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

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Futility of Green Capitalism

An interview with Daniel Tanuro from Climate and Capitalism, author of the new book, L’impossible capitalisme vert, or The Futility of Green Capitalism.

In addition to the contradictions that capitalism poses for a sustainable environment, Tanuro talks about ecosocialism as...
...a break with productivism and consumerism, of course, within the perspective of a society in which, the basic needs having been satisfied, free time and social relations constitute the real wealth. But also contestation of technologies and of harmful productions, coupled with the requirement of reconversion of the workers. Maximum decentralization of production and distribution in the framework of a democratically planned economy....

America’s ‘culture of cruelty’

by Henry A. Giroux from The Spec

This perceptive educator sees the recent Arizona tragedy within a culture of cruelty that is driven by political forces:
...culture of cruelty is important for thinking through how entertainment and politics now converge in ways that fundamentally transform how we understand and imagine politics in the current historical moment....
...a powerful set of political, economic and educational forces at work in miseducating the American public while at the same time extending the culture of cruelty.

Obama Picks Jeffrey Immelt, GE CEO, To Run New Jobs-Focused Panel As GE Sends Jobs Overseas, Pays Little In Taxes

by Shahien Nasiripour from The Huffington Post

After appointing Wall Street people to his cabinet, the much ballyhooed liberal candidate for change, now President, is looking after his working class supporters. (sarcasm) 
Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman and chief executive of General Electric Co. tapped by President Barack Obama as his next top outside economic adviser, will be asked to guide the White House as it attempts to jump-start lackluster job creation and spur a muddled recovery.

Immelt's firm stands as Exhibit A of a successful and profitable corporate America standing at the forefront of the recovery. It also represents the archetypal company that's hoarding cash, sending jobs overseas, relying on taxpayer bailouts and paying less taxes than envisioned.
What also comes to my mind is the bailout of General Motors that resulted in a two-tiered wage schedule for US workers. Now GM is laying off US skilled workers while Chinese and other foreign workers are making more GM cars than American workers are making here. See this and this.

Jet-Setters Face Frustrating Flight Delays, Just Like the Plebes!

by Jamie Johnson from Vanity Fair

You thought you had it rough having to arrive at the airport hours ahead of scheduled take-off, waiting in lines to be virtually strip-searched, and having to pay for every little convenience. My favorite one-percenter, Jamie Johnson, reports that the rich also have their frustrations with air travel in their private jets. How could that be? You ask. 

Well, it seems it's that damn government regulation!  I wonder why they don't do away with that, too--they don't tolerate the government regulating their banks, other financial institutions, and all the exotic derivative bets they use to enrich themselves, bets that often result in the wreckage of entire economies.
...people who spend between $10 million and $50 million on a jet don’t expect to be plagued by the same issues that beleaguer regular airlines. And when the realization hits, the response usually is one of bewilderment.
And, that is not the only problem they are experiencing during this economic collapse. According to the NY Times report, they are frustrated by the difficulties they encounter trying to sell their yachts!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Real China Problem Runs Through JPM and Goldman

by Matt Stoller from Naked Capitalism.

This is one of the best, most concise explanations of many of the current contradictions of capitalism--debt crises, balance of payments problems, unemployment, depressed wages, economic collapse, etc--that I have seen.
This instability is leading to declining standards of living around the world, which is resulting in civil unrest in Europe, increasingly nationalistic rhetoric, global lawlessness in the form of cyber-attacks and piracy, and military build-ups. The big banks that intermediate these flows like this situation. So does China, whose mercantilist policies are allowing the acquisition of a massive industrial base. And the oil producers do as well, because of the wealth and power they acquire through a global dependence on their resource. 
But contrary to the suggestions in the final paragraph, there is no permanent "way out of this box" under the present system.

The crisis in Europe and the financial aristocracy

by Stefan Steinberg from World Socialist Web Site

It's banksters über alles in Europe!
In one country after another, social systems are being dismantled and health care provision ravaged. Echoing a demand from the money markets, the German chancellor called last week for the increase in retirement age to 67 years for all of Europe.

The slash-and-burn tactics advocated by the financial elite and introduced by compliant governments across Europe are rapidly impoverishing workers and the middle class. The rapacious and completely reckless nature of this layer introduces a new and explosive element into world politics.

The Spectre Haunting Europe: Debt Defaults, Austerity, and Death of the “Social Europe” Model

by Prof Michael Hudson and Prof. Jeffrey Sommers

Another title for this article might be, "A Tale of Two Economies". The one in Latvia which is a capitalist economy and the one in Belarus which appears to be like the former Soviet Union--a centrally controlled, bureaucratically managed economy.

