Thursday, April 21, 2011

Corporate Coup d’états; Privatization Code Word For: ” Pass Me The KY Jelly” And Who Really Thinks They Own The World?

Corporate Coup d’états; Privatization Code Word For: ” Pass Me The KY Jelly” And Who Really Thinks They Own The World?
There are a lot of things Americans don’t want to admit; even more that they don’t have the guts or will to deal with, preferring to adopt the Right Wing Comforters: The Bible and a Gun, the Gospel of demonizing as crazy unpatriotic wing nuts anyone who dares even think aloud that we are on a downward slope from being the preeminent nation of the world, that the Empire is failing and that the loud divisiveness that echoes throughout the land is the cry of the rich to have it all before the fall.

Sleepwalking into the Imperial Dark 
What It Feels Like When a Superpower Runs Off the Tracks

From the historians, we know about the perils of overextended empires fighting wars they can't afford to win -- or lose. But that's patterns of history stuff. In my latest post, I try to give a sense of what it's like instead to be inside an empire heading down faster and blinder than anyone expected or is prepared to deal with.

But then, how often do empires end well, really?  They live vampirically by feeding off others until, sooner or later, they begin to feed on themselves, to suck their own blood, to hollow themselves out.  Sooner or later, they find themselves, as in our case, economically stressed and militarily extended in wars they can't afford to win or lose.

Historians have certainly written about the dangers of overextended empires and of endless war as a way of life, but there's something distant and abstract about the patterns of history.  It's quite another thing to take it in when you're part of it; when, as they used to say in the overheated 1960s, you're in the belly of the beast. 

I don't know what it felt like to be inside the Roman Empire in the long decades, even centuries, before it collapsed, or to experience the waning years of the Spanish empire, or the twilight of the Qing dynasty, or of Imperial Britain as the sun first began to set, or even of the Soviet Empire before the troops came slinking home from Afghanistan, but at some point it must have seemed at least a little like this -- truly strange, like watching a machine losing its parts.  It must have seemed as odd and unnerving as it does now to see a formerly mighty power enter a state of semi-paralysis at home even as it staggers on blindly with its war-making abroad.

The United States is, of course, an imperial power, however much we might prefer not to utter the word.  We still have our globe-spanning array of semi-client states; our military continues to garrison much of the planet; and we are waging war abroad more continuously than at any time in memory.  Yet who doesn't sense that the sun is now setting on us?
Not so many years ago, we were proud enough of our global strength to regularly refer to ourselves as the Earth's "sole superpower."  In those years, our president and his top officials dreamed of establishing a worldwide Pax Americana, while making speeches and issuingofficial documents proclaiming that the United States would be militarily "beyond challenge" by any and all powers for eons to come.  So little time has passed and yet who speaks like that today?  Who could?

A Country in Need of Prozac

Have you noticed, by the way, how repetitiously our president, various presidentialcandidates, and others now insist that we are "the greatest nation on Earth" (as they speak of the U.S. military being "the finest fighting force in the history of the world")?  And yet, doesn't that phrase leave ash in your mouth?  Look at this country and its frustrations today and tell me: Does anyone honestly believe that anymore?

It wasn't a mistake that the fantasy avenger figure of Rambo became immensely popular in the wake of defeat in Vietnam or that, unlike American heroes of earlier decades, he had such a visibly, almost risibly overblown musculature.  As eye-candy, it was pure overcompensation for the obvious. 

Similarly, when the United States was actually "the greatest" on this planet, no one needed to say it over and over again.
Can there be any question that something big is happening here, even if we don't quite know what it is because, unlike the peoples of past empires, we never took pride in or even were able to think of ourselves as imperial?  And if you were indeed in denial that you lived in the belly of a great imperial power, if like most Americans you managed to ignore the fact that we werepouring our treasure into the military or setting up bases in countries that few could have found on a map, then you would naturally experience the empire going down as if through a glass darkly.

Nonetheless, the feelings that should accompany the experience of an imperial power running off the rails aren't likely to disappear just because analysis is lacking.  

Disillusionment, depression, and dismay flow ever more strongly through the American bloodstream.  Just look atany polling data on whether this country, once the quintessential land of optimists, is heading in "the right direction" or on "the wrong track," and you'll find that the "wrong track" numbers are staggering, and growing by the month.  On the rare occasions when Americans have been asked by pollsters whether they think the country is "in decline," the figures have been similarly over the top. 

It's not hard to see why.  A loss of faith in the American political system is palpable.  For many Americans, it's no longer "our government" but "the bureaucracy."  Washington is visibly in gridlock and incapable of doing much of significance, while state governments, facing the "steepest decline in state tax receipts on record," are, along with local governments, staggering under massive deficits and cutting back in areas -- education, policing, firefighting -- thatmatter to daily life.

Years ago, in the George W. Bush era, I wanted to put a new word in our domestic political vocabulary: "Republican'ts."  It was my way of expressing the feeling that something basic to this country -- a "can do" spirit -- was seeping away.  I failed, of course, and since then that "can't do" spirit has visibly spread far beyond the Republican Party.  Simply put, we're a country in need of Prozac.

Facing the challenges of a world at the edge -- from Japan to the Greater Middle East, from a shaky global economic system to weather that has become anything but entertainment -- the United States looks increasingly incapable of coping.  It no longer invests in its young, or plans effectively for the future, or sets off on new paths.  It literally can't do.  And this is not just a domestic crisis, but part of imperial decline.

We just don't treat it as such, tending instead to deal with the foreign and domestic as essentially separate spheres, when the connections between them are so obvious.  If you doubt this, just pull into your nearest gas station and fill up the tank.
Of course, who doesn't know that this country, once such a generator of wealth, is now living with unemployment figures not seen since the Great Depression, as well as unheard of levels of debt, that it's hooked on foreign energy (and like most addicts has next to no capacity for planning how to get off that drug), or that it's living through the worst period of income inequality in modern history?  And who doesn't know that a crew of financial fabulists, corporate honchos, lobbyists, and politicians have been fattening themselves off the faltering body politic?

And if you don't think any of this has anything to do with imperial power in decline, ask yourself why the options for our country so often seem to have shrunk to what our military is capable of, or that the only significant part of the government whose budget is still on the rise is the Pentagon.  Or why, when something is needed, this administration, like its predecessor, regularly turns to that same military.

Once upon a time, helping other nations in terrible times, for example, would have been an obvious duty of the civil part of the U.S. government.  Today, from Haiti to Japan, in such moments it's the U.S. military that acts.  In response to the Japanese triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, for instance, the Pentagon has mounted a large-scale recovery effort, involving 18,000 people, 20 U.S. Navy ships, and even fuel barges bringing fresh water for reactor-cooling efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.  The effort has been given a military code name, Operation Tomodachi (Japanese for "friend"), and is, among other things, an obvious propaganda campaign meant to promote the usefulness of America's archipelago of bases in that country. 

Similarly, when the administration needs something done in the Middle East, these days it's as likely to send Secretary of Defense Robert Gates -- he recently paid official visits to Bahrain,Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt -- as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.  And of course, as is typical, when a grim situation in Libya worsened and something "humanitarian" was called for, the Obama administration (along with NATO) threw air power at it.

Predictably, as in Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands, air power failed to bring about speedy success.  What's most striking is not that Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi didn't instantly fall, or that the Libyan military didn't collapse when significant parts of its tank and artillery forces were taken out, or that the swift strikes meant to turn the tide have already stretched into more than a month of no-fly zone NATO squabbling and military stalemate (as the no-fly zone version of war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq stretched to 12 years without ultimate success).

Imperially speaking, two things are memorable about the American military effort in Libya.  First, Washington doesn't seem to have the conviction of what's left of its power, as its strange military dance in (and half-out of) the air over that country indicates. Second, even in the military realm, Washington is increasingly incapable of drawing lessons from its past actions.  As a result, its arsenal of potential tactics is made up largely of those that have failed in the recent past.  Innovation is no longer part of empire.

The Uses of Fear

From time to time, the U.S. government's "Intelligence Community"  or IC musters its collective savvy and plants its flag in the future in periodic reports that go under the generic rubric of "Global Trends."  The last of these,Global Trends 2025, was prepared for a new administration taking office in January 2009, and it was typical.

In a field once left to utopian or dystopian thinkers, pulp-fiction writers, oddballs, visionaries, and even outright cranks, these compromise bureaucratic documents break little ground and rock no boats, nor do they predict global tsunamis.  Better to forecast what the people you brief already believe, and skip the oddballs with their strange hunches, the sorts who might actually have a knack for recognizing the shock of the future lurking in the present.

As group efforts, then, these reports tend to project the trends of the present moment relatively seamlessly and reasonably reassuringly into the future.  For example, the last time around they daringly predicted a gradual, 15-year soft landing for a modestly declining America.  ("Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, [the country's] relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained.")

Even though it was assumedly being finished amid the global meltdown of 2008, nothing in it would have kept you up at night, sleepless and fretting.  More than 15 years into the future, our IC could imagine no wheels falling off the American juggernaut, nothing that would make you wonder if this country could someday topple off the nearest cliff. 

Twists, unpleasant surprises, unhappy endings?  Not for this empire, according to its corps of intelligence analysts.
And the future being what it is, if you read that document now, you'd find none of the more stunning events that have disrupted and radically altered our world since late 2008: no Arab lands boiling with revolt, no Hosni Mubarak under arrest with his sons in jail, no mass demonstrations in Syria, no economies of peripheral European countries imploding down one by one, nor a cluster of nuclear plants in Japan melting down.
You won't find once subservient semi-client states thumbing their noses at Washington, not even in 2025.  You won't, for example, find the Saudis in, say 2011, openly exploring deeper relations with Russia and China as a screw-you response to Washington's belated decision that Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak should leave office, or Pakistani demands that the CIA and American special operations forces start scaling back activities on their turf, or American officials practically pleading with an Iraqi government it once helped put in power (and now moving ever closer to Iran) to please, please, please let U.S. troops stay past an agreed-upon withdrawal deadline of December 31, 2011, or Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly blamingthe Americans for the near collapse of his country's major bank in a cesspool of corruption (in which his own administration was, of course, deeply implicated)
Only two-plus years after Global Trends 2025 appeared, it doesn't take the combined powers of the IC to know that American decline looks an awful lot more precipitous and bumpier than imagined.  But let's not just blame our intelligence functionaries for not divining the future we're already in.  After all, they, too, were in the goldfish bowl, and when you're there, it's always hard to describe the nearest cats.

Nor should we be surprised that, like so many other Americans, they too were in denial. 

After all, our leaders spent years organizing their version of the world around a "Global War on Terror," when (despite the 9/11 attacks) terror was hardly America's most obvious challenge.  It proved largely a "war" against phantoms and fantasies, or against modest-sized ragtag bandsof enemies -- even though it resulted in perfectly real conflicts, absolutely genuine new bases abroad, significant numbers of civilian dead, and the expansion of a secret army of operatives inside the U.S. military into a force of 13,000 or more operating in 75 countries.

The spasms of fear that coursed through our society in the near-decade after September 11, 2001, and the enemy, "Islamic terrorism," to which those spasms were attached are likely to look far different to us in retrospect.  Yes, many factors -- including the terrifyingly apocalyptic look of 9/11 in New York City -- contributed to what happened.  There was fear's usefulness in prosecuting wars in the Greater Middle East that President Bush and his top officials found appealing. 

There was the way it ensured soaring budgets for the Pentagon and the national security state.  There was the way it helped the politicians, lobbyists, and corporations hooked into a developing homeland-security complex.  There was the handy-dandy way it glued eyeballs to a one-event-fits-all-sizes version of the world that made the media happy, and there was the way it justified ever increasing powers for our national security managers and ever lessening liberties for Americans. 

But think of all that as only the icing on the cake.  Looking back, those terror fears coursing through the body politic will undoubtedly seem like Rambo's muscles: a deflection from the country's deepest fears.  They were, in that sense, consoling.  They allowed us to go on with our lives, to visit Disney World, as George W. Bush urged in the wake of 9/11 in order to prove our all-American steadfastness.

Above all, even as our imperial wars in the oil heartlands of the planet went desperately wrong, they allowed us not to think about empire or, until the economy melted down in 2008, decline.  They allowed us to focus our fears on "them," not us.  They ensured that, like the other great imperial power of the Cold War era, when things began to spiral out of control we would indeed sleepwalk right into the imperial darkness.

Now that we're so obviously there, the confusion is greater than ever.  Theoretically, none of this should necessarily be considered bad news, not if you don't love empires and what they do.  A post-imperial U.S. could, of course, be open to all sorts of possibilities for change that might be exciting indeed.
Right now, though, it doesn't feel that way, does it?  It makes me wonder: Could this be how it's always felt inside a great imperial power on the downhill slide?  Could this be what it's like to watch, paralyzed, as a country on autopilot begins to come apart at the seams while still proclaiming itself "the greatest nation on Earth"? 

I don't know.  But I do know one thing: this can't end well.

For all the wrong reasons : By Dave Neal : Thu Apr 21 2011, 13:40

US REICHWING Bible bashing Tea Party ideologue David Barton has come out against Net Neutrality with both testaments blazing.

Barton, who calls himself an 'historian' and has a fan base that includes Fox News rabble-rouser Glenn Beck and the extremist Tea Party fringe of the US Republican party, offered his views on the Net Neutrality debate during a radio interview reported on the Rightwingnews website.

The contents of that interview should serve as a reminder to never talk about something you know nothing about, lest ye maketh thyself look like an ass.

"We talk about [Net Neutrality] today because it is a principle of free market. That's a Biblical principle, that's a historical principle, we have all these quotes from Ben Franklin, and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain. That is part of the reason we have prosperity," said Barton in an interview with radio host Rick Green.

"This is what the Pilgrims brought in, the Puritans brought in, this is free market mentality. Net Neutrality sounds really good, but it is socialism on the Internet."
Whether the Bible and the US founding fathers warned against Net Neutrality we can't say, but it's easy to grab that sort of statement out of the air, say it in a loud stern voice and make it sound convincing.

"This is the Fairness Doctrine applied to the Internet, and I'll go back to what I believed for a long time is: fair is a word no Christian should ever use in their vocabulary. Fair has nothing to do with anything," he continued.

"What you want is justice, you don't want fairness. Fairness is subjective, what I think is fair, what you think, what happened to Jesus wasn't fair. That's right, but we needed justice so God did that for us... This is really, I'm going to use the word wicked stuff, and I don't use that word very often, but this is wicked stuff."

It's hard to believe perhaps that such a man does not use the word 'wicked' very much, but even harder to fathom are his arguments, which hark back to Depression era demagogues with megaphones whipping up ignorant mobs wearing bed sheets. We've heard of muddying the water, but this is more mud than water.

"I mean, if Skype uses eighty-five percent of the server space, you can't charge them eighty-five percent of the fees because that would be unfair. And if Skype says 'well, we don't want to pay that,' and you say 'well, you're off our server,' no you can't do that. You can't kick them off just because they won't pay," he added.

"I mean, this is crazy stuff. This is redistribution of wealth through the Internet and it really is redistribution. This is socialism on the Internet." µ

U.S. Empire
Islamic Fundamentalism
Both Deadly. 
Is There Another Way?

When Moderation Fails, Part 1: Simpson & Bowles, Standard & Poor's, And Ezra Klein
By Richard (RJ) Eskow : April 21, 2011 - 3:03am ET

Historians of the future may one day write that the death of the New Deal began this year. If so, it goes without saying that corrupt forces like the Chamber of Commerce will be a big part of the story. So will billionaire ideologues like Pete Peterson, and greedy politicians looking for a handout. Unfortunately, so will a lot of reasonable people whose biggest problem is that they're temperamentally inclined toward being reasonable and moderate - even when circumstances don't warrant it.

The problem's become so severe that it will take more than one day to address it. It will require criticizing people that I respect, and who in some cases I've met and like personally. A great many moderately-minded individuals seem to have been lulled into accepting a Washington consensus in which the "new normal" means accepting that only remaining choice is between a radical assault on the middle class and a moderately radical assault on the middle class. In that world, a "judicious" assessment of Republican radicalism can easily turn into accommodationism. That can lead in turn to bad deals that create needless suffering.

We begin with somebody I like and respect: Ezra Klein. Ezra's become an important voice in Washington, and he has developed an extraordinary platform at the Washington Post. He's earned it through prodigious, detailed daily output over the course of years. He was highlighted by Politico as part of the Post's "leftward online shift," and he's an MSNBC regular. He's considered a liberal voice by powerful people who know and like him.

That's why his approach to deficit reduction and austerity economics is potentially so damaging: people listen to him.

While I suspect he's simply trying to be reasonable and fair, Ezra's been giving credence to some very immoderate ideas lately. And by taking Standard & Poor's threat to downgrade the US government at face value, he's helped accelerate the rush to judgment on issues that will affect the future health and well-being of millions of Americans.

I have to say I feel a little bad right now, as if I'm piling on, since respected financial blogger Yves Smith just reprinted some gratuitously nasty words about Ezra from a blogger who appears to have one of those tones that revels in the gratuitously self-righteous. On the other hand, Yves was right to point out that what Ezra wrote - that banks thought their mortgage-backed securities were "safe" - was way off-base, and that it whitewashed Wall Street malfeasance. But Ezra's not somebody who makes a habit of protecting bankers.

He was off, but every political generalist gets something wrong from time to time and apparently it was his turn.

But Ezra's been consistently willing to accept prevailing Washington orthodoxy about deficit reduction: that it's our nation's primary problem, overwhelming unemployment or poverty in importance, and that extremist approaches to it are really "centrist" and reasonable. Like a number of otherwise liberal-leaning observers, Ezra likes to say that "the Simpson-Bowles recommendations" - private recommendations from the co-chairs of the deadlocked Deficit Commission - were something that "many saw as a good bipartisan starting point just a few months ago."

Actually, only people who operate inside a very small circle of politicians and journalists saw these proposals as a "good starting point." Polls show that the Simpson/Bowles proposals were soundly rejected by the American people, and findings from Reagan's chief Social Security actuary and a leading economist (among many others) show that their proposed assault on Social Security is absolutely unnecessary. Far from being a "good starting point," the radical Simpson/Bowles proposals are an ending point - for the core accomplishments of FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society.

What's more, Ezra's familiar enough with health policy to know that the Simpson/Bowles proposal does nothing to reduce the growth of Medicare costs. It merely imposes arbitrary cost caps, benefit cuts, and other devices that place these costs on the back of elderly people who are in no position to control them.

And what can we say about a Klein piece that's entitled "How Congress provoked Standard & Poor's"? That it's the economic equivalent of saying "she asked for it"?

Standard and Poor's is a business that's based on a fundamental conflict of interest: It's part of a publicly traded corporation, and it makes money by pleasing the corporate clients that it rates. S&P is a division of publicly traded McGraw-Hill (NYSE:MHP) and it had annual revenues of $2.61 billion for 2009, most of it from Wall Street. A company like that never makes a move without considering the impact it will have on sales, and this announcement was no exception. S&P's corporate clients were undoubtedly delighted to see more pressure on the government to reduce debt, since that's been a major objective of the US Chamber of Commerce and other corporate organs from some time.

The S&P announcement was somewhat bizarre, since they didn't actually announce a downgrade of the government's credit. They just said they would downgrade it if certain conditions weren't met. Conveniently, that announcement put enormous pressure on reluctant politicians to accept a deal - any deal - that would reduce the deficit. And that's exactly what the anti-New Deal crowd's been pushing. (Very few people picked up on the real implication of their announcement: if people were serious about meeting their obligations, they'd push for tax hikes instead. Dean Baker explains. But it was understood that would never happen.)

S&P was wrong about Enron. It was wrong about AIG. It was wrong about all those securities it rated AAA, and which were later downgraded to junk bond status. But then, when your corporate bottom line depends on being wrong, you're probably going to be wrong a lot.

The right question isn't "why did S&P downgrade the US government?" It's "why does anybody still listen to S&P?"

What's more, S&P has pulled this little routine before. The last time they made an announcement like this was last August,when the Simpson/Bowles Commission was losing steam and it was thought that a little push might help it over the top. They offered that push. Then, as now, their announcement came at a very politically opportune time for the austerity economics crowd.

Standard & Poor's has a history of being serially wrong and serially unethical, so taking their statements at face value is a big mistake.Time and time again, the company has pressured analysts to give better ratings to their customers - a practice that helped dupe investors into making bad investments. Ezra says that S&P issued their warning because "Congress ...seems to be doing everything in its power to undercut the market's opinion of America," and because "Democrats began the year by convincing everyone they weren't going to produce a deficit reduction plan" while Republicans haven't proposed a rational alternative.

Which might make sense -- if S&P hadn't issued an identical warning last summer. Remember, that was before Congress did "everything in its power to undercut the market's opinion." And what exactly did S&P say last August, as the Deficit Commission was preparing to wind up its work? "It is very important for the credit standing of the United States that the Congress considers very carefully what the fiscal commission proposes."

The "fiscal commission." That would be Simpson and Bowles. Funny coincidence, that. Let's face it: Saying that Congress "provoked" S&P is like saying that Gotham City provoked The Joker.

We won't linger too long on the fact that Ezra also defended Paul Ryan's cartoonish, deceptive "Roadmap for the Future, " calling its ambition "welcome, and all too rare," and said of Ryan: "I appreciate his policy-oriented approach to politics."Krugman's already taken him to the woodshed over that, and we won't belabor the point except to say that the incident is illustrative: When a temperamentally moderate person like Ezra (or President Obama, for that matter) is thrown into a room with people like Paul Ryan, the temptation is to give them more credit than they deserve.

Ryan may genuinely be the likeable person Ezra says he is. Many people who do dreadful things are likeable. (I know - I worked on Wall Street and in the insurance industry.) But Ryan's policies are designed to eliminate Social Security, slowly but surely. That's nothing less than a prescription for mass death - a 13% rise in senior mortality, based on the conclusions of one study - and to say anything else is to risk becoming an accessory after the fact.

Back in the heat of the healthcare debate, Ezra suggested that the Senate bill was worth passing because it could save 100,000 lives. I felt then that the number was overstated, and I still feel that way now. It probably will save lives - but it could have saved more if people had kept up the pressure for a stronger bill. A stronger bill would've been more popular, too, according to polls. The seemingly moderate approach taken by Ezra and others contributed to the perception that progressives would accept a weaker bill.

We're at the same kind of impasse now. Today's stakes involve fundamental issues of economic fairness, and the ideas being promote threaten the physical health and the retirement security of millions of middle-class Americans. Ezra Klein does a lot of terrific work. But he and the other people we'll be discussing represent a "reasonable" form of liberalism that has begun to undercut common-sense policies - policies that are more popular, wiser economically, and far more humane and fair than those of Simpson and Bowles, the Gang of Six, or any other operatives who are carrying water for the right-wing austerity agenda.

That may not be their intent (I'm sure it isn't), but from where I sit it sure looks like that's the result.

Corporate Coup d’état Coming Soon to a City Near You

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein demonstrates how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

Disaster capitalism is on display around the country, as legislators use the debt crisis afflicting their states as an opportunity to hollow out the public sector.  In Michigan it’s being packaged as “emergency financial management” by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is looking to exploit an economic crisis that has left his state with a severe budget deficit.  In March, Snyder signed a law granting state-appointed emergency financial managers (EFM) the ability to fire local elected officials, break teachers’ and public workers’ contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services, entire cities or school districts, all without any public input.  He claims these dictatorial restructuring powers will keep Michigan communities out of bankruptcy.

Michigan currently has unelected EFM’s in charge of the schools in Detroit, as well as the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Benton Harbor.  In Benton Harbor, the city’s elected mayor and city commissioners were stripped of all power by unelected EFM, Joseph Harris. Harris issued an order saying the city commissioners have no power beyond calling meetings to order, approving minutes, and adjourning meetings.  This decimation of local democracy is spreading.  Robert Bobb, the EFM that has taken over Detroit’s public school system, sent layoff notices to all of the district’s 5,466 unionized employees.  Bobb says he will exercise his power as EFM to unilaterally modify the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Federation of Teachers starting May 17, 2011.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said the law raises concern about separation of powers, its impact on minority communities, collective-bargaining rights and privatization of services.  She is absolutely correct.  Faced with a deficit, emboldened EFMs can sell off public property to developers, close public schools and authorize charter schools, and void union contracts with literally no recourse for local, tax-paying residents or their elected officials to stop it.

And, it gets worse.  Michigan has joined with the Turnaround Management Association (TMA) to develop a training program for prospective emergency managers.   According to their website,  TMA members are a professional community of turnaround and corporate renewal professionals who share a common interest in strengthening the economy through the restoration of corporate value.  

Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon, while speaking about the new program during a seminar on municipal distress, said that mayors and school superintendents are essentially running big businesses that, in many cases, are more complicated than private companies.  It’s no surprise then, that Wall Street investors are thrilled about the potential impacts of the EFM law.

An estimated 400 accountants, lawyers, school employees, and city workers began classes offered by the program in Lansing, Michigan this week on topics including “Dealing with the Unionized Workforce,” navigating municipal bankruptcy and negotiating contracts for sewer, water and other utilities.  ”Dealing with the Unionized Workforce” is code for destroying unions and has nothing to do with balancing the budget.  Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in an appearance before the House Oversight Committee, under questioning from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH),admitted a key provision in his state budget proposal to curb union rights had no fiscal benefit, putting to rest the notion that union-busting governors like Rick Snyder have any intention of actually solving their state’s economic woes.  As for “negotiating contracts for sewer, water, and other utilities”, this is code for privatize, privatize, privatize!

This so-called financial emergency is really a democracy emergency.  Local governments are NOT corporations, nor should they resemble them.  The true purpose of emergency financial management is the conversion of a democratically elected government into a hierarchal business entity through economic “shock therapy”, which would be impossible if workers, elected representatives, and residents had any say.  Michigan has become a laboratory for CEO Governor Rick Snyder to impose disaster capitalism onto his state.  If we allow what is taking place in Michigan to continue unabated, it won’t be long before disaster capitalism finds its way to a city, town, or school district near you.

A Year After Gulf Disaster, BP Still Being Awarded Lucrative Government Contracts

Jason Leopold, Truthout: "BP continues to receive tens of millions of dollars in government contracts, despite the fact that the British oil company is under federal criminal investigation over the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and twice violated its probation late last year. Last week, the Defense Logistics Agency awarded Air BP, a division of BP Products North America, a $42 million contract to supply fuel to Dover Air Force Base for the next month and a half."  Read the Article

Labor's Tangled Web: A Review of "Civil Wars in US Labor"

Carl Finamore, Truthout: "'There are no shortcuts in politics,' bellowed a respected, much-older labor veteran as we young militants sat around hoping to pick up a few things. 'No gimmicks, no tricks, you only end up fooling yourself.' In his book, only working-class people themselves could solve the enormous social problems of war, poverty and discrimination. He emphasized that no matter how difficult it is to achieve, politics should be measured by how it helps or hinders the direct involvement and political empowerment of working people. There was no getting around it." 
Read the Article 

Jim Hightower | A Morally Untenable Corporate System
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "It's good to know that some corporate chieftains do feel the pain of their underlings - those hard-hit workers who keep being forced to do more for less reward. Take the example of Gannett, the media giant that owns 23 television stations and 82 newspapers, including USA Today." M Read the Article 

War as the Politics of Failure
Cary Fraser, Truthout: "The recent decision by the Obama administration to spearhead the NATO effort to oust Muammar Qaddafi from power in Libya reflects the oft-evident American penchant for war as a substitute for intelligent diplomacy. It was this mindset during the George W. Bush administration which led the US into pursuing two expensive and indecisive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." Read the Article 

News in Brief: BP Makes Big Contributions to GOP Leaders, and More ...
Oil company British Petroleum (BP) broke a self-imposed freeze on political contributions to make big donations to a few key Republicans in Congress; Detroit leadership turning against unions; report examines US-Mexico relations since 1890, finds they have never been closer; former New Mexico governor to announce presidential bid. Read the Article 

Ideology Posing as Reality: Conservative Politics vs. Economics 101
John Kane, Truthout: "There has been an outpouring of moral and political objections to the recent wave of attacks on government employees and the supposed 'necessity' of slashing 'out-of-control' state budgets. These objections are, of course, inspiring and sorely needed. It is toward this end that I would like to offer a couple of serious economic objections to what I believe is a weak attempt on the part of free-market conservatives to substitute ideology for reality." Read the Article 

Why Do Tea Party Rallies Get So Much Media Attention, Even When Their Gatherings Appear To Be Shrinking In Size?
That is because the corporate mainstream media has a bias toward covering protests from the right, but virtually ignores progressive crowds. This was recently evidenced by the scant national coverage given to the unprecedented anti-Scott Walker protests of up to 100,000 people in the relatively small city of Madison.

So, when Sarah Palin appeared in Madison on Saturday, April 16, it was not surprising that CNN described her as "energizing" the crowd, even though she could barely be heard much beyond the "feed" mike - the boos and chants of disapproval were that loud from the protesters.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive (which is located in Madison) attended the Palin event and estimated that the protesters were double the size of the Koch brothers' "Americans for Prosperity" crowd:

There were about 1,500 tea partiers, many bused in by Americans for Prosperity, the rightwing group funded by the Koch brothers.

The tea partiers were surrounded by about 3,000 or more pro-labor supporters, who let their presence be felt with raucous chants and boos and cries of "Shame, shame, shame!"
"Recall Walker," the protesters chanted over and over again, as well as, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Scott Walker has got to go."

In fact, Thom Hartmann points out in a television report that Andrew Breitbart (former Drudge protege and current right-wing "pundit" and provocateur) was so incensed by the chants of the protesters that he shouted, "Go to Hell!" (three times) at them from the podium. And that was before Palin even spoke.

Hartmann also trenchantly dissects how the corporate media frames its reports to give an inaccurate account of events with a slant that favors the right wing and status quo.

The true story of Sarah Palin's appearance in Madison was that, according to Hartmann, "Palin was practically booed back to Wasilla."

But you wouldn't know that from watching the cable or evening news.

Mark Karlin

Posted by Noam Chomsky at 9:49am, April 21, 2011.

Military bases R U.S.  Or so it seems.  After the invasion of 2003, the Pentagon promptly started constructing a series of monster bases in occupied Iraq, the size of small American towns and with most of the amenities of home.  These were for a projected garrison of 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops that top officials of the Bush administration initially anticipated would be free to hang out in that country for an armed eternity.  In the end, hundreds of bases were built. (And now, hundreds have been closed down or handed over to the Iraqis and in some cases looted).  With present U.S. troop strength at about 47,000 (not counting mercenaries) and falling, American officials are now practically pleading with an Iraqi government moving ever closer to the Iranians to let some American forces remain at a few giant bases beyond the official end-of-2011 withdrawal date.

Meanwhile, post-2003, the U.S. went on a base-building (or expanding) spree in the Persian Gulf, digging in and enlarging facilities in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, “home” to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.  In that island kingdom, an Obama administration preaching “democracy” elsewhere has stood by in the face of a fierce Bahraini-Saudi campaign of repression against a majority Shiite movement for greater freedom.  Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the State Department decided to build a modern ziggurat in Iraq and so oversaw the construction of the largest “embassy” on Earth in Baghdad, a regional citadel-cum-command post meant to house thousands of “diplomats” and their armed minders.  It is now constructing a similar facility in Islamabad, Pakistan, while expanding a third in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In fact, in the years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Pentagon, as Nick Turse reported for this site, went on a veritable base-building bender in that country, constructing at least 400 of them, ranging from micro-outposts to monster spreads like the Bagram and Kandahar air bases, complete with gyms, PXs, Internet cafes, and fast-food outlets.  Now, in the tenth year of a disastrous war, the Obama administration is evidently frantically negotiating to make at least some of these permanently ours after the much-vaunted departure of American “combat” troops in 2014.  As in Iraq, American officials carefully avoid the word “permanent.”  (In 2003, the Pentagon dubbed the Iraqi bases “enduring camps,” and this February Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered the following description of the Afghan situation: “In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people... We do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country.”)

And yet, despite all the bases built in the Greater Middle East and all the firepower on them, the U.S. has found itself, embarrassingly enough, dealing with a region spinning ever more rapidly out of its control.  Perhaps, remembering our similarly giant base complexes in Vietnam -- the pyramids of their day -- and their postwar fate, U.S. officials have simply decided to shun "permanent" as a reasonable precaution against reality.  After all, what’s permanent?  Not us.  Consider, for instance, the comments of the remarkable Noam Chomsky, author of Hopes and Prospects, in a post adapted from a recent talk in Amsterdam on the subject of what in this world is too big to fail.  Tom

Is the World Too Big to Fail? 
The Contours of Global Order

By Noam Chomsky

The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces -- coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other U.S. cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.

Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called "the most strategically important area in the world" -- "a stupendous source of strategic power" and "probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment," in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.

Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today's policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield "substantial control of the world." And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.

From the outset of the war in 1939, Washington anticipated that it would end with the U.S. in a position of overwhelming power. High-level State Department officials and foreign policy specialists met through the wartime years to lay out plans for the postwar world. They delineated a "Grand Area" that the U.S. was to dominate, including the Western hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British empire, with its Middle East energy resources. As Russia began to grind down Nazi armies after Stalingrad, Grand Area goals extended to as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its economic core in Western Europe. Within the Grand Area, the U.S. would maintain "unquestioned power," with "military and economic supremacy," while ensuring the "limitation of any exercise of sovereignty" by states that might interfere with its global designs. The careful wartime plans were soon implemented.

It was always recognized that Europe might choose to follow an independent course. NATO was partially intended to counter this threat. As soon as the official pretext for NATO dissolved in 1989, NATO was expanded to the East in violation of verbal pledges to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It has since become a U.S.-run intervention force, with far-ranging scope, spelled out by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who informed a NATO conference that "NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West," and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other "crucial infrastructure" of the energy system.

Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the U.S. has the right to use military force to ensure "uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources," and must maintain huge military forces "forward deployed" in Europe and Asia "in order to shape people's opinions about us" and "to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security."

The same principles governed the invasion of Iraq. As the U.S. failure to impose its will in Iraq was becoming unmistakable, the actual goals of the invasion could no longer be concealed behind pretty rhetoric. In November 2007, the White House issued a Declaration of Principles demanding that U.S. forces must remain indefinitely in Iraq and committing Iraq to privilege American investors. Two months later, President Bush informed Congress that he would reject legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or "United States control of the oil resources of Iraq" -- demands that the U.S. had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the recent popular uprisings have won impressive victories, but as the Carnegie Endowment reported, while names have changed, the regimes remain: "A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal." The report discusses internal barriers to democracy, but ignores the external ones, which as always are significant.

The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons -- in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the U.S. not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.

The Invisible Hand of Power

Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.

Elite contempt for democracy was revealed dramatically in the reaction to the WikiLeaks exposures. Those that received most attention, with euphoric commentary, were cables reporting that Arabs support the U.S. stand on Iran. The reference was to the ruling dictators. The attitudes of the public were unmentioned. The guiding principle was articulated clearly by Carnegie Endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muasher, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: "There is nothing wrong, everything is under control." In short, if the dictators support us, what else could matter?

The Muasher doctrine is rational and venerable. To mention just one case that is highly relevant today, in internal discussion in 1958, president Eisenhower expressed concern about "the campaign of hatred" against us in the Arab world, not by governments, but by the people. The National Security Council (NSC) explained that there is a perception in the Arab world that the U.S. supports dictatorships and blocks democracy and development so as to ensure control over the resources of the region. Furthermore, the perception is basically accurate, the NSC concluded, and that is what we should be doing, relying on the Muasher doctrine. Pentagon studies conducted after 9/11 confirmed that the same holds today.

It is normal for the victors to consign history to the trash can, and for victims to take it seriously. 

Perhaps a few brief observations on this important matter may be useful. Today is not the first occasion when Egypt and the U.S. are facing similar problems, and moving in opposite directions. That was also true in the early nineteenth century.

Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the U.S. was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution -- though unlike Egypt, the U.S. had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization.

One fundamental difference was that the U.S. had gained independence and was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory, delivered at the time by Adam Smith in terms rather like those preached to developing societies today. Smith urged the liberated colonies to produce primary products for export and to import superior British manufactures, and certainly not to attempt to monopolize crucial goods, particularly cotton. Any other path, Smith warned, "would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness."

Having gained their independence, the colonies were free to ignore his advice and to follow England's course of independent state-guided development, with high tariffs to protect industry from British exports, first textiles, later steel and others, and to adopt numerous other devices to accelerate industrial development. The independent Republic also sought to gain a monopoly of cotton so as to "place all other nations at our feet," particularly the British enemy, as the Jacksonian presidents announced when conquering Texas and half of Mexico.

For Egypt, a comparable course was barred by British power. Lord Palmerston declared that "no ideas of fairness [toward Egypt] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests" of Britain as preserving its economic and political hegemony, expressing his "hate" for the "ignorant barbarian" Muhammed Ali who dared to seek an independent course, and deploying Britain's fleet and financial power to terminate Egypt's quest for independence and economic development.

After World War II, when the U.S. displaced Britain as global hegemon, Washington adopted the same stand, making it clear that the U.S. would provide no aid to Egypt unless it adhered to the standard rules for the weak -- which the U.S. continued to violate, imposing high tariffs to bar Egyptian cotton and causing a debilitating dollar shortage. The usual interpretation of market principles.

It is small wonder that the "campaign of hatred" against the U.S. that concerned Eisenhower was based on the recognition that the U.S. supports dictators and blocks democracy and development, as do its allies.

In Adam Smith's defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called "neoliberalism." He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.

The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase "invisible hand" in The Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to "be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations," feelings that, he added, "I should be sorry to see weakened." Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.

The Iranian and Chinese “Threats”

The democracy uprising in the Arab world is sometimes compared to Eastern Europe in 1989, but on dubious grounds. In 1989, the democracy uprising was tolerated by the Russians, and supported by western power in accord with standard doctrine: it plainly conformed to economic and strategic objectives, and was therefore a noble achievement, greatly honored, unlike the struggles at the same time "to defend the people's fundamental human rights" in Central America, in the words of the assassinated Archbishop of El Salvador, one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the military forces armed and trained by Washington. There was no Gorbachev in the West throughout these horrendous years, and there is none today. And Western power remains hostile to democracy in the Arab world for good reasons.

Grand Area doctrines continue to apply to contemporary crises and confrontations. In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of U.S. foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely.

What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence. Reporting on global security last year, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran's military spending is "relatively low compared to the rest of the region," they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly "defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities." Iran has only "a limited capability to project force beyond its borders." With regard to the nuclear option, "Iran's nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy." All quotes.

The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks U.S. allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran's potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with U.S. freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain.

Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that "The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy," particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.

But Iran's threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence emphasize, and in this way to "destabilize" the region (in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse). The U.S. invasion and military occupation of Iran's neighbors is "stabilization." Iran's efforts to extend its influence to them are "destabilization," hence plainly illegitimate.

Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term "stability" in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve "stability" in Chile it was necessary to "destabilize" the country (by overthrowing the elected government of Salvador Allende and installing the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture.  As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s planners emphasized at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the U.S. cannot tolerate "any exercise of sovereignty" that interferes with its global designs.

The U.S. and Europe are united in punishing Iran for its threat to stability, but it is useful to recall how isolated they are. The nonaligned countries have vigorously supported Iran's right to enrich uranium. In the region, Arab public opinion even strongly favors Iranian nuclear weapons. The major regional power, Turkey, voted against the latest U.S.-initiated sanctions motion in the Security Council, along with Brazil, the most admired country of the South. Their disobedience led to sharp censure, not for the first time: Turkey had been bitterly condemned in 2003 when the government followed the will of 95% of the population and refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, thus demonstrating its weak grasp of democracy, western-style.

After its Security Council misdeed last year, Turkey was warned by Obama's top diplomat on European affairs, Philip Gordon, that it must "demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West." A scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations asked, "How do we keep the Turks in their lane?" -- following orders like good democrats. Brazil's Lula was admonished in a New York Times headline that his effort with Turkey to provide a solution to the uranium enrichment issue outside of the framework of U.S. power was a "Spot on Brazilian Leader's Legacy." In brief, do what we say, or else.

An interesting sidelight, effectively suppressed, is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was approved in advance by Obama, presumably on the assumption that it would fail, providing an ideological weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the approval turned to censure, and Washington rammed through a Security Council resolution so weak that China readily signed -- and is now chastised for living up to the letter of the resolution but not Washington's unilateral directives -- in the current issue ofForeign Affairs, for example.

While the U.S. can tolerate Turkish disobedience, though with dismay, China is harder to ignore. The press warns that "China's investors and traders are now filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations, especially in Europe, pull out," and in particular, is expanding its dominant role in Iran's energy industries. Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. The State Department warned China that if it wants to be accepted in the international community -- a technical term referring to the U.S. and whoever happens to agree with it -- then it must not "skirt and evade international responsibilities, [which] are clear": namely, follow U.S. orders. China is unlikely to be impressed.

There is also much concern about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China's military budget is approaching "one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," a fraction of the U.S. military budget, of course. China's expansion of military forces might "deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast," the New York Times added.

Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the U.S. should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China's lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China's coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.

In contrast, the West understands that such U.S. operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that "China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa." That is indeed a provocation -- unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world.

Deep-seated imperial doctrine aside, there is good reason for China's neighbors to be concerned about its growing military and commercial power. And though Arab opinion supports an Iranian nuclear weapons program, we certainly should not do so. The foreign policy literature is full of proposals as to how to counter the threat. One obvious way is rarely discussed: work to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the region. The issue arose (again) at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters last May. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for negotiations on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the U.S., at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.

International support is so overwhelming that Obama formally agreed. It is a fine idea, Washington informed the conference, but not now. Furthermore, the U.S. made clear that Israel must be exempted: no proposal can call for Israel's nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency or for the release of information about "Israeli nuclear facilities and activities." So much for this method of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

Privatizing the Planet

While Grand Area doctrine still prevails, the capacity to implement it has declined. The peak of U.S. power was after World War II, when it had literally half the world's wealth. But that naturally declined, as other industrial economies recovered from the devastation of the war and decolonization took its agonizing course. By the early 1970s, the U.S. share of global wealth had declined to about 25%, and the industrial world had become tripolar: North America, Europe, and East Asia (then Japan-based).

There was also a sharp change in the U.S. economy in the 1970s, towards financialization and export of production. A variety of factors converged to create a vicious cycle of radical concentration of wealth, primarily in the top fraction of 1% of the population -- mostly CEOs, hedge-fund managers, and the like. That leads to the concentration of political power, hence state policies to increase economic concentration: fiscal policies, rules of corporate governance, deregulation, and much more. Meanwhile the costs of electoral campaigns skyrocketed, driving the parties into the pockets of concentrated capital, increasingly financial: the Republicans reflexively, the Democrats -- by now what used to be moderate Republicans -- not far behind.

Elections have become a charade, run by the public relations industry. After his 2008 victory, Obama won an award from the industry for the best marketing campaign of the year. Executives were euphoric. In the business press they explained that they had been marketing candidates like other commodities since Ronald Reagan, but 2008 was their greatest achievement and would change the style in corporate boardrooms. The 2012 election is expected to cost $2 billion, mostly in corporate funding. Small wonder that Obama is selecting business leaders for top positions. The public is angry and frustrated, but as long as the Muasher principle prevails, that doesn't matter.

While wealth and power have narrowly concentrated, for most of the population real incomes have stagnated and people have been getting by with increased work hours, debt, and asset inflation, regularly destroyed by the financial crises that began as the regulatory apparatus was dismantled starting in the 1980s.

None of this is problematic for the very wealthy, who benefit from a government insurance policy called "too big to fail." The banks and investment firms can make risky transactions, with rich rewards, and when the system inevitably crashes, they can run to the nanny state for a taxpayer bailout, clutching their copies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

That has been the regular process since the Reagan years, each crisis more extreme than the last -- for the public population, that is. Right now, real unemployment is at Depression levels for much of the population, while Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has just quietly announced $17.5 billion in compensation for last year, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6 million bonus while his base salary more than triples.

It wouldn't do to focus attention on such facts as these. Accordingly, propaganda must seek to blame others, in the past few months, public sector workers, their fat salaries, exorbitant pensions, and so on: all fantasy, on the model of Reaganite imagery of black mothers being driven in their limousines to pick up welfare checks -- and other models that need not be mentioned. We all must tighten our belts; almost all, that is.

Teachers are a particularly good target, as part of the deliberate effort to destroy the public education system from kindergarten through the universities by privatization -- again, good for the wealthy, but a disaster for the population, as well as the long-term health of the economy, but that is one of the externalities that is put to the side insofar as market principles prevail.

Another fine target, always, is immigrants. That has been true throughout U.S. history, even more so at times of economic crisis, exacerbated now by a sense that our country is being taken away from us: the white population will soon become a minority. One can understand the anger of aggrieved individuals, but the cruelty of the policy is shocking.

Who are the immigrants targeted? In Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, many are Mayans fleeing genocide in the Guatemalan highlands carried out by Reagan's favorite killers.

Others are Mexican victims of Clinton's NAFTA, one of those rare government agreements that managed to harm working people in all three of the participating countries. As NAFTA was rammed through Congress over popular objection in 1994, Clinton also initiated the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border, previously fairly open. It was understood that Mexican campesinos cannot compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses would not survive competition with U.S. multinationals, which must be granted "national treatment" under the mislabeled free trade agreements, a privilege granted only to corporate persons, not those of flesh and blood. 

Not surprisingly, these measures led to a flood of desperate refugees, and to rising anