hoping that the world will forget about Idlib.

But I don’t think it will. The Syrian war is not yet over – although that’s what the world (including, it seems, the Syrian government) believes. Idlib remains a land of tens of thousands of refugees as well as legions of fighters, a place of destitution, broken railways and blown-up motorways and Islamist groups who sometimes fight each other with more enthusiasm than they wish to fight the Syrian military.

But this will now be Russia’s chance to show it knows how to defeat Isis. There are contacts, of course, between Moscow and every group involved in the Syrian war. Isis fighters left Syrian cities over the past two years under Russian military protection. This could be repeated. Putin has allowed the Isis women and children to return home. There is still just a chance that Isis, Nusra/al-Qaeda and their comrades will be able to leave unharmed – although time suggests they may yet have to fight a real last battle for Idlib.

But even then, it might be a good idea to put a hold on our “victory” headlines.

Categories: News for progressives

The Capitulation of Jerome Powell and the Fed

Mon, 2019-03-25 15:59

This past week, on March 20, 2019, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell announced the US central bank would not raise interest rates in 2019. The Fed’s benchmark rate, called the Fed Funds rate, is thus frozen at 2.375% for the foreseeable future, i.e. leaving the central bank virtually no room to lower rates in the event of the next recession, which is now just around the corner.

The Fed’s formal decision to freeze rates follows Powell’s prior earlier January 2019 announcement that the Fed was suspending its 2018 plan to raise rates three to four more times in 2019. That came in the wake of intense Trump and business pressure in December to get Powell and the Fed to stop raising rates. The administration had begun to panic by mid-December as financial markets appeared in freefall since October. Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, hurriedly called a dozen, still unknown influential big capitalists and bankers to his office in Washington the week before the Christmas holiday. With stock markets plunging 30% in just six weeks, junk bond markets freezing up, oil futures prices plummeting 40%, etc., it was beginning to look like 2008 all over again. Public mouthpieces for the business community in the media and business press were calling for Trump to fire Fed chair Powell and Trump on December 24 issued his strongest threat and warning to Powell to stop raising rates to stop financial markets imploding further.

In early January, in response to the growing crescendo of criticism, Powell announced the central bank would adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude whether or not to raise rates further. The Fed’s prior announced plan, in effect during 2017-18, to raise rates 3 to 4 more times in 2019 was thus swept from the table. So much for perennial academic economist gibberish about central banks being independent! Or the Fed’s long held claim that it doesn’t change policy in response to developments in financial markets!

This week’s subsequent March 20, 2019  Fed announcement makes its unmistakenly official: no more rate hikes this year! And given the slowing US and global economies, and upcoming election cycle next year, there’s essentially no rate hikes on the horizon in 2020 as well.

Central bank interest rate policy is now essentially ‘dead in the water’, in other words, locked into a ceiling at 2.375%, which makes it now a useless tool to address the next economic downturn around the corner.

The US Economic Slowdown Has Arrived

For those who believe the business press and government ‘spin’ that the US economy is doing great, and recession is not just around the corner, consider that US retail sales have fallen sharply in recent months. In December they declined by -1.6%, the biggest since September 2009.

Residential and commercial construction has been contracting throughout 2018. In January, manufacturing, led by autos, dropped by -0.9%. The manufacturing PMI indicator has hit a 21-month low. Despite Trump’s early 2018 multi-trillion dollar business-investor tax cuts, investment in plant and equipment growth by year end slowed by two thirds over the course of 2018. Recent surveys show CEO business confidence has declined the last four quarters in a row—i.e. a bad omen for future business spending on equipment and inventories. Despite Trump’s ‘trade wars’, the US trade deficit finished the year at a record $800 billion in the red. Service sector revenues rose a paltry 1.2% in the fourth quarter 2018 compared to the same period a year earlier.

And word is out that the US GDP for fourth quarter 2018 will soon be revised downward. Initially posted at 3.1%, in February it was reduced to 2.6%. Next week, in April, it will be reduced still further, to 1.8% or less, according to JP Morgan researchers. Meanwhile various bank research and other independent sources are predicting a 1st quarter 2019 US GDP of only 1.1%, and possibly even less than 1%. The economic scenario predicted by this writer a year ago is thus materializing.

Trump’s economy is clearly in trouble. And now he’s on an offensive to get the central bank not only to halt rate hikes, but to start lowering interest rates before the end of this year. And if Powell doesn’t comply, watch for the Trump and right wing to push for firing Fed chair, Powell, as well.

To head off Trump-Investor offensive against the central bank, Fed chairman Powell held an historically unprecedented public interview with the national 60-minutes TV show.  He attempted to placate Trump and the growing attacks. Only Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, held a similar public interview—during the worst depths of the collapse of the US economy in 2008. Trump’s latest tactic has been to nominate Steven Moore as a Fed governor. Moore is one of those right winger economists affiliated with the Heritage think tank. He publicly called for Trump to fire Powell during the December near-panic over the US stock market’s plunge.  Watch Powell and the Fed therefore drift over the course of 2019 to not just freezing Fed rates, but lowering them as well by year end.

Monetary Policy Tools Collapsing?

