TRUMP, LOOSE NUKES, THE RUSSIAN MAFIA, SEYMOUR HERSH, AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING LINK

9 09 2018

Recently, I went looking for something authoritative about Russia during “the lawless years” that followed the fall of the USSR. After doing some internet searching, I found that Seymour Hersh, whose reputation is reasonably impeccable, had written a story, entitled “The Wild East,” on that subject in 1994. Yes, I know there are those who attack him, but if you’re reporting on things that annoy those in power, or who aspire to power, you will be attacked. Hersh has won plenty of recognition for his work, and this particular piece was published in The Atlantic, which does not put its support behind dicey reporting.

The page was so discouraging to look at that I almost gave up without reading it. It was in that old-style 90’s internet format–wall-to-wall words, no margins, no pictures, no skipped lines between paragraphs. At the top of the page were an underlined 1 and a 2, indicating that it was the second page of an article, since the 2 was black and the one was blue. Might as well start at the beginning, I said to myself, and jumped to page one.

The US embassy in Moscow

Hersh began his story with an account of the unsolved murder of a staff member of the American Embassy in Moscow: Read the rest of this entry »





“LET FACTS BE SUBMITTED TO A CANDID WORLD”

12 11 2011

So, let’s revisit that American foundation document, “The Declaration of Independence.”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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 of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

OK, first of all, nobody in the Occupy movement is calling for overthrow of the government.  For one thing, that’s a certain route to violent suppression .  But–“Governments…deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”  What we who are in the 99% are saying is that the current government of the United States, whether “Republican” or “Democrat,” is not pursuing policies that are conducive to our “Life,Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.”There has, once again, been “a long train of abuses and usurpations.”  That would seem to indicate that it is, once again, our “right and duty” to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for (our) future security.”

Next in the Declaration come the “Facts submitted to a candid world,” a detailing of the “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”  Let’s read through them and see to what extent they still, or once again, apply.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

OK….I could spend the whole hour talking about that item alone.  The only difference is that, instead of a single, mad monarch sitting on the throne England, our modern “he” is our Congress, which is held in thrall to special interests, and does their bidding rather than doing what is “wholesome and necessary for the public good.”  Let’s see–universal single-payer health care, serious regulation of our banking and financial sector, meaningful environmental legislation, the legalization of at least medical marijuana–these and many more causes enjoy widespread public support and would bring widespread public benefit, but are not “politically possible” because they would reduce or eliminate the profits of certain corporate “persons” who are, apparently, more equal than us mere flesh and blood persons.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

The most outstanding current example of this is how the federal government is interfering with state medical marijuana programs, from the ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft in which the Supreme Court held that marijuana grown in somebody’s back yard for their personal consumption was somehow covered by the interstate commerce clause and thus subject to federal law, to the current DOJ campaign against any kind of business providing marijuana to people with medical needs.  Other examples:  the not-so-strict federal “do not call” law superseded Wisconsin’s stricter statute, and a wide array of local environmental regulations.

”It is the 1970s in reverse. Then, the feds stepped in with more stringent standards than the states to ensure that the environment was protected,” said Steve Hinchman, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Maine. ”Now, as states get ahead of the federal government, they’re stepping in to protect industry at the expense of people who are forced to breathe this air.”

That was said of the Cheney administration, but Obama has, according to many observers, been no great improvement on Cheney.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

Nothing domestic here–but look at the role the U.S. has played in supporting dictators and repressing popular movements around the world–think Palestine, think Pakistan, Indonesia, fill in the blank.  Sure, we helped topple Qadhafi, but he was not only repressing dissent in Libya, he was about to ask to be paid for his oil in gold, rather than U.S. dollars.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The Syrian government can shoot or torture anyone it wants, apparently, as long as they don’t challenge U.S. hegemony.  The Occupy Declaration echoes this:

  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

OK, back to the Declaration of Independence:

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

Two hundred years ago, the speediest land transportation was a fast horse.  Today, the ruling class has made legislative bodies “uncomfortable and distant”  by raising the cost of campaigning so high that the only way to run for office with any hope of success is to be independently wealthy, or to be dependent on contributions from the ruling class–who will not support anyone who does not support them.  As a result, our state and national governments are primarily concerned with maintaining the privileged position of those who have bought them, leaving the rest of us  exposed to various economic and social “convulsions within,” all the while scaring everyone they can with the danger of “invasion from without.”  Again, the Occupy Declaration touches on this point:

  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

The D of I, again:

