01/13/2014 archive

A Left Agenda

I frequently read (and hear) a question that goes something like this-

ek, it’s all very well that you are here documenting the atrocities and I understand the the goals of your sites and writing are modest indeed, simply to provide a platform for others and encourage revolution in the small things, but I’m at my wits end!  What do I do?

To which my answer is invariably- stop rewarding bad behavior.

As your Mother said, this hurts me more than it does you.  The path of least resistance is appeasement and compliance, but spoiling pets, children, and politicians is the coward’s course.

The problem of resistance to the oligarchy

Ian Welsh

2014 January 12

You can also get change through making the lives of the rich unpleasant, or making them fear for their very lives.  Social peace has often been bought by treating ordinary people better, when the rich genuinely feared the army and police couldn’t protect them.

But if the elites think that their security forces can protect them, and especially if they live in a bubble where they never have to face people whose lives they have made miserable, as is the case for most of our rich, who fly by private jet, travel about the city in helicopters or chauffered limos and live in gated enclaves; and if you can’t cost them any real money, why should they let you have any of the surplus of society beyond the bare minimum you need to remain useful to them? (Not to survive: as the cutting of food stamps in the US indicates, that’s not a priority for the oligarchy.)

Be clear that distribution of goods and money in an economy is almost entirely unrelated to any ethical idea of merit or deservedness.  The bankers, amongst the best paid people in the world economy, destroyed far more money than they earned in the 00s, and yet are still paid billions of dollars in bonuses every year.  They receive the money they do because they had the power to make the government make them whole after they lost everything, then the power to make the government make them even richer than before.  They control a bundle of valuable rights from the state: the right to borrow at prime, the right to value assets to model (fantasy); the right to huge leverage; and the right lend, which is how money is actually created in our economy (aka. they can print money.)

This is why they’re rich: not because they produce net value: they destroy value; but because they have the power to make the government do what they want it to do and to make it not prosecute them when they break the laws, and even to change the laws so they can take even more money.

Distribution in an economy is based, virtually entirely, on power. A group receives goods and money because it can force others to give it to them.  The libertarian fantasy of free markets and free choice is exactly that. They don’t exist today, they have rarely existed in the past, and to the extent they have existed they owe their existence entirely to government making sure they exist.  As soon as any group gains enough power to take over government, they do, and free markets cease to exist because they make the government give them special rights,whether those are rights to print money, borrow low and lend high, or so-called intellectual property rights that let them continue to profit from ideas created 80 years ago.

Power, power is all that matters.  Even distribution, or something close to it, happens only when there is relatively equality between groups in society or there is an existential threat to society which requires the willing participation of all parts of society.

If you ever want to see raises for ordinary people again, you must figure out how they will become powerful: and power means “what can they do to hurt people who cross them, hurt them really, really badly.”

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Enemies of the Poor

Suddenly it’s O.K., even mandatory, for politicians with national ambitions to talk about helping the poor. This is easy for Democrats, who can go back to being the party of F.D.R. and L.B.J. It’s much more difficult for Republicans, who are having a hard time shaking their reputation for reverse Robin-Hoodism, for being the party that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

And the reason that reputation is so hard to shake is that it’s justified. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that right now Republicans are doing all they can to hurt the poor, and they would have inflicted vast additional harm if they had won the 2012 election. Moreover, G.O.P. harshness toward the less fortunate isn’t just a matter of spite (although that’s part of it); it’s deeply rooted in the party’s ideology, which is why recent speeches by leading Republicans declaring that they do too care about the poor have been almost completely devoid of policy specifics.

Let’s start with the recent Republican track record.

John Nichols: A ‘Fast Track’ to Less Democracy and More Economic Dislocation

The framers of the Constitution were wise to include Congress in the process of framing and approving trade agreements made by presidents. That authority to provide advice and consent should, the wisest legislators have always argued, be zealously guarded.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, Congress has frequently surrendered its authority when it comes to the shaping of trade agreements. By granting so-called “fast-track authority” to the White House, Congress opts itself out of the process at the critical stage when an agreement is being struck and retains only the ability to say “yes” or “no” to a done deal.

The result has been a framing of US trade agreements that is great for multinational corporations but lousy for workers, communities and the environment. Instead of benefitting the great mass of people in the United States and countries with which it trades, deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the permanent normalization of trade relations agreement with China de-emphasize worker rights, human rights, environmental and democracy concerns and clear the way for a race to the bottom.

Jonathan Turley: Big money behind war: the military-industrial complex

More than 50 years after President Eisenhower’s warning, Americans find themselves in perpetual war.

In January 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn the nation of what he viewed as one of its greatest threats: the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating war. [..]

Even with polls showing that the majority of Americans are opposed to continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new military-industrial complex continues to easily muster the necessary support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It is a testament to the influence of this alliance that hundreds of billions are being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq while Congress is planning to cut billions from core social programmes, including a possible rollback on Medicare due to lack of money. None of that matters. It doesn’t even matter that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called the US the enemy and said he wishes that he had joined the Taliban. Even the documented billions stolen by government officials in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated as a mere cost of doing business.

It is what Eisenhower described as the “misplaced power” of the military-industrial complex – power that makes public opposition and even thousands of dead soldiers immaterial. War may be hell for some but it is heaven for others in a war-dependent economy.

Robert Kuttner: A Sick Job Market — and How to Cure It

Something is horribly wrong with both America’s employment situation and with the way we measure it. In case you missed the news, the economy generated just 74,000 payroll jobs in December, but the unemployment rate dropped by three tenths of a percentage point, from 7.0 percent to 6.7 percent.