The current peaking of the Fed’s rate at 2.375% compares to a Fed peak interest rate of 5.25% in 2007 just before the onset of the last recession; a 6.5% peak on the eve of the preceding recession in 2000; and the 8% peak rate just before the 1991 recession. In other words, Fed rate policy effectiveness has been deteriorating over the longer run for some time, and not just recently.

That deterioration is traceable to Fed policy since the 1980s, which has been shifting from using interest rates to stabilize the economy (low rates to stimulate economic growth/higher rates to dampen inflation) to a policy of ensuring long term low interest rates as a means for subsidizing banks, businesses and capital incomes in general.

Chronic, low rates subsidize business profits by lowering borrowing costs and, in addition, by incentivizing corporations to also issue trillions of dollars of new (low cost to them) corporate bond debt. Money capital from the record profits and the cheap debt raised are then distributed to shareholders and managers via stock buybacks and dividend payouts—which have averaged more than $1 trillion a year every year since 2010 and in 2018 alone hit a record $1.3 trillion. But the chronic, low rates are the originating source of it all, i.e. the ‘enabler’.

While Fed (low) rate policy has become a major means for subsidization of capital incomes, after each business cycle the rates cannot be restored to their pre-recession levels—leaving the Fed now with its mere 2.375% rate level as it enters the next recession. The rate level at the end of the cycle ratchets down. In other words, the Fed’s interest rate gun is reloaded with fewer bullets. It is now close to being out of ammunition.

Beyond Quantitative Easing, QE

The declining effectiveness of interest rate policy has forced the Fed, at least in part, to develop another monetary tool the past decade, so-called Quantitative Easing (QE). The introduction of QE in 2009 in the US (and earlier by the Bank of Japan which originated the idea) should be viewed in part, therefore, as a desperate attempt to create a new tool as interest rates have become increasingly ineffective at stopping or even slowing a business cycle contraction or at stimulating an economic recovery from recession. With QE the central bank goes directly to investors and buys up their bad debt by providing them virtually free money at ultra-low (0.1%) rates. QE is therefore about the Fed transferring the bad debt from investors and banks’ balance sheets directly onto the Fed’s own balance sheet. But that subsidization via debt off loading and low long term rates also reduces the effectiveness of monetary policy performing its historic role of economic stabilization—i.e. stimulating economic growth or dampening inflation.

During the period 2009 to 2016 the Fed’s QE program transferred between $4.5 trillion to $5.5 trillion from investors to its own balance sheet. And if one counts other major central banks in Europe, Japan, and China the amount of debt offloaded from bankers and investors to central banks amounted to between $20 to $25 trillion.

To prepare for the next business cycle crash and recession, the Fed and other central banks in recent years announced they would begin to ‘sell off’ their bloated balance sheet debt. The purpose was to ‘clean up’ the central bank’s balance sheet so it could absorb and transfer even more corporate-investor bad debt to itself during the next crash. (This debt sell off was called ‘Quantitative Tightening’ or QT). The Fed was first among central banks to begin the sell off, with a token $30 billion a month. Other central banks in Europe declared they too would do so but have since abandoned the pretense. The Bank of Japan with its $T to $5T debt never even pretended. So the world’s central banks remain bloated with tens of trillions of dollars equivalent in off-loaded corporate-investor debt from the last crisis of 2008-09 and face the prospect of even tens of trillions more—and possibly much more—in the next crisis.

However, Powell further announced on March 20 that the Fed will also halt, by September 2019, its QT sell off. Like interest rate policy, QE/QT policy, is also likely now ‘dead in the water’.
Can the Fed add $5T to $10T more in QE come the next crisis? (And the world’s major central banks add another $30T more in addition to their current $20T?) Perhaps, but not likely.

Doubling QE and Fed balance sheet debt is not any more likely than the Fed significantly lowering interest rates come the next crisis. Even less so for the Europeans and Japanese, whose interest rates are already less than zero—i.e. negative.

Central Banks as Capital Incomes Subsidization Vehicles

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that in the 21st century capitalist economies—the US and others—are having increasing difficulty generating profits and real investment from normal business activity. Consequently, they are turning to their Capitalist States to subsidize their ‘bottom line’. Central banks have become a major engine of such subsidization of profits and capital incomes. But that ‘subsidization function’ is in turn destroying central banks’ ability to perform their historic role to stimulate economic growth and/or dampening inflation. The latter historic functions deteriorate and decline as the new subsidization of profits and capital incomes become increasingly paramount. The historic functions and the new function of central banks as engines of capital subsidization are, in other words, mutually exclusive.

The same subsidization by the State is evident in fiscal policy, especially tax policy. Once the Fed started raising rates in late 2016 the policy shifted from monetary tools to subsidize capital in comes to fiscal tax policy as primary means of subsidization.
Since 2001 in the US alone business and investor and wealthy households have been provided by the Capitalist State with no less than $15 trillion in tax reductions. Like low rates & QE, that too has mostly found its way into stock buybacks, dividend payouts, mergers & acquisitions, etc. which have fueled in turn unprecedented financial asset market bubbles in stocks, bonds, derivatives, foreign exchange speculation, and property values since 2000. And by such transmission mechanisms, the accelerating income and wealth inequality trends in the US and elsewhere.