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

This is one of the few issues where I have some sympathy for the English position.  One of the complaints of the Europeans who settled what is now the USA was that the English wanted to keep them east of the Appalachians, and reserve the territory west of the mountains for the original inhabitants.  Because of that, and because the English were concerned about their colonies being subverted by too many non-English immigrants,  Crown policy attempted to limit the number of Europeans who invaded Turtle Island. Those doing the invading, on the other hand, sought safety in numbers.  To me, it is one of the great ironies of US immigration policy that a bunch of people of European descent are trying to stop native people from Mexico and Central America from entering this country–a trade and migration route that predates European arrival by thousands of years.  And, of course, there’s the further irony that it is US foreign trade policy that has destroyed the economies of these people’s native countries, pushing them to come here because, as Willie Sutton said, “it’s where the money is.”  The Occupy Declaration touches on immigration only obliquely, saying

  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

Back to the Declaration of Independence:

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

These three provisions are all about the proliferation of bureaucracy and the perversion of civil government by money and power, which is at the heart of the complaint of the Occupy movement.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

Hey, no problem!  We’ll just buy the legislators and get them to approve the maintenance of a large standing army–and make sure it looks like it’s never  a time of peace!  And that bought legislature will never question the importance of military appropriations, making our military effectively “independent of and superior to the Civil power.”  Quoth the Occupiers:

  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

If I were a right-winger, I’d start raving about U.N. black helicopters at this point, but that, in my opinion, is pure paranoia.  The real way in which America has been “subject(ed) to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws,” has been U.S. participation in NAFTA and the WTO, both of which subordinate local environmental and labor safeguards to the profit motives of transnational corporations.

music:  REM, “Cuyahoga

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

The U.S.A. accounts for nearly half of the world’s military spending, but it’s invisible to most of us:  our armies are spread across over 700 overseas military bases.  The Americans to whom this is not invisible are the families of our soldiers, often from small towns where U.S. government/corporate policy destroyed the local economy and job market, leaving many young people with no choice but the military.  And the second point, “protecting (military personnel) from punishment for any Murders which they should commit”?  That’s why we have (kind of) withdrawn our armies from Iraq–the government we installed refused to give us carte blanche to go on killing civilians and getting away with it.  Gee, the U.S. has been murdering civilians in Iraq with impunity ever since the invasion–What’s the big deal?  Oh, well, we can keep on killing civilians–even American citizens–in Pakistan and Yemen, and probably some other place we haven’t heard of yet.  All is not lost.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

As The Living Theater used to exclaim, “I cannot travel without a passport!”  Nowadays, the problem is not the “cutting off of Trade,” but the opening up of trade:  Chinese imports have destroyed US manufacturing capacity, and US grain exports have destroyed Latin American agriculture.  In both cases, the people lose and the corporations win.  On the other hand, in the 18th century, individuals could travel without passports, in most places.  Nowadays, governments use their passport authority to keep people out of their countries:  here in the U.S., Palestinian Fulbright scholars, German publishers, Afghani women’s rights activists, and English environmental activists, among others, have been excluded so that they will not infect the American public with their subversive ideas.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

Since our government has been taken over by corporate interests, our tax system has, in essence, been changed without our consent:  the share of government revenue that comes from corporate taxes has shrunk, so that the burden of supporting corporate government falls predominantly on the shoulders of individuals of modest means, who have to deal with not only income taxes and sales taxes, but property taxes, which keep rising as municipalities receive less money from state and national government coffers.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

This issue is not on Occupy’s radar, but it is a serious one.  According to PBS, 95% of all criminal cases never go to a jury; they are decided by what is called “plea bargain,” but should more properly be termed “blackmail.”  What happens is this:  prosecutors charge a defendant with everything they can possibly think of, a laundry list that will likely result in decades of prison time, but then inform their victim that if he or she will plead guilty to just one of the charges, or, in the case of drug busts, turn someone else in, they will avoid the expense of a jury trial and, the likelihood of much longer incarceration.  Maybe the defendant is innocent, or was acting on principle, but the pressure to agree to a plea bargain is overwhelming, 95% of the time, it seems.  Deprived, indeed, of the “benefits of Trial by Jury.”

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

Uuhh…ever heard of “extraordinary rendition”?