How can that be? Simple: more and more people have just given up looking for work. The percentage of prime age people in the active work force is now just 62.8 percent, the lowest since 1978, a time when far fewer women worked. And the proportion of long term unemployed remains stuck at historic highs.

It’s a scandal that Republicans in the House keep blocking an extension of normal and customary unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. But unemployment compensation is a poor substitute for a job.

There are there convenient myths going around to explain what is occurring.

William K. Black: Rejoice! Chris Christie Will Never Be President

Christie’s aides should have read the Mitt Romney memo from 2012.

This week, Governor Chris Christie’s campaign for the presidential nomination blew itself up.  The suicide bomb was delivered by Christie’s staff and it was a variant on the same bomb that Mitt Romney triggered to destroy his campaign for the presidency.  Putting aside Romney’s vile dismissal of 47% of Americans as supposed freeloaders who take no personal responsibility, his most shameful and revealing phrase was “my job is not to worry about those people.”  The job of an elected official, of course, is to worry about all the people regardless of whom they voted for in an election or were even old enough to vote in the election.  An official who cannot get that most basic aspect of their job statement correct without hesitation is unfit for any position.  He is profoundly anti-American and he cannot honor any oath of office he takes.  Romney made clear that he flunked this most basic test.

Christie’s staff has made clear that it flunked the same test.  His entire group of aides flunked it after they had seen the disastrous results of Romney’s failure.  Recall the remedial humaneness training that the Republican “autopsies” of the 2012 election-cycle recommended?  Christie and his team missed the memo, missed the class on empathy, and channeled their inner Mittnasty to lash out at the people of their own state through an act of domestic terrorism.  They did not set out to kill and maim, but they did deliberately try to make the lives of tens of thousands of people miserable and they succeeded in doing so.  They did so in a manner so reckless that they put lives at risk and may have killed people.

On This Day In History January 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 13 is the 13th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 352 days remaining until the end of the year (353 in leap years).

It is still celebrated as New Year’s Eve (at least in the 20th & 21st centuries) by countries still using the thirteen day slower Julian calendar (Old New Year).

On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola’s inflammatory newspaper editorial, entitled “J’accuse,” is printed. The letter exposed a military cover-up regarding Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a secret military court-martial to imprisonment in a South American penal colony. Two years later, evidence of Dreyfus’ innocence surfaced, but the army suppressed the information. Zola’s letter excoriated the military for concealing its mistaken conviction.

Dreyfus Affair

Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish artillery officer in the French army. When the French intelligence found information about someone giving the German embassy military secrets, anti-semitism seems to have caused senior officers to suspect Dreyfus, though there was no direct evidence of any wrongdoing. Dreyfus was court-martialled, convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island in French Guiana.

LL Col. Georges Picquart, though, came across evidence that implicated another officer, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, and informed his superiors. Rather than move to clear Dreyfus, the decision was made to protect Esterhazy and ensure the original verdict was not overturned. Major Hubert-Joseph Henry forged documents that made it seem that Dreyfus was guilty and then had Picquart assigned duty in Africa. Before leaving, Picquart told some of Dreyfus’s supporters what he knew. Soon Senator August Scheurer-Kestner took up the case and announced in the Senate that Dreyfus was innocent and accused Esterhazy. The right-wing government refused new evidence to be allowed and Esterhazy was tried and acquitted. Picquart was then sentenced to 60 days in prison.

Émile Zola risked his career and even his life on 13 January 1898, when his “J’accuse“, was published on the front page of the Paris daily, L’Aurore. The newspaper was run by Ernest Vaughan and Georges Clemenceau, who decided that the controversial story would be in the form of an open letter to the President, Felix Faure. Émile Zola’s “J’Accuse” accused the highest levels of the French Army of obstruction of justice and antisemitism by having wrongfully convicted Alfred Dreyfus to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Zola declared that Dreyfus’ conviction came after a false accusation of espionage and was a miscarriage of justice. The case, known as the Dreyfus affair, divided France deeply between the reactionary army and church, and the more liberal commercial society. The ramifications continued for many years; on the 100th anniversary of Zola’s article, France’s Roman Catholic daily paper, La Croix, apologized for its antisemitic editorials during the Dreyfus Affair. As Zola was a leading French thinker, his letter formed a major turning-point in the affair.

Zola was brought to trial for criminal libel on 7 February 1898, and was convicted on 23 February, sentenced, and removed from the Legion of Honor. Rather than go to jail, Zola fled to England. Without even having had the time to pack a few clothes, he arrived at Victoria Station on 19 July. After his brief and unhappy residence in London, from October 1898 to June 1899, he was allowed to return in time to see the government fall.

The government offered Dreyfus a pardon (rather than exoneration), which he could accept and go free and so effectively admit that he was guilty, or face a re-trial in which he was sure to be convicted again. Although he was clearly not guilty, he chose to accept the pardon. Émile Zola said, “The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it.” In 1906, Dreyfus was completely exonerated by the Supreme Court.

The 1898 article by Émile Zola is widely marked in France as the most prominent manifestation of the new power of the intellectuals (writers, artists, academicians) in shaping public opinion, the media and the state.

Sunday Train: The Rumored Death of Peak Oil Was Greatly Exaggerated

From Earth Insight by Nafeez Ahmed, hostsed by the Gardian, Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies’:

Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 before retiring in 2008, said that official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil had most likely peaked around 2008.

Dr. Miller critiqued the official industry line that global reserves will last 53 years at current rates of consumption, pointing out that “peaking is the result of declining production rates, not declining reserves.” Despite new discoveries and increasing reliance on unconventional oil and gas, 37 countries are already post-peak, and global oil production is declining at about 4.1% per year, or 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) per year:

“We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply… New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover – but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].”