Business-Investor Tax Cutting as Subsidization Vehicle

While subsidization via tax cutting has been going on since Reagan, it accelerated since 2000 under Bush and continued under Obama. But it has accelerated still further under Trump. The impact of the Trump tax cuts is most evident on 2018 Fortune 500 profits. No less than 22% of the 27% rise in 2018 in Fortune 500 profits has been estimated as due to the windfall of the Trump tax cuts for businesses and corporations. The total subsidization of business-investors over the next decade due to the Trump tax cuts is no less than $4.5 trillion—offset by $1.5 trillion increase in taxes on middle class households and Trump’s phony assumptions about GDP growth that reduces the $4.5 trillion further to a fictitious $1.5 trillion negative hit to the US budget.

The subsidization via tax cutting has also generated record US budget deficits and national debt levels that have been doubling roughly every decade—from roughly $5 trillion in 2000 to $10-$11 trillion by 2010, to $22 trillion by 2019, with projections to $34-$37 trillion or more by 2030. Roughly 60% of the US budget deficits and debt are attributable to tax policy and loss of tax revenues.

Bail-Ins: Next Generation Monetary Tool?

Long touted by mainstream economists as ‘tools of stabilization and growth’, in reality both central bank monetary policy (rates, QE, etc.) and government fiscal policy (business-investor tax cuts) have been steadily morphing into means of subsidization of capital incomes. Having become so, the ability of both monetary (central bank) and fiscal policy to address the next major crisis could prove extremely disappointing.

Monetary policies of low interest rates and even QE are now ‘played out’, as they say. And with US debt at $22.5 trillion, going to $34 trillion or more by 2027, fiscal policy as means to stimulate the economy is also seriously compromised.

So what are the likely policy responses the next recession? On the monetary side, watch for what is called ‘bail ins’. The banks and investors will be bailed out next time by forcing depositors to convert their cash savings in the banks to worthless bank stock. That’s a plan in the US and UK already ‘on the books’ and awaiting implementation—a plan that has already been piloted in Europe.

On the fiscal-tax side, watch for a renewed intensive attack on social security, medicare, education, food stamps, housing support and all the rest of social programs that don’t directly boost corporate profits. The outlines are clear in Trump’s just released most recent budget, projecting $2.7 trillion in such cuts. And of course Trump & Co. will continue to propose still more tax cuts, which has already begun in a number of forms.

In other words, as both monetary and fiscal policy become increasingly ineffective in the 21st century as means to address recessions and/or restore economic growth, they are simultaneously being transformed instead into tools for subsidizing capital incomes–during, before, and after economic crises!

Categories: News for progressives

Israel’s Moves to the Right

Mon, 2019-03-25 15:59

An article published in the Israeli news blog +972 on 19 November 2018 posed the question: Why does the right keep winning elections in Israel? The answer offered was “because Israelis are right wing.” Simple enough, and apparently, quite true. The article estimates that over half of Israeli Jews think of themselves as “right wing.” Self-defined centrists are about 25 percent, and those Israeli Jews who still cling to “leftist” ideals are now only about 15 percent of the population. The remainder are non-committal.

This movement to the right is often blamed on the Palestinians, but that is largely an evasion. As the story goes, it was the Second Intifada (occurring from late 2000 to early 2005) that so scared a majority of Israeli Jews that it “led to a migration of left-wingers to the … political center… [and] centrists [to the] right, causing the percentage of Jewish right-wingers to drift upward over the decade.” While the “migration to the right” has certainly taken place, it is better understood as follows: under Palestinian pressure for democratic reforms and justice, along with corresponding resistance to oppression, Israeli Jews who could not face the prospect of real democracy had nowhere politically to go than to the right—what should properly be described as the racist right. And, so they went. From this point on there was no more obfuscation—Israeli “security” is now clearly a stand-in phrase for the maintenance of Israeli Jewish domination over non-Jews.

Enter the Fascists

The present shifting about on Israel’s political landscape prior to its April 2019 elections confirms this basically rightwing racist scene. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.” A minority of Israeli Jews might denounce such racism, but Israel’s recently adopted nationality law states that the right of national self-determination in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” And

whether the “left” acknowledges the fact or not, this law is in perfect sync with Zionist ideology.

It should be noted that the prime minister’s personal preference is not for “the Jewish people” as a whole. Indeed, in his eyes, if you are an anti-Zionist Jew you are an anti-Semitic Jew—whatever that might mean. The prime minister is more comfortable with Jews of the fascist, racist right, with whom he has so much in common. This is the kind of Jew he has politically allied with. What in the world is a fascist Jew? Well, in this case, it is someone who uses violent methods to  realize the logical consequences of Zionism—if Israel is a “Jewish state,” then non-Jews must go. How they ultimately go has been left an open-ended question, though Israel is engaged in a continuous effort to destroy Palestinian infrastructure. Fascist Jews advocate expulsion of all Palestinians and sometimes engage in direct violence—akin to classic pogroms—in an effort to fulfill this goal.

You might shake your head in wonderment at the notion of Jewish fascists, but they have always been an important element in Zionist history. You can trace their activity from Vladimir Jabotinsky and his notion of an “iron wall” (1923) that would force the Palestinians to acquiesce in Zionist domination, right up to Meir Kahane, an advocate of expulsion, and his Kach Party (1971-1990). It is Kahane’s followers who now are political partners of Netanyahu. The “migration” of Israeli Jews to the right has narrowed the gap between the majority of “ordinary” citizens and the fascists. So, back into favor come the Kahanists.