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Several claims in this section of  the “facts submitted to a candid world” seem to me to duplicate ones that have already been stated, but the last one, about plundering the seas, and so on, while it was set in a military context at the time, is true today in a corporate framework.  Corporate fishing has plundered our seas, and globalization has “burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

BlackwaterWackenhut.  Corrections Corporation of America.  ‘Nuff said.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

The modern parallel of this charge is, again, the way exploitive corporations have destroyed communities.  For example, in the Appalachian coal fields, mountaintop removal provides a very few people with good-paying jobs–destroying the country and culture they live in.  And, lastly…

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Again, my sympathies lie with the Native Americans, who only subjected us  undocumented European immigrants to “undistinguished destruction” after we did the same to them.  When all is said and done, all of us who are not of Native American descent are trespassers on this continent.  In the 21st century, we’re just accessories after the fact, so to speak, but many of the framers of the Declaration of Independence actually killed Native Americans in order to steal their land.  This theft kind of erodes the “sacred honor” of our nation’s founders, but, at this point, hey–it is what it is.  Nowadays in America, we don’t get real politically-inspired mayhem–just the threat of it, trumpeted by our national insecurity apparatus.  And, finally….

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We, too, have “Petitioned for Redress in humble terms…have appealed to (the) native justice and magnanimity” of our allegedly representative government, decade after decade, issue after issue.  How many on-line petitions did you sign today? At this point I am reminded of the words of a populist activist who was active about halfway between the time of the Declaration of Independence and the present day, William Jennings Bryan:

We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came.

We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

For all his fervor and popular appeal, Bryan went down to defeat, at the hands of the same forces we face today.  He, a very Jeffersonian Democrat, was overwhelmed by Republican promises of growth and prosperity, and slurs that associated him with “anarchists,” who were to voters of that day what “socialists” are to modern American voters–boogeymen.  Some things don’t change much, it seems.

But some things have changed.  Unlike the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, we no longer live in an era when resources and possibilities seem unlimited.  Promises of future growth and prosperity now ring hollow, and only the delusionaries in the Tea Party retain their faith in the Corporate American Dream.   We have, in the words of the Declaration, endured “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”  It is, indeed, time to “alter our former system of government.”  If we don’t, we will fall even further under the power of sociopathic corporate “persons,” who, like vampires, have no thought of altruism, only self-aggrandizement.

To borrow the words of the chief writer of The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, we must “swear upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

music:  Patti Smith, “People Got the Power





NEW N!@#$RS

10 12 2006

So, there’s new n!@#$rs in America….people even African-Americans can look down on.  No, I’m not talking about hippies.  We’re old news, and few enough in number to be mostly invisible.  I’m talking about Latinos.  Nashville is likely to pass an ordinance that insists that English is the “first” language of Davidson County, and that says Latinos have to let whites and Negroes ahead of them in line at drinking fountains.  It’s  a toned-down version of a bill that would have made English the only official language of Davidson County and forced Latinos to drink at separate fountains.  Just kidding about the fountains.  I hope.According to the Nashville Scene, local right-wing talk radio host Phil Valentine said that the US should just shoot anybody caught crossing the border illegally.  As far as I know, there are no plans to prosecute him for these remarks, although if he were a Muslim talking about killing Americans who invaded Iraq, he would have been dead meat himself.   After all, Iraqis are dealing with the Americans who crossed their border illegally by shooting them and blowing them up.  What’s sauce for the goose, eh?

At a recent anti-immigration (i.e.,anti-Latino) rally, the Scene reported that a local black minister railed against the new occupants of the bottom of the social pyramid.  It must feel good to have someone white folks will cheer you to dump on after all these centuries.  One question, Reverend—who would Jesus dump on?

The Scene reports that since word got out that the Marshall County Library has a handful of books in Spanish, and a Hispanic employee who teaches English and computer skills to Latinos, the Library has received a steady stream of angry phone calls, such as “I will no longer use the library as long as Hispanics use it.”  Viva Jose Crow!  Of course, the people who object to the English lessons are the same ones who want “English only” to be the rule.  Logic be damned, our turf is at stake!

And what an ironic turf battle it is, when you think of how we got this turf, and who the Latinos really are.  Our ancestors came here, uninvited and unwanted, in a massive, genocidal wave of immigration that overwhelmed North America’s truly native nations. The Spanish, while they enslaved the native people of Central America, never really eliminated them—and so most Latinos are, ultimately, detribalized indigenous peoples, the cousins of the tribes we destroyed.  This continent is much more their home than it is ours.  No wonder some white folks get so shrill about Latinos and their “threat to our culture.”  Historically, this is the Latinos’ continent, and theirs is the older culture.

The other, likewise largely ignored, irony of this situation is its genesis.  In the early nineties, Democrats and Republicans agreed that creating the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization would be good for business—and what’s good for business must be good for the people, right?

Wrong.  Corporate profits soared, alright, but they soared as major companies jettisoned an estimated thirty million American workers and moved manufacturing out of the US into countries with lower wage rates and environmental standards.   On the other hand, U.S. farm products, no longer kept out of Mexico and Central America by tariffs that protected the livelihoods of small farmers in those countries, flooded our southern neighbors, drying up the economies of rural communities.  At first, the unemployed masses flocked to the maquilas, factories set up by US companies to take advantage of lower wages to manufacture goods for resale into America; but then the lure of even cheaper labor beckoned and many factories left Mexico and Central America for China, leaving millions of Latinos  financially desperate.

Meanwhile, the US has been experiencing a “boom in the service sector economy, ”  and a bit of a boom in the housing market.  “Service sector jobs” is a fancy way to say, “being a servant.”  Now, “service,” can be an act of worship, but in this case it boils down to the likes of flipping burgers or running a cash register, jobs which just about any warm body can do and which pay accordingly.   55% of all jobs in America now pay less than $13.50/hr; 40% pay less than $10/hr.
It didn’t used to be like that.  In most places, it takes the upper end of that to provide minimum support for a small family—what’s called “a living wage”; when it takes both parents working full time to support a family financially, you start creating social and psychological problems that are far more costly than the income generated.

The  housing boom has occurred as the twenty percent of Americans who are getting richer build themselves ever-cheesier McMansions.  These people believe in stretching their dollars as far as they can—so they are always happy to hire the person who will work for the least amount of money, no matter their country of origin or legal status.  Americans who are in the job market bring with them the preferences and expectations of citizens of the wealthiest large nation on earth.  They would like a living wage (generally over about twelve dollars an hour), a chance to get ahead, and some kind of benefits, thank you.  Mexicans are coming from a country where well-paid factory workers make about thirty dollars a week.  Seven-fifty an hour beats six dollars a day, don’t it?

So, the thing that happens when you go from six dollars a day to seven-fifty an hour is that, because you know how to live so cheap, you end up saving a lot of money and sending it home to Mexico.  The most recent estimate I could find was for 2004, when Mexicans sent sixteen billion dollars back to Mexico, more than large corporations invested in Mexico.  This money is not filtered through large corporations.  Nobody is getting rich off it.  It goes directly into the households of about a quarter of the population of Mexico, mostly the poorest quarter of the population of Mexico.

So, when a bunch of racist smartasses start talking about sending all the Mexicans home, they’re not thinking very long term, or very clearly.  Every wealthy person in Mexico understands that the US is Mexico’s safety valve.  Make all those people go back to Mexico, or even a sizable percentage of them, and subtract the money they’re sending home, and Mexico will blow up and things will be even messier.  Think, “what if Iraq was on the southern border of the United States?”  Aside from all arguments of compassion and justice, the pure self-interest of not having a failed state on our southern border is enough to keep any sane politician from doing anything too stupid and drastic.

But, can we count on sane politicians not doing anything too stupid or drastic?  The recent history of the US is not reassuring!  Let’s not forget that those Democrats everybody is now viewing as saviors are, by and large, the same batch who voted for the free trade agreements that created this mess to begin with.  Maybe they’ve learned their lesson; certainly many of those who were elected this year ran on “save American jobs/end free trade” platforms.  Will their resolve stand up to K street’s blandishments?  Steny Hoyer, who will be the Democratic Speaker of the House, is known as “the chief K St liaison for House Democrats,” according to the National Journal.  He has promised that there won’t be “an orgy of business bashing”  in the new, Democratic congress.  Charles Rangel, who will chair the Ways and Means Committee, has promised to work closely with business lobbyists on trade and tax reform.  And what about immigration?

The issues are inextricably linked.  The hapless Latinos who are risking everything to get into this country to find jobs are not the bad actors in this drama.  They are just trying to take care of their families, and they would rather be home with their families than mowing your lawn or shivering through our winters.  The bad actors in this play can be found in the boardrooms and legislatures of America, where policy is fixed in a way that tilts the playing field ever more sharply in favor of the already wealthy, and the bad actors are taking advantage of people’s ignorance to turn poor,  exploited whites, blacks, and Latinos against each other and prevent us from uniting against our common enemy—the selfishly wealthy.  When enough Americans come to our senses about this con game, the resulting political earthquake will make last month’s electoral shakeup feel like a minor tremor.

