Saturday, December 24, 2011

In Summary

There are a few things of note I've been setting aside that did not turn into full blown posts.

The "Debt Crisis"

"We have experienced the most sustained fall in living standards since the Great Depression," hummed Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England.


Mervyn King
That quote is in the current installment of Marxist analysis of the global crisis of Capitalism at the web log The Wolf Report. It helps to have a basic understanding of Marxist Economic terminology, but even so, these articles are very revealing. This one unravels the meaning of the latest developments in the European "debt crisis," which are very germane to the concurrent attack on the US working class.

It's not about governments outspending their means at all. It's about the use of debt by those who have money and want more of it, ours. Much Leftist economic analysis of late has been demonstrating how debt is being used as a tool to strip nations of their assets and loot their citizens of their personal wealth.


Before The Arab Spring

In a 1999 article in Monthly Review, UCLA Professor of History Robin D.G. Kelly revisited Discourse on Colonialism, a 1955 book by Aime Caesaire, a thinker, writer and later politician from the Caribbean nation of Martinique, that is considered to be one of the fundamental texts of Black Nationalist thinking. Caesaire's book, and writings of the period like Franz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth," which was on my Father's book shelf, not only helped ignite and provide the theoretical background for the stunning series of rebellions and revolutions that eventually freed every African country from European colonial domination, but also have influenced many prominent African American thinkers.


Aime Cesaire
 Malcom X, for example, whose writings and speeches have never gone out of style and who continues to influence and be widely respected by intellectuals of all races, despite having always been characterized by the US mainstream as irrelevant and "uppity." Malcolm personified the Black Nationalist. If you have heard the term Black Nationalism and wondered what it's all about, Kelly's article will provide you with a good background.
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Malcolm X
 I learned of Kelly's article when he was interviewed recently on the Pacifica radio program Against The Grain, which I listen to via their podcasts and which is one of my must hear programs. The interview focused on Caesaire but also touched on a forthcoming book by Kelly, Africa Speaks, America Answers, about a back and forth that has existed between African music and American jazz. You can get the mp3 file here or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.




Trouble On The Plantation

Hugo Chavez, el Presidente of oil-rich Venezuela and a convert to socialism after his first election as president, recently called US President Barak Obama a "clown" and an "embarrassment,"
according to The Guardian.

Chavez no doubt received several nods of agreement from fed-up Americans on that, and when he advised Obama to "Focus on governing your country, which you've turned into a disaster."
 

We are well aware of the disaster part, the many disappointments, the permanently high unemployment rate, the continuing tsunami of home foreclosures and a housing market still in intensive care after three years, policies that protect the interests of the rich and his never ceasing subservience to congressional Republicans, his hostility to the environment, his refusal to prosecute even one person involved in the looting of the American economy that led to its meltdown, the continuation of torture and spying on US citizens, his newly initiated policy of murdering anyone he says needs to be murdered, his military adventurism in the service of Capital, his record number of prosecutions of government whistle blowers, and on, and on, and on.


In the part of that sentence about Obama needing to focus on America, Chavez refers to his continual demonization by the Obama Admnistration and the many ways it is seeking to undermine his government. Like all previous US administrations, the current one misses no opportunity to portray leaders in Latin America who assert their independence from the Yankee Empire, which has long regarded all of the Americas as its private plantation and under its domain, as a dictator, as authoritarian, as unstable, as a crackpot, and whatever else they can think of so that, hopefully, Americans won't notice that they are daring to create a more humane alternative to Capitalism, or mind so much when they send in the CIA to murder them. Chavez' outspoken manner has left him especially susceptible to such attacks.

 Chavez has made a lot of progress toward building a society that takes care of all its members, where things like health care, housing, and education are universal rights. The Western, Capatalist media ignores all that and gleefully participates in the erroneous characterizations. The Guardian, especially. It has a tradition of stationing a reporter in Latin American who spends most of his time demonizing Chavez. Until recently it was Rory Carroll.


A better way to keep up on what's happening in Venezuela is the web site Venezuela Analysis. You don't have to read too many articles there before you're shaking your head and wondering why the same thing Chavez is doing there isn't being done here, and everywhere.
 



Voter Fraud - By Republicans

The Obama Administration has done a few things right, like going after some of the many Republican controlled states that are trying to restrict the voting rights of minorities and those with lower incomes,
people who traditionally tend to vote Democratic.


Benjamin Jealous
Democracy Now recently covered this, interviewing Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP and Bob Edgar of Common Cause. Video, audio, and a written transcript of the segment are available.

New Mexico, where Susanna Martinez as a newly elected Republican governor swiftly launched an attack on voter fraud, gets a mention in the scandal. Republicans have been trying to justify their many assaults on voting rights (more than 30 states have passed laws restricting voting. The federal government is only going after those states covered by the Voting Rights Act, i.e., southern states) by saying they are passing all these restrictive laws in order to prevent voter fraud. They are requiring voters to have a separate picture id especially for voting that is difficult if not impossible for many poor people to obtain, they are eliminating or reducing early voting, and eliminating same day registration, among other things.