What is an Israeli Centrist?

Nor should we look for anti-racist activism among the 25 percent who see themselves as centrists. Presently, those who seek to capture the centrist vote are Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Gantz is former chief-of-staff and a man who is being sued for war crimes. He is leader of the Israeli Resilience Party (Hosen Israel). That party has allied with Yair Lapid, a former TV celebrity, and his There is a future Party (Yesh Atid).

Both of these politicians call themselves “new centrists” and concentrate their platforms on “socio-economic issues such as the cost of living.” However, when it comes to the Palestinians, neither of them are interested in a democratic Israel that would afford non-Jews equal rights—nothing particularly “new” here for “centrists.” Gantz is the classic military maven so prevalent in Israeli politics. Here is his view of where “resilience” should take Israel relative to the Palestinians: “The Jordan Valley will remain our eastern security border,” Gantz declared. “We will maintain security in the entire Land of Israel … we will not allow the millions of Palestinians living beyond the separation fence to endanger our security and our identity as a Jewish state.” For someone who is campaigning on the theme that, under its present government, “Israel has lost its way,” Gantz’s intentions in this regard are remarkably similar to those of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yair Lapid’s position on the Palestinians is little different from that of Gantz. He says that “we need to separate from the Palestinians,” as if Israeli Jews haven’t been doing just that for the past 71 years. He goes on to demand that all issues of security have to “stay in Israel’s hands,” there is no such thing as a “right of return,” and Jerusalem will not be divided into two capitals.

On the Palestinian issue—the one that now divides Israel from increasing numbers of citizens in the democratic world—there is little difference between the Israeli rightists and the centrists except that the latter do not publicly talk about the forceful expulsion.

That approximately 85 percent of Israeli Jews should end up unwilling to grant equal rights to the 20 percent of Palestinians who are their segregated neighbors; that they should support, or at best not act against the relentless, vicious process of illegal settlement in the Occupied Territories; and finally that they should react to Palestinian resistance to Zionist oppression by “migrating” to the right, is both tragic and predictable.

It must be realized that any country that allows racism to rule its public sphere cannot pass itself off as a democracy. It is simply a contradiction. The Zionist experiment looking toward a democratic Jewish state might have gone differently if it had been tried somewhere devoid of a non-Jewish population (like the moon), but then, in the end, the Zionists became obsessed with Palestine, fell in with the colonial mentality still prevalent during the first half of the twentieth  century, and have never progressed beyond it.

To this point, I beg the reader’s patience as I repeat an argument I have made more than once in past analyses: It is impossible to create a state exclusively for one people (call them people A) in a territory already populated by another people (call them people B) without the eventual adoption of racist policies by A and eventual resistance on the part of B. Under such circumstances, for A, there can be no real security, nor can there be anything like a healthy national culture.

Indeed, unless a majority of Israeli Jews are willing to go the route of South Africa and renounce their program of discriminatory dominion over millions of non-Jews, they have nowhere else to go but head-first into the hell that is the racist right. With 85 percent sharing, or at least acquiescing, in the views of Netanyahu, Gantz, and Lapid, the chances for redemption do not look good. In fact, it is probably the case that the “light unto the nations” has long since gone out.

 

 

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

After Trump

Mon, 2019-03-25 15:56

Donald Trump has shaken up U.S. foreign policy. Most of what he has done has been disastrous, like pulling America out of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He has been erratic, unprincipled, aggressive, and unilateral.

And yet, he has also created some interesting opportunities, sometimes inadvertently, that progressives should seize. The foreign policy elite has been challenged like never before. In the most likely scenario, of course, the Blob — as President Obama liked to characterize the unthinking foreign policy consensus inside the Beltway — attempts to reestablish the status quo ante after the 2020 elections.

But maybe, just maybe, the United States could go down a different road after Trump. Here’s what that road might look like.

An End to Endless War?

The Trump administration did not depart from the dangerous U.S. military fixation on the Middle East. It finished what the Obama administration started, namely bombing the stuffing out of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It ramped up drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. It forged closer relations with the autocratic and destabilizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and supported to the hilt the right-wing lunacy of the Netanyahu government in Israel.

And yet, the endless war against terrorism started by George W. Bush may finally be coming to an end. The Trump administration is eager to pull troops out of Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history. Late last year, Trump instructed the Pentagon to withdraw half of the 14,000 American troops in that country, but the Pentagon convinced him ultimately to go slow. The same applies to Syria, where Trump impulsively announced a troop withdrawal only for his hawkish advisors to walk back that plan.

The important message in all this, however, is that the days of surges are over. The American public has not had any appetite for boots on the ground in the Middle East for some time. The drawdown might be faster or slower, but the tide is receding. In Afghanistan, a peace process, however flawed, may provide the cover necessary to end U.S. military involvement. In Syria, the United States is gradually accepting the continuity of Bashar al-Assad’s repressive but resilient regime. Iraq limps along, but it has survived even after the bulk of American troops have left the country and is even repairing its relationship with Iran.

Meanwhile, Congress is finally asserting itself. Last week, the Senate passed a bill mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the war in Yemen. For the first time since the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973, both chambers have declared that the United States should exit an overseas conflict.