Buffy St. Marie, Now that the Buffalo’s Gone





IT’S STILL THE ECONOMY, STUPID! (AS WELL AS THE ENVIRONMENT)

10 11 2006

I must confess I suffered from a severe buildup of paranoid fantasies coming up on this election. War on Iran, massive vote stealing, riots, martial law—I was feeling downright apocalyptic. Would Bush use his new powers to declare Cindy Sheehan an “enemy combatant”? What about Harry Reid? What about…ME??

What a relief that none of it happened—or hasn’t happened yet, anyway. Too many people were too mad and watching too closely for any major funny business. The day after the election, at his “Ding-dong-the-Rummy-witch-is-dead” press conference, Bush sounded so shrill—was it just a symptom of how desperately he wanted to go on a drunken bender, or did somebody in the CIA have his balls in a vise? Will we ever know?

Then again, maybe they just let it go because they figured it was time to get out while the getting is good. The economy is teetering on the brink; let the Democrats catch the blame when it collapses, while the Bush family shuffles off to Paraguay—did you hear about that? Apparently Poppa Bush is buying a huge tract of land down there. If it was good enough for the original batch of Nazis….

Hey, Kennebunkport’s gonna be under water, but not central South America—and besides, the Paraguayans don’t have much in the way of extradition treaties with the U.S. Maybe Rummie will join them down there—there’s already talk of indicting him for war crimes in Germany now that he’s lost his diplomatic immunity. No, he didn’t commit war crimes in Germany, that we know of, except for maybe an extraordinary rendition or two, but German law allows anyone who’s committed war crimes anywhere in the world to be held accountable in Germany. For some reason, they’re real sensitive about that over there. Something about Nuremberg…..

Meanwhile, America is about to go Weimar, or at least Argentine.

Our trading partners in Asia are starting to think they’ve bought enough dollars and U.S. securities and now it’s time to diversify their holdings. The Chinese, especially, are cooling their eagerness to prop up the U.S. economy, which for a number of years has “grown” via the mechanism that China is loaning us money to buy things from them, and then layering it further by loaning the US money to pay back earlier loans. This economically dysfunctional relationship is drawing to a close, it seems. If the rest of the world expresses its lack of confidence in the U.S. by ceasing to buy our Treasury bills, then all the Democrats’ plans about social security, health care, and college will go in the toilet. That’s the bad news—the good news is that our country’s ability to finance overseas military adventures will also be curtailed. So, the Dems had better push that increase in the minimum wage through soon, because it could become meaningful to a lot more of us sooner than we’d like to think.

There are rumblings coming from a lot closer to home, too. Savings have largely been replaced in this country by ownership of real estate, but the housing boom in America is beginning to cool, and people are finding themselves paying more for their homes than those homes are worth—and, as employment contracts still further, finding themselves unable to pay for their homes at all. The bankruptcy rate, which punitive anti-consumer legislation was supposed to slow down, is approaching the level it was at before the Republicans tilted the field in favor of lenders.

Here we see the unintended consequences of the greed of the medical system, as more than half of all bankruptcy filers cited medical debt as a major reason for their plight. The medical parasite is causing life-threatening damage to the organism. It’s that simple, and that complicated. It affects not only individual Americans, but Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance as well. Will these players gang up on the medical business, now that the Democrats, who are marginally less supportive of endgame capitalism, are in charge? Maybe.

Now, it’s possible that the Democrats’ recapture of the legislative branch of our government will inspire our overseas creditors to cut us some slack, at least for a while—but the Dems will have to at least attempt to reverse the Bush junta’s financial overindulgences—Bush still has the power to veto such reversals, so any real reform will have to wait until after 2008, which is a long time in the life of an economy. Will the Democrats have the spine to do this? Most of them supported the various so-called “free trade agreements” that started destroying America’s economy, and many of them are in thrall enough to big business to still be in denial about that. Bush’s tax cuts were just the icing on the cake.

My advice? Pay off your debts if you can. Grow a garden. Make sure your home is energy-efficient. If you have investments, do like Dick Cheney and move them overseas as much as possible. The recent election may have saved us from fascist weirdness, but the financial weirdness is just beginning.

music:  Steve Earle, “Ashes to Ashes





IMMIGRATION NATION

7 04 2006

Nashville just had what may have been its biggest protest demonstration, ever. Those of us who have grown accustomed to seeing the same three hundred people at demonstrations over the last decade were left with our mouths agape at the turnout for the march protesting the proposed criminalization of illegal immigration—as many as fourteen thousand people. Even the organizers of the march were surprised—in a pre-rally story posted at the Tennessee Independent Media Center, they said they expected two thousand marchers—which would still have been one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Nashville. I mean, this town does not turn out.