I think that in order to make more sense of the post-war social democratic model that existed in Europe and its present dismantling by the Empire's neo-liberal model of capitalism, one must have a clearer understanding of capitalist history which is missing from the article. 

The Soviet economic model from its inception has been regarded with extreme hostility by capitalist ruling classes in the West. Fourteen Western countries invaded Soviet territory after WWI in order to overturn their revolution, but were unsuccessful. (This history has been nearly completely purged from sources available in the US. The best source is The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Vol. 3  by Edward Hallett Carr.) In spite of the authoritarian distortions that occurred in this revolution, it inspired workers everywhere in the world, and even more-so during the 1930s when workers in capitalist countries suffered from the effects of severe unemployment. After WWII the US made great efforts to restore European capitalist governments which contained strong social safety nets to counteract more leftist influences.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, neo-liberal capitalism has sought, and is succeeding, to eliminate these social supports in the never ending effort to feed their addiction to profits. 

Of course, there is a third alternative which must be implemented if we are to avoid the scourge of climate disasters and the impoverishment of working people: the inclusive democratic control of societies and the elimination of capitalism everywhere.

A hard rain's gonna fall

by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office.
Heavier rainstorms lie in our future. That's the clear conclusion of a new MIT and Caltech study on the impact that global climate change will have on precipitation patterns.


Extreme weather and climate change: How long must we sing this song?

by Dr. Paul Johnston, principal scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter and Head of the Greenpeace International Science Unit. 
It seems to me that time is running out. We can debate the issue endlessly. But each extreme weather event, whatever the strength of its underlying link to climate change, only serves to emphasise the consequences of such phenomena in terms of structural damage and human suffering. It also highlights our limited ability, despite technological advancement, to predict, mitigate and recover from them. They are yet another painful reminder of the urgent necessity for the deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, cuts that the Energy Revolution could deliver.
The "Energy Revolution" cannot deliver any significant cuts as long as capitalism with its growth imperative exists. So which will we choose: survival with a sustainable social-economic system or capitalism and human extinction?

See also, "Thaw of Earth's icy sunshade may stoke warming", and Report reveals flooding's massive impact on farms and mining.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What, Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic

by Jamil Zaki from Scientific American. (This is an shorter version of the research report which Scientific American is selling.)
The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published online in August in Personality and Social Psychology Review, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.
I think that this trend has a lot to do with the growth of neo-liberal thinking in the dominant US Empire. This school of thought has various roots, most celebrated are such exponents as Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand. Hayek established the Society for the Renovation of Liberalism and Rand expressed her philosophy in several books beginning with Fountainhead. Both were determined to revise the philosophy of the social contract that was originally used to justify the attacks on the old feudal rule of monarchy, aristocracy, and the Catholic Church in favor of the new commercial class. 

"Social Contract" theory held that people originally came from an anarchic original state to secure their common well-being by establishing laws, judicial procedures, and agencies of enforcement. This thinking was succinctly expressed in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government....
Hayek and Rand  were most concerned with justifying the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relatively few hands, the capitalist class, which was often seen as deleterious to the common good, especially as seen and experienced by working people. In the late 1930s the capitalist class greatly feared the rise of labor power and the threat of a different social system by the revolution that created the Soviet Union. Working people had made substantial gains in the 1930s in the form of labor legislation establishing rights to organize and other social legislation. Also during this time, the Soviet Union was making rapid strides with industrialization and experienced no unemployment which appealed to workers in much of the rest of the world. 

Neo-liberals, on the other hand, saw the state as interfering in their pursuit of profits and wanted to remove all restrictions on their activities. And they definitely wanted to roll back the gains made by labor, gains which cut into their profits. Thus they wanted to counter any ideas of the common good and replace them with ideas that advocated individual self interest. The pursuit of individual wealth was seen as resulting in the greatest good of all. 

One of Rand's students, Alan Greenspan, became one of the most powerful actors on behalf of this philosophy and neo-liberalism. In 1974 in told the NY Times:
What she [Rand] did--through long discussions and lots of arguments into the night--was to make me think why capitalism was not only efficient and practical, but also moral. 
Since the 1970s this neo-liberal thinking was promulgated through numerous right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Under the powerful influence of media controlled by the ruling class, these influences have permeated all institutions of society. Thus, it is not surprising that young people today exhibit such beliefs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Identity Ecosystem: Obama’s plan for Internet control

by John W. Whitehead from Online Journal. (the author is a Constitutional attorney and author of a new book, The Freedom Wars.)

As I have argued before, Obama is a mere figurehead for the ruling class, a charming, rhetorically skilled salesman who delivers what they want. But media sources rarely fail to allude to the fiction that the President is a leader which, of course, maintains all the other fictions of representative "democracy".  I think they mostly do this out of ignorance, but also it enhances the chances of their reports being carried by various media.

This piece is about a proposed internet ID that would be assigned to everyone who accesses the internet. This Constitutional attorney informs us:
...it would not take much for a universal Internet ID to become a de facto national ID, and the consequences could be devastating. Why?

FCC Blesses Comcast Merger and New Era of Media Monopoly

by Joe Torres from The Huffington Post

The concentration of the media just increased with this merger. Hence, the ruling class improves its control over what information is allowed to be broadcast to you.
Comcast is already the nation's largest Cable TV and residential broadband provider, reaching 23 million cable customers and 16.7 million broadband subscribers. But once this merger is completed, Comcast will own 26 local TV stations (NBC and Telemundo); the NBC broadcast network; 17 cable networks (including MSNBC, Bravo, USA, CNBC, the Weather Channel), Universal Pictures, and the online video service Hulu. Overall, the merged company would have a financial stake in 125 media companies, including cable networks, TV stations, Web sites and other properties.

The Revolutionary MLK [15:55m video & script]

from the Real News.

Monday was Martin Luther King day, a holiday in the US. Paul Jay's guest explains how ruling class media has sanitized the messages that characterized Martin Luther King's thinking in the last year before he was assassinated. Recapture this expunged history by viewing this video. Then read King's last book entitled, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. And read An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King. by William Pepper.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where the People Order and the Law Obeys

by David Martinez from Unside Down World
I’ve come here to find out about a group called La Policía Comunitaria, an autonomous police force and justice system that is something of a legend in Mexico. The idea is simple: local people are elected to act as temporary police officers, and justice is administered by a council of community members, not the local state system.
The author from the San Francisco Bay Area asks one of the activists how they accomplished this.
He leans towards me and his eyes gleam with pride at the many years he has put into this project. “Look,” he says, “there are many thinkers, many writers, many people who have very beautiful ideas about how to re-imagine the world. But the problem is that they can’t put them into practice, and to me it is because they don’t have the right foundation; their foundation is weak. We always engage in practice, our theories always involve practice. We always keep practice and theory in play with each other, and our theory comes from the same people who practice it: the indigenous people of Guerrero.”

A Time for Action - Not Servility

by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon.
Every day, millions of people in the U.S. get their journalism from independent news outlets that expose not just the extremist antics of Republicans, but also the corporate corruption among Democrats. These informed Americans -- fearful of Speaker Boehner and alarmed by a White House now administered by a JPMorgan Chase executive -- represent a huge base ready to mobilize in new ways.

That's the basis for the launch of a new online organization -- RootsAction.org -- an initiative endorsed by such respected independent progressives as Daniel Ellsberg, Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk and Coleen Rowley.

Our first action -- in collaboration with Daniel Ellsberg -- is a petition to President Obama to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
[my emphasis]
Wow, that is bold action! Unfortunately, these people are not getting off to a good start. Read the comments following the article to see the lack of enthusiasm. At this point in time, it appears to me that "Two Americas" second comment regarding RootsAction.org is the most apt of all:
It is yet another bait and switch scam for the purpose of herding people back into the fold. 
I'm wondering how many times that progressives can be baited and switched before they grow up and get serious about changing the system. Judging by the comments, it looks like such times have ended.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Evidence of an American Plutocracy: The Larry Summers Story

by Matthew Skomarovsky from Littlesis blog. 
LittleSis is a project of Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit nonpartisan research and educational organization focused on government and corporate accountability.
This is a must-read article for anyone who is not yet thoroughly convinced that the US is governed by a plutocracy, a ruling class whose basis of power is the private control and ownership of socially produced wealth, also known as capitalism.
Much of the public has come to view the Obama Administration as the latest round in a quickening game of musical chairs, played by the same old politicians who owe their fortunes or their careers to the same financial institutions that destroyed the economy, each round further consolidating their unaccountable power, each round bringing fresh disillusionment.

Corporate-friendly proposals that arise organically from discussions between government and business elites brought together within old institutions
[associated with elite academic institutions, primarily Harvard] funded by a long list of corporate and wealthy individual donors are much more politically viable than those coming directly from a bank lobbyist, an oil company, or a group closely affiliated with one. Corporations don’t dictate specific views, they nurture hundreds of views within a safely constrained spectrum and run with what works best.
In this article the author provides an abundance of information to show how the ruling class uses corporate funded advisory groups and think tanks associated with elite educational institutions to provide legitimate cover for their policies, and how they move their key decision makers in and out of government.

Not that anything has changed from the inception of the US. The country was founded by America's first capitalists who engineered the revolution from Great Britain because the latter's ruling class imposed too many restrictions on them. This embryonic capitalist class in American colonies saw the huge potential for the plunder of the continent's resources and saw only "savages" standing in their way if they could only separate from the mother country. 

They employed people like Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, and the conflicted Thomas Jefferson to espouse the philosophies of the Enlightenment that challenged the rule of aristocracies and feudalism and affirmed the "natural rights of man". These ideas were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and had a strong influence on farmers and artisans, who otherwise were lukewarm to separation, to support the revolution. 

After the revolution succeeded, the new ruling capitalist class did everything they could to contain these democratic influences.  They clearly feared the people and designed the Constitution to act as a bulwark against popular power. (Read Charles Beard's books entitled, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, Woody Holton's Unruly Americans.)

What we see today is the near final victory of this globalized class over working people nearly everywhere in the world. Thus they engage less in the pretend games of "democracy", human and civil rights, and enforce the rule of (their) law almost exclusively against working people that is taking on the appearance of fascism.

Whether the people succumb to their rule remains to be seen. What is certain is that their system is on a collision course with the Earth's ecosystem and resource limits. If we fail to stop it, the result will be the disappearance of human and other life forms.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Violent Media Rhetoric: Beyond Tucson

from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

US political pundits and leaders not only use violent rhetoric, but support the violent actions of the Empire. Violence, and the threat of violence, is the naked mailed fist of fascism that is increasingly the character of the US ruling class.
...any discussion of media support for violence should not exclude...examples, many of which emanate from respectable, mainstream figures in the corporate media. The difference is that, in most cases, they are supporting or calling for state violence, usually against citizens of weaker countries who cannot, in most cases, defend themselves. This kind of rhetoric rarely elicits calls for greater "civility" in our public discourse, which suggests that some calls for violence are considered more acceptable than others.

The Will to Drill

by Benjamin Wallace-Wells from the NY Times

This is quite a lengthy article, but it will give you a very good picture of the state of oil exploration and production. 
“It’s frustrating to me,” Farnsworth told me. “It’s never going to change, but the general public always thinks, I should be able to get a gallon of gasoline, and it should be damn cheap, and whether I choose to drive a 10-mile-per-gallon car or a 40-mile-per-gallon car should have no impact on that price. We know how hard it is to explore for oil, and we know how hard it is to get it out of the deep water. And there’s been this incredible disconnect, which might have been lessened by the spill, between what people think it takes to get gasoline in their car and what we do.”

Today we are all Tunisians

by Yvonne Ridley from Redress
Yvonne Ridley pays tribute to the courage of the Tunisian people and reminds us of the stark fact that all the time when the deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was torturing and plundering his people, he had the full support of the USA and European governments.
And my fellow Americans, do you remember the following words?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it....

Israel’s right-wing future

by Lawrence Davidson from Redress
Lawrence Davidson analyses the growth of fascism in Israel, arguing that this process “did not begin ... with 1967 and the taking of the occupied territories. It did not even begin in 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. It began with the very inception of Zionism.”

Return of the Kissinger model

by Adel Safty from Gulf News.

The author reports facts and provides a sound interpretation to reveal that the Obama administration is pursuing the same old strategies to maintain Israeli interests in the Middle East. The appointment of a prominent Zionist, Dennis Ross, to lead the "Israeli-Palestinian peace process" insures that no change will occur in US Middle East policies under this "change" President.
The removal of urgency and the restoration of the Kissingerian approach are not the only successes that Israel and its friends in America have scored. The recent elevation by the Obama administration of Dennis Ross to the position of influential adviser to the president in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is another.

Ross is known for his activism on behalf of Israel and for the role he played as an agent for a foreign government when he was chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in occupied Jerusalem — an organ of the Israeli government. At the Israeli Palestinian negotiations sponsored by Bill Clinton at Camp David, Ross's role was described as that of Israel's lawyer.
See also this and this.

Like most of Obama's policies and appointments, I maintain my thesis that he, like many of his predecessors, is only an "acting" President. The real decisions are made by ruling class figures behind him. That is precisely why the transition from Bush Jr. to Obama has been seamless and nothing of significance has changed. We still see the never ending wars and unrelenting attacks on social safely nets. The same ruling class is in charge, just different actors on stage.