But that’s not all. There’s finally a good chance that Congress will repeal the bill that started it all: the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). At the time of its passage, the only congressional representative brave enough to say no was Barbara Lee (D-CA). She’s still in Congress leading the fight to revoke the AUMF. As a result, for the first time in a decade, Congress will have an opportunity to debate the full range of U.S. military interventions. Six members of Congress, including presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have also signed a pledge to “end the forever wars.” This pledge should become a litmus test for all Democratic presidential candidates.

Trump is no pacifist. But his skepticism about the wars initiated by his predecessors has opened up a debate on U.S. militarism, particularly in the Middle East and surrounding areas. Progressives need to seize this opportunity and make sure that liberal hawks don’t join hands with conventional militarists to reverse this trend after 2020.

China, Russia, and Military Spending

But here’s the rub. The Pentagon is not focused on the Middle East. In a very real sense, the Pentagon has moved on from the wars of the 2000s. It has refocused for some time on China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, the two “revisionist powers” that Trump’s National Security Strategy identifies as key threats to the United States. And if that weren’t enough, the Pentagon is also gearing up to address a range of new threats like cyberwarfare and space combat.

So, even as momentum gathers to end the forever wars, the Pentagon is looking at a major increase in its budget to fight other conflicts. Trump wants to boost military spending to $750 billion. The Dems are willing to settle for a more modest increase to $733 billion. Either way, it’s way too much.

The bulk of this spending is directed at preventing China, the only major power with a military remotely the size of America’s, from becoming number one. Indeed, the Trump administration is engaged in a full-court press on Beijing. In the South China Sea, the U.S. navy is conducting “freedom of navigation” exercises specifically designed to send a “back off” signal to China. Meanwhile, Trump has initiated a trade war of escalating tariffs with Beijing and has gone all out to pressure allies to freeze China out of the latest telecom upgrades. The cooperation between Washington and Beijing on environment and energy that flourished during the Obama years is dwindling.

But here, too, Trump’s moves offer progressives a few opportunities. With his face-to-face meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump has shown at least some willingness to end the most dangerous Cold War divide in Asia between North and South Korea. Though Trump’s overtures can also be understood as a tactic to drive a wedge between Pyongyang and Beijing, progressives should seize upon the ongoing peace discussions as a golden opportunity to regionalize the issue.

Rapprochement with North Korea could be the key to unlocking the problem of East Asian security, not just the ongoing territorial conflicts around various islands but also the larger stand-off between U.S. allies and China. Japan recently invested heavily in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and South Korea is eager to facilitate a de-escalation of tensions region-wide. The Democrats are clueless about all of this, or actively hostile (because they dislike everything Trump does). Progressives, on the other hand, must raise up this peace process on the Korean peninsula as a way to defuse a new and potentially explosive conflict between Washington and Beijing.

Trump’s efforts to reset U.S.-Russian relations are, of course, complicated by the president’s complicity in Moscow’s interference in the 2016 elections. But here, too, progressives should focus on where the interests of Washington and Moscow converge, such as arms control or engagement with Iran. A return to good, old-fashioned diplomacy, when the United States negotiated in good faith with adversaries like Cuba and Iran as well as Russia and China, should again become a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy.

The military budget is a tough nut to crack. Americans generally favor a reduction in the Pentagon’s budget, but the political process still heavily favors the military-industrial complex. So does Trump, though even here the president has shown a way out. His declaration of a national emergency entails a direct siphoning of funds from the Pentagon to pay for his beloved Wall.

Trump’s emergency is bogus, the Wall a chimera. But Trump’s move is a reminder that the Pentagon budget is not sacrosanct. America is beset by several authentic emergencies: climate change, collapsing infrastructure, drug epidemics, deteriorating public education. For years, realists have argued that money from the Pentagon can’t just be transferred to other purposes. Well, maybe it can. The next administration just has to rally the country around the true emergencies that America faces.

Going It Together

Trump’s America First rhetoric and actions appeal to a certain segment of America. But most Americans see the value of the United Nations, of working with allies, of engaging in multilateralism. Indeed, Trump’s foreign policy record should produce immediate nostalgia for the various examples of cooperative U.S. foreign policy in the past, from the creation of the United Nations all the way up to Iran nuclear agreement.

Here, Trump has not shown the way. He has proven what a dead-end unilateralism is. The world has become a decidedly more dangerous place in the last two years.

Moreover, Trump’s unilateral actions have largely reinforced the determination of other international actors to preserve what the United States has tried to tear asunder. The Europeans have scrambled to maintain the Iran nuclear agreement. China and others are stepping forward on climate change. All the other signatories of the Trans Pacific Partnership have signed the treaty and moved on. The UN Human Rights Council has continued to operate after the United States withdrew last summer. In fact, earlier this month, it issued its first ever statement rebuking Saudi Arabia, an initiative spearheaded by Iceland, which replaced the United States.

Liberal internationalists wring their hands about the loss of American “leadership.” I’m not so concerned about this issue. American leadership has as often had a negative global impact as a positive one. More important is the opportunity for a global rebalance. The United States is no longer the global rule-setter. Other countries are stepping forward to exert global influence: China and the EU, of course, but also Russia, Turkey, and India.

Trump has inadvertently strengthened the case for the United States to play a more modest role in international relations. Progressives have to build on this new global modesty by pushing for the United States to engage in a global conversation about governance: how best to marshal international energies to address major problems such as climate change, pandemics, and economic inequality. That conversation must begin with a reset of relations with China.