But the kind of stuff my friends and I have been publicly squawking about for years is abstract compared to what our Latino cousins are facing. A majority of the U.S. House voted to make it a felony to be in this country illegally, and anyone who helped those so-called felons—family, friends, humanitarian assistance organizations—without turning them in to the authorities for imprisonment and ultimate deportation would likewise be guilty of a felony. Passage of such a measure would demand the apprehension, arrest, imprisonment, and deportation of not only the eleven and a half million illegal immigrants in this country, but of possibly millions more individuals, some of whom would be deportable, and some of whom would be native-born Americans who would instead be caught up in the snares of the federal justice system, which is already overloaded by its attempt to enforce our country’s unrealistic drug laws. And speaking of our unrealistic drug laws, these delusional immigration policies are being championed by none other than drug warrior supreme Jim Sensenbrenner, a member of the house from Wisconsin, who may regard imprisoning eleven million illegal aliens as a warmup for imprisoning twenty million marihuana smokers…but I digress….

If Mr. Senselessbrainer, Tony Tancredo and their unrealistic ilk have their way, millions of Mexicans and other Central Americans will be dumped back into their home countries, where they have no way to earn a living; the already tenuous economies of these countries, deprived of the huge sums illegal immigrants send home to support their families, would collapse even further. All of Central America would start to resemble Haiti, and Haiti—you don’t want to think about it.

With its police forces beefed up to handle this mass detention, and concentration camps—I mean detention facilities—set up to handle the arrest of nearly five percent of the country’s population, the land of the free would become a police state. I mean, not since the Nazis declared the Jews persona non grata has a country intentionally set out to incarcerate so many of its inhabitants. There have been stories floating about Halliburton being contracted to establish detention centers—we in the antiwar movement thought they were for US—silly us, they’re for the Mexicans, and for those of us in the antiwar movement who happen to help out illegal immigrants on the side—which, actually, might be a lot of us. I confess, I have. Come and get me.

And, with so many prisoners, would the government start contracting out our captured Mexicans to perform labor? After all, taking eleven million people out of the workforce would create a major labor shortage. Back to the lettuce field, Jose, but this time the government’s collecting your paycheck…

Or maybe the war on immigrants would be like the war on terror and the war on drugs—lots of spending on executive salaries and hardware, occasional high-profile arrests, but no serious attempt to round up everyone —just another club to threaten people with, one that only gets used when it’s politically convenient for the party in power.

Those who want to tighten up our borders make a lot of noise about illegals choosing to come here, without really examining why they choose to come—just as they like to spout about Muslims who hate our way of life, without looking at why—so maybe we should look at WHY these people come here.

Well, as Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

And why is the money here? It’s here because Americans have been very clever about concentrating capital, but not so wise about sharing it with the less fortunate. The immigration issue is not new—Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportees” in 1948, with the lines

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

Things got worse after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which enabled cheap U.S. farm products to be sold in Mexico and ended the Mexican government’s protection of its small farmers. The result has been devastating for rural Mexico, as people face the double bind of having no money in an economy that demands money. Even the maquiladoras, the big factories just inside Mexico that were built to import into the US, and other industries that first moved out of this country into other Central American countries, are moving on as their owners respond to the lure of cheaper labor in China and other parts of East Asia, thanks to the United States and our World Trade Organization. All you folks who are sentimental for a Democrat party administration, remember it was Bill and Al who pushed that through.

So, like moths to a flame, the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free come to America—they see our television, they think they know what to expect. Hah.

Mr. Bush, who appears to be more liberal—or is it just realistic?–about this issue than many Republicans, has cast it in terms of “jobs Americans won’t do.” That’s not the complete phrase—the real deal is, “jobs Americans won’t do for the kind of wages employers are willing to pay.” Employers like to spread the myth that higher wages for workers will have to mean higher prices for everyone, but simple economic analysis reveals that in most situations, there is plenty of room to raise wages without having a substantial impact on prices. Besides, when poorly-paid people get raises, they tend to buy basic consumer goods, which boosts the economy—except for the fact that most consumer goods are made in China these days. Oh, well.

On the other hand, are there really Americans willing to do the jobs that illegals are doing, at any rate of pay? The seven million unemployed Americans have in theory been displaced by eleven million illegal immigrants, but the geographical facts of life probably defuse this comparison. Would you leave your family in the rust belt and move to California to pick grapes and chop cotton? Would you move your family to California to do that? Twenty-first century Okies, anyone?