 The problem is that voter fraud barely exists. In New Mexico, in the 2008 general election, a combined 819,254 votes were cast for Democrat Barak Obama and Republican John McCain. Jealous says New Mexico spent $1 million looking for fraudulent voters and found two of them.

That means .0000024 percent of votes in New Mexico were illegally cast. It's hard to even make that number meaningful. It's one quarter of one thousandth of one percent. Another way to break it down is that Martinez spent a half million dollars to uncover each fraudulent vote.

Republicans, with a straight face, say that they are protecting the integrity of the electoral process, which is necessary for there to be democracy. Democracy isn't in danger because of fraudulent voting, it's in danger because of Republicans.

 


But Who Has The Riches?


Half the US population is now classified as living in poverty or as low income. A CBS News story blames this on people being too rich to qualify for food stamps and other assistance. Guess how that reporter, and his editor, vote?

What happened to America being the richest country in the world? Ever since I started this blog I've documented the decline in wages and living standards in the US, and the continual attacks on those government programs we are all too rich to receive. I've also tried to lay out the basics of Neoliberalism, also known as the Washington Consensus, which is the consensus among Democrats, Republicans, the IMF and World Bank, and the political class in Europe. It's panned off as an economic system, but it's merely a set of practices designed to lower the living standards of the working classes in the Western Democracies. When it was introduced by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago it was sold as trickle down economics, and for 30 years now it hasn't trickled down, as wealth and income disparities -- the gap between the rich and the rest of us -- are now back at 1920s levels.


Franklin Roosevelt
 Social programs in the US like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Workman's Compensation, SSI disability insurance, Food Stamps, Aid To Families With Dependent Children, housing assistance, student loans and grants -- and an even more generous social safety net in the European countries, were put in place because there used to be an alternative to Capitalism. It was Socialism. In the latter part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th, Socialism had begun to be a viable political expression in the US. There were many elected Socialists. Socialists were elected as mayors in cities like Minneapolis and Milwaukee. Capitalism headed off this threat to its privileges with Franklin Roosevelt, who was of the one percent and whose New Deal programs took much of the steam out of Socialism in the US by enacting into law much of what the Socialists had been demanding.
 

Frank Zeidler
The relentless attack on Socialism of the McCarthy era with its Blacklists and loyalty oaths and FBI persecution took some more of the steam out of Socialism in the US. More was taken out by the US-initiated Cold War with its constant propaganda about the threats of Socialism, the USSR and China, threats that were all non existent. To combat the influence of Socialism among the working class, Roosevelt had removed many of the restrictions that made it hard to organize workplaces, on the condition that unions expunge all their Socialist and Communist officers and members. As the barriers to organizing were lifted, union membership increased to more than 35 percent of the US work force, and as a direct result of that, the American working class in the post World War II years achieved the highest standard of living of any working class in the history of the world.

Hubert H Humphrey
Now, the Washington Consensus, Neoliberal thinking goes, there isn't an alternative to Capitalism. Now, the thinking goes, it's time to do away with unions, time to discipline the working classes, to include the so called Middle Class who thought they had risen to the point that they didn't have to worry about slipping into poverty, didn't have to worry about ever being called low income again.



 



Too Big For The Law


This may be the most gut wrenching thing I've heard lately. Former Wall Street investment banker turned crusading journalist Nomi Prins says that the conditions that led to the economic collapse of 2007-2008 are worse now than then. Big banks are holding more so called derivatives, where they, for example, bundle thousands of home loans into a package and then sell shares of that, than they did when the collapse occurred.

In other words, the financial industry reforms touted by President Obama and passed by the congress did nothing to confront the problem. That's how bought and paid for our elected officials are.

Prins, who worked at Goldman Sachs and Bear-Stearns, has written about this a lot, as have others, and she talked about it at length on the Democracy Now program of Dec. 14. There are audio and video downloads and a written transcript of the interview.


Besides our economy being vulnerable to another crisis caused by the gambling and graft of the 1 percent, the $800 billion bailout we hear about, which Conservative media outlets glory in saying has already been almost repaid, are just a fraction of the trillions our government and the Federal Reserve have handed over to the banks, by such means as giving the big banks interest free loans which they can then use to buy interest bearing treasury bonds. The latest figure for the total bailout is $29 trillion.

By our government opening the treasury vaults to the big banks, and by the other means by which they extract wealth from the US economy, the big banks have fleeced our future out from under us. They have had themselves officially classified as too big to fail, ensuring that when the next crisis comes they will again be lined up at the public trough, and congress and the president will be there to ladle out our money for them.


 


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