The Global Economy

There’s a major problem in all this talk of global governance. Most of the leading players are thoroughly illiberal: China, Russia, India, Turkey, Brazil, even parts of the EU.

If given a chance, these countries are likely to rewrite the rules of the international road to prevent global bodies from challenging human rights violations within their sovereign borders. The current administrations in Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, New Delhi, Brazilia, Budapest, and (alas) Washington show a preference for strong-arm leadership. They are frequently anti-immigrant and/or intolerant of ethnic and religious minorities.

A major source of this new illiberal sentiment is a dissatisfaction with the results of economic globalization. Tremendous wealth has been created as a result of increased trade, more rapid movement of money and financial services across borders, and the creation of global assembly lines for products.

Much of that wealth has remained concentrated in relatively few hands. Last year, for instance, the wealth of the poorest half of humanity dropped by an astonishing 11 percent while billionaires increased their holdings by 12 percent. The 26 wealthiest people in the world now own as much as the poorest 3.8 billion people. It’s not just action at the edges, but also the hollowing out of the middle: the disappearance of well-paid jobs for the middle class in industrialized countries.

This raging inequality — and the raging against inequality — stems from the economic policies of liberals and conservatives alike. The major parties of the center all embraced some form of neo-liberal economic reform — less government, less regulation, less oversight, more unfettered market. So, it’s no wonder that the disgruntled have rejected the conventional political parties. But instead of supporting progressive alternatives to neoliberal economics, the electorate has gravitated toward right-wing populism.

Here again, the bankruptcy of Trump’s populism is an extraordinary opportunity for progressives. Trump has not helped out the heartland. He’s given handouts to the rich through his tax cuts and ushered in a whole new set of lobbyists to populate the swamp of Washington.

With a Green New Deal, progressives offer a powerful response to Trumpian populism: a large-scale infrastructure plan that creates good jobs, repairs America’s infrastructure, and reduces the country’s carbon footprint. America’s liberal economic trajectory was built on some of the worst kind of industries: oil, coal, military. Trump’s solution has been to double down on these very same sectors. Progressives need to offer a clear, positive, and Green alternative.

The Fear Factor

Trump rode a wave of fear into the White House. He made it seem as if immigrants were about to storm the country. His casual racism also endeared him to the alt-right and white supremacists. As president, he has simply raised all of that fear and loathing to a global level with his talk of “shithole countries,” his Muslim travel ban, and his obsessive focus on his Wall.

In the long run, Trump could very well represent the last gasp of white male privilege in a country that will soon enough be majority non-white (circa 2045) and where women are making huge political and economic gains (capturing a record 24 percent of congressional seats in 2018).

Progressives should, of course, counter all of these racist and sexist rearguard actions with calm, fact-based analysis.

But progressives should also recognize that emotions bring people out to the polls. Progressives should not be hesitant about exploiting the fear factor as well. We just have to focus on where Americans’ true anxieties lie.

Progressives have to focus on the fear of an extreme weather event wiping out a large swath of the United States. We have to focus on the legitimate fear that people have of losing their jobs or being unable to pay off their debts. We have to focus on the very rational fear of gun violence.

And, of course, progressives need to join with lots of other political actors in the United States to capitalize on the widespread fear that Donald Trump — or someone very much like him — could win the presidential election in 2020.

Liberals have too often supported U.S. military interventions, huge levels of military spending, American exceptionalism on the world stage, economic policies that have torn apart communities, and the politics of white privilege that have tarnished the democratic reputation of this country.

This particular liberal trajectory is a dead end. And so is Trump’s purported alternative.

America is ready for something new. Progressives now have an opportunity to take advantage of what Trump has done (and not done) as well as the widespread disgust with the failures of liberal politics as usual to remake America and America’s place in the world.

Categories: News for progressives

Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9/11

Mon, 2019-03-25 15:55

This profile of Robert Mueller originally ran in CounterPunch on June 21, 2017.

Robert Mueller, the former FBI director named special counsel for the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, is depicted as an iconic G-man: serious, patrician, and totally incorruptible. But in reality, it’s a little different. As with FBI Agent Dale Cooper in the latest iteration of “Twin Peaks,” there is a Good Mueller and a Bad Mueller. We’ve heard a lot about the good-guy Mueller, but nothing much about his bad side. And there is a bad side–though it’s not the one that Trump supporters would have us think.

The President’s loyal minions, following a familiar pattern, have been busy building an advance smear campaign against Mueller, claiming that he has it out for the poor, innocent Donald and is determined to bring him down due to pre-existing biases. In fact, if Mueller is indeed biased, it is toward preserving the institutions of government, including the White House, as well as his beloved FBI, even at the expense of making public the full truth. At least, that’s how he behaved the last time he was involved in a major national crisis–namely, the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Mueller, a Republican, was appointed by George W. Bush to head the FBI, and took the helm on September 4, 2001, one week before the terrorist attacks.  So he can hardly be blamed for the failure of the FBI (along with the CIA and other U.S. and allied intelligence agencies) to detect and respond to numerous warning signs that the attacks were coming, including the arrival of many of the future perpetrators to the United States.

The same cannot be said for Mueller’s role in the subsequent coverup of FBI and White House bungling during the run up to 9/11. Six months after the attacks, Congress convened the Joint Senate-House Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001. Headed by Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham, the inquiry was more thorough and penetrating than the later official 9/11 Commission would ever be.

Among other things, the Joint Inquiry learned of the involvement of a paid FBI informant with two of the future hijackers: Khalid Al Mindhar, who had fought for Al Qaeda in Bosnia and Chechnya and trained in Bin Laden’s Afghan training camps, and Nawaf Al Hazmi, who had battle experience in Bosnia, Chechyna, and Afghanistan. According to the Joint Inquiry report, the NSA and CIA at the time had available enough information to connect the two men with Osama Bin Laden.

The CIA, however, failed to share its information with the FBI, and did not place the two men on any watch lists. So Al Mindhar and Al Hamzi flew to Los Angeles in early 2000 (shortly after attending an Al Qaeda summit in Malaysia), and were routinely admitted into the United States on tourist visas. They traveled to San Diego, where they got Social Security cards, credits cards, and driver licenses, and bought a car, as well as a season pass to Sea World. They soon began taking flight lessons. They also had contact with a radical imam and a local Saudi national who were both being watched by the FBI. And they actually rented a room in the home of Abdusattar Shaikh, who was a retired English professor, a leader of the local mosque–and a paid informant for the FBI’s San Diego office, charged with monitoring the city’s Saudi community.

As the Joint Inquiry report would reveal, by mid-2001 U.S. intelligence agencies had ample evidence of possible terrorist plans to use hijacked airplanes as bombs, but had done little to act on this threat. In July 2001, the CIA had passed on the names of Al Mindhar and Al Hamzi to the FBI office in New York–though not the office in San Diego. Shaikh had apparently done nothing to warn the Bureau about any possible danger from his tenants. And no one had warned the airlines or the FAA not to let these men get on planes. So on the morning of September 11, Al Mindhar and Al Hamzi boarded American Airlines Flight 77 at Dulles Airport and helped crash it into the Pentagon.

While the San Diego scenario was the most extreme, there was other evidence of the FBI allowing future 9/11 perpetrators to slip through its fingers. By the time it issued its report, the Joint Inquiry had found that five of the hijackers “may have had contact with a total of 14 people who had come to the FBI’s attention during counterterrorism or counterintelligence investigations prior to September 11, 2001. Four of those 14 were the focus of FBI investigations during the time that the hijackers were in the United States.… Despite their proximity to FBI targets and at least one FBI source, the future hijackers successfully eluded FBI attention.”

Yet in testimony before the Joint Inquiry on June 18, 2002, FBI director Mueller said,  that “while here [in America] the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage.” There is no way of knowing whether Mueller was lying or just ignorant.

Subsequently, Senator Graham set out to subpoena the informant to testify before the Joint Inquiry. The FBI refused to cooperate, blocked the Inquiry’s efforts to interview the informant, and it appears to have arranged for a private attorney to represent him. Despite insisting that the informant had done nothing wrong, the Bureau at one point suggested the Inquiry give him immunity, which Graham refused to do.

As Graham would later describe in is book Intelligence Matters, the FBI also “insisted that we could not, even in the most sanitized manner, tell the American people that an FBI informant had a relationship with two of the hijackers.” The Bureau opposed public hearings on the subject and deleted any references to the situation from drafts of the Joint Inquiry’s unclassified report. It took more than a year for the Bureau allow a version of the story to appear in the public report, and even then it was heavily redacted.

Only years later, Graham writes, did information provided by FBI staffers confirm what he had long suspected: that the FBI carried out its resistance and obfuscation on direct instructions from the White House. Whether Bush and Company were eager to downplay any further connections to their friends the Saudis, or just protect itself from the fallout of such an obvious intelligence failure, will likely never be known.

So much for Robert Mueller remaining above the political fray. And so much for the Bureau’s supposed independence and incorruptibility. The latter, clearly, has always been a myth. From its earliest days it was a highly politicized–and relentlessly reactionary–agency, made all the more so by the colossal power of J. Edgar Hoover. Its mission has always been at heart a deeply reactionary one, dedicated to protecting the republic from whatever it perceived as a threat, including all forms of dissent and unrest–from communists to civil rights leaders.

What does all this bode for the current moment? Normally, it would seem that Mueller’s instinct would be to try to preserve some semblance of the current order, up to and including the presidency. But with Trump now locked in a knock down drag out struggle with the intelligence agencies–what some people like to call “the Deep State”–Mueller and his intelligence cronies may find it in the best interests of the status quo–and, of course, themselves–to throw the President under the bus and one way Mueller could do so is by cutting some sort of deal with Congress, specifically with the legislature’s true power broker, Mitch McConnell, to turn on Trump and run him out of office.

As Agent Cooper said of his own famous investigation into the death of Laura Palmer, “I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.”

Note: More detail, and complete sources, on the FBI informant scandal and the Joint Inquiry’s investigation can be found in my book The 5 Unanswered Questions About 9/11.

Categories: News for progressives

The Importance of Kicking Up: Changing Market Structures So the Rich Don’t Get All the Money

Mon, 2019-03-25 15:51

Most progressives focus their efforts on getting better pay and benefits for those at the bottom and middle. This includes policies like raising the minimum wage, stronger overtime rules, and better Medicaid benefits. This is good and important work, which I have often engaged in myself.

However, it is also important to address the other side of the equation, all the money going to the rich. Many want to do this by having a more progressive tax structure. That would be good and could help to reduce inequality. But for both economic and political reasons, a better approach is to change market structures so the money doesn’t go to the rich in the first place.

There is far too little recognition of the extent to which the market is malleable. The idea that the market just generates inequality is nonsense. The market will generate inequality if we design it to generate inequality, as has been the case over the last four decades. If we design it differently, it will lead to more equal outcomes.

My favorite example is patent and copyright monopolies. This is both because they are economically important, but also because the issues should be easy to understand. These monopolies are quite obviously creations of government. It is not somehow a fact of nature or a given of the market that I can have someone arrested if they make a copy of my book or sell a drug I developed without my permission.[1]

It is amazing to me how many people, including economist people, fail to see that these monopolies are government created and can be weakened or strengthened as we choose. The basic story is straightforward, these monopolies are ways in which the government provides incentives for innovating and creative work. But, if we are worried that the people who innovate and do creative work are getting too much money at the expense of everyone else, then it is a really simple thing to make these incentives less generous.

It is frankly mindboggling that this point seems to never come up in debates on inequality. I have heard any number of liberal economists do handwringing exercises over the concern that the spread of robots, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies will redistribute income from people who work with their hands to the people who “own” these technologies.

But, owning technologies is not an economic outcome, it is a legal one that results from the policies we put in place on patents and copyrights. How could anyone not see this?

It is possible that we will face some loss in the rate of productivity growth with weaker and shorter patent and copyright monopolies, but even this is far from certain. At the aggregate level, the strengthening of these monopolies has not been associated with a pickup of productivity growth and there is little evidence that stronger protections lead to more rapid growth in cross-country analyses. I have argued that in the case of prescription drugs, which cost us $450 billion a year (2.2 percent of GDP) there is good reason to believe that a system of direct public funding would be more efficient.

Anyhow, while we can debate the best mechanisms for supporting innovation and creative work, it is essential that people understand this is a policy choice. Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and many other members of the super-rich got their billions because we structured the market in a way that allowed them to get incredibly rich. We could have structured the market differently.

The same story applies to finance, another industry which has produced a large percentage of the super-rich. The structure of the financial industry is also determined by government policy. If we applied a modest financial transactions tax, similar to the sales tax applied to most goods that consumers buy, it would radically reduce trading volume and the fortunes made in finance.

Private equity (PE) funds have produced many great fortunes for the people who run them. These funds make money by gaming the tax code and bankruptcy law, to the disadvantage of workers’ pensions and other creditors. In recent years, they also have not been producing the promised returns for their investors.

The necessary reforms here are to write the rules so they cannot be so easily gamed (e.g. limit tax deductions for interest) and to require pension funds to disclose the terms of their contracts with PE funds, as well as the returns on their investments. The latter should be pretty straightforward. If the PE folks are really producing great returns, they should be happy to advertise that fact. Alternatively, if they have been costing pension funds money, people have a right to know.

There is a similar and possibly more dramatic story with hedge funds. According to recent research, the returns on the endowments of the Ivy league schools have badly lagged a simple portfolio of 60 percent equity and 40 percent bonds. Harvard was the big winner in this category, with its endowment lagging this portfolio by an average of 3 percentage points annually.

Harvard has an endowment of close to $40 billion. This means that Harvard was effectively throwing $1.2 billion a year into the garbage in order to make the hedge fund folks even richer. This is money that could have been used to provide more financial aid or to pay its workers more money, but the University’s administration felt it was more important to make some of the richest people in the country even richer.

It is amazing that universities sign the same sort of contracts with their hedge fund managers as pension funds do with private equity companies. They don’t disclose the terms of their contracts. This means that no one will ever know exactly who got rich by costing Harvard’s endowment billions.

I remember a few years back I was asked to send a letter to my former school arguing that it would be worth a modest cost to its endowment to divest from fossil fuels. (As it turned out, if they had moved to divest quickly, their endowment would have done very well since this was before oil prices plummeted.) Anyhow, I can understand debating whether it is worth the cost to a school to take a more proactive position on global warming, there is a clear tradeoff in that there will be less money for things most of us consider good.

It seems harder to make the case that a school like Harvard should lose money on its endowment so some hedge fund managers can get even richer. But there is where we are now.

Anyhow, in these and other areas we can see that the rich got rich because the market was rigged to allow them to get rich at the expense of the rest of us. We need this to be the focus of public debate. It is important to argue that even low-income people should be able to get access to health care through Medicaid or other programs. It is important to argue about the need for higher minimum wages. But we should never accept that the before-tax distribution of income is just given.

The rich wrote the rules in ways that ensure that they get a disproportionate share of income. We have to attack these rules. Obviously, they prefer that we would ignore the rules and just pretend that they got rich due to their talents and hard work. If we accept that story, it will be much harder both as a matter of politics and policy to achieve progressive change.

Notes.

[1] In case I have any literalists reading this, I know that people don’t get arrested for patent or copyright infringement. I would have to file a civil suit where I could get money for their violations and a court order prohibiting them from further infringement. If they continue to infringe then they get arrested for violating the court order, not for infringement.

This essay originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

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