This is a complex issue, and there are a lot of people insisting on simple answers. They are going to be disappointed. People complain about deteriorating school and health services and blame it on our newest, frequently illegal, immigrants. The truth is that our schools and hospitals are in decline because the current government would rather play Rambo and cut taxes for the rich than take care of the least of us. They often proclaim their Christianity—the Jesus I know said, “howsoever ye treat the least of mine, is how you treat me,” and I think he’d be more likely to scourge Pat Robertson out of the temple than anoint his brow with oil—but I digress.

“Guest workers.” They want “guest workers”–people who are not going to be citizens of this country who will do our dirty work. What does it do to democracy and participation in the civic process to create a permanently disenfranchised underclass? “Guest workers”? They have those in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, don’t they? Is that the kind of country we want to become? A small, fabulously wealthy elite supported by a vast, disenfranchised underclass? That’s where we’re heading. The rich are getting richer and not just the poor but the middle class are all getting poorer. That’s about three-quarters of the country losing it. The auto companies’ dumping of their workers is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Trickle down economics, right? Only, what’s trickling down is yellow and it smells baaad. This is WTO working, this is GATT working, this is NAFTA working, this is the World Bank doing what they all set out to do—put the U.S. on the same playing field as the rest of the world. You know when American high-tech workers will be competitive with Indian and Chinese high-tech workers? When we’re willing to accept the same kind of wages they are. All these trade treaties are effecting the economic genocide of the American way of life.

But—our much-touted American way of life is based on ripping off the rest of the world. “Middle class” in America is about new cars every few years and sending your kids to college. In most of the world, middle class means you’ve got a spigot in your front yard that gives you potable water that you can haul inside in a bucket to cook and wash with. We have been flying very high for a very long time, it’s a long way down, and in my darker moments I think we may just have to get used to it. The only way to solve the illegal immigration problem may be for this country to become as impoverished as the rest of the world—then there’s no impetus for people to come here looking for work, right?

That’s all the more reason to start building local economies. Large corporations are leeches that suck the money out of communities in order to enrich their management and stockholders. Until we can redistribute those ill-gotten gains, we need to do everything we can to create a personal, face-to-face, non-corporate economy, one that keeps money in the communities it supports. This is not a program that takes a bureaucracy to administer; it just takes a lot of different people in a lot of different places figuring things out among themselves. Storm clouds are gathering, folks, it’s time to get to work. All those Spanish-speaking people who come out of the deep poverty down south have practical skills that we just might find mighty welcome in the years to come. Se habla espanol?

music: Steve Earle, “What’s a Simple Man to Do?”

Comments

For the most part I’d say you’re right on the money. But one thing I’d like to comment on is your view on “guest workers.” I am a spanish speaking white American deeply involved with the Hispanic community. One misconception about most Hispanics is that they want to become citizens or permanent residents. That is not the case. They [most] just want to be able to work here legally, with no problems, and to be able able to travel back and forth from this country to their homeland with no problems. That would be a “guest worker.” Although this situation is something that most undocumented workers would prefer, another situation arises that creates a lack of laborers in their native land, less taxable income, less local investment and entrepreneurial ventures, split and damaged families, fatherless children, abandoned wives seeking new romances… the list goes on and would be rather too long a conversation to take on here.
Posted by Caryn H on 04/24/2006 10:11:02 PM

Thanks for your perspective. From what you are saying, and from my own contacts with folks who have come up from Mexico and Central America to work, (and my own experience of having to leave the depressed area I lived in for economic reasons) I gather that most of them would prefer to stay home with their families and communities, but that this is a financial impossibility. I think the real solution is to re-create economically viable, self-sustaining cultures there as well as here, and I ain’t talking maquiladoras or Chinese timber deals! I bet it would be cheaper than current enforcement proposals and a share of the military budget. I have no problem with their desire to stay connected with their home culture, I just don’t think that having a lot of people in this country who “just work here” is good for the country.





ON THE WATERFRONT

10 03 2006

There has been a tremendous hue and cry lately about the prospect of the government of the small, oil-rich Arab state of Dubai collecting the profits from running six of America’s east-coast seaports. I think there is an issue here, but it’s not the one everyone’s talking about. It’s not about the Arabs. It’s about the ownership.

The sad thing is that for most people, it is about the Arabs, and that is an unfortunate and embarrassing prejudice. Arabs, and Muslims in general, have a bad rap in this country, a reputation that is not particularly connected with truth. For example, Hamas’ victory in the recent Palestinian election sparked a similar outcry. “These people are depraved! They’re electing terrorists! That’s not what we meant by democracy, dammit!” Many American Muslims have been deported or prosecuted, and numerous charities shut down, for channeling support to this so-called “terrorist organization.”

Does Hamas target Israelis with violence? Yes, they do, and I think that’s reprehensible. I am a radical fundamentalist Gandhian, at least in some respects, and I don’t think angry violence is the answer to angry violence. But that’s just a small part of what Hamas does. Their religious practice commits them to scrupulous honesty, and that is what has endeared them to the people of Palestine. Palestinians know from intimate daily experience that Hamas is not on the take—that’s why so many American Muslims were supporting them, at least until our government’s crackdown. They knew that money donated to Hamas would go to people who needed it, not to some wealthy middleman.

Similarly, Dubai Ports World has an excellent reputation for running ports, a business fraught with opportunities for fraud and bureaucracy. That is probably one of the reasons why the U.S. government didn’t forsee any problem with handing management (and profit-taking) over to them. As I said, the real problem here is foreign ownership, and the consequent foreign destination for any profit from those ports.

This is not a new or unique situation. Foreign companies, individuals, and countries have been buying up U.S. assets for years. For example, according to the IRS, cited on the website .economyincrisis.org, the following percentages of U.S. businesses are foreign owned:

Sound recording industries – 97%

Commodity contracts dealing and brokerage – 79%

Motion picture industries – 75%

Metal ore mining – 65%

video industries – 64%

Wineries and distilleries – 64%

Database, directory, and other publishers – 63%

Book publishers – 63%

Cement, concrete, lime, and gypsum product – 62%

Engine, turbine and power transmission equipment – 57%

Rubber product – 53%

Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing – 53%

Plastics and rubber products manufacturing – 52%

Plastics product – 51%

Insurance related activities – 51%

Boiler, tank, and shipping container – 50% and the list goes on….
So, why has this happened? And what does it mean?

We have Al and Bill to thank for this one, folks. I’m sorry, all you Democrats, but this one happened on your watch. Think WTO. Think GATT. Think NAFTA. Think about that vast sucking sound Ross Perot used to talk about.

When Mr. Bush was in India recently, he fantasized about increasing U.S. exports, but the sad truth is that, thanks to all those treaties us wildeyed crazies tried to stop back in the late eighties and early nineties–all those treaties that the 1992 election should have been a referendum on and wasn’t, thanks to the Democratic Party–the U.S. doesn’t has nothing to export anymore.

Well, not quite nothing. We’ve got lots of bonds and dollar bills to export, and you can bet that those trillions of dollars the rest of the world has loaned us will be paid back with American assets—what companies are left, hard assets like port facilities, and, ultimately, land—urban, rural, forest and field, we owe, we owe, so off our assets go. All those Indians running motels are just the beginning. And when our assets, corporate or material, are owned by foreigners, the profits go overseas, and we will become third world peons, peed on by the man, exploited for the benefit of rich people somewhere else—Dubai, China, it doesn’t matter, it ain’t here.

Yes, this sucks. Get used to it. This country has been running the world economy with a Ponzi scheme, selling bonds to pay the interest on the bonds we’ve already sold, and all those chickens are coming home to roost. Dubai Ports World has decided to find American buyers for P&O’s American assets, but they may have a hard time doing that, because only one of the major players in the port operation business is American these days. There is a strong likelihood that these ports will end up being operated by Dick Cheney—I mean, Halliburton.

The ironic thing to me about all this is that who really ought to be running these various ports doesn’t seem to occur to anyone…how about the port cities themselves? Duh!? Has neoliberal privatization become so much the norm that public ownership of public assets is totally off the table? Many of these port cities are struggling to provide basic services for their citizens—doesn’t it make sense to put the proceeds from port operations back into the city around the port?

Stepping back a notch, I have to wonder how much of the international trade going through these ports is really necessary, and how much is just pushing beans around for the further enrichment of the already wealthy. When I learned that the U.S. exports as many almonds to Italy as we import from Italy, I just had to shake my head. Who decided it would be OK to burn the diesel fuel to make that one happen? I bet they weren’t even thinking about the diesel fuel….

Under a Green program of local self-sufficiency, there would very likely be a lot less world trade. When you take the current paradigm to its logical conclusion, soon enough the major resources that are traded internationally will be depleted, and there will local insufficiency rather than self-sufficiency, and a lot less world trade. Which way would YOU like to have it?

music: James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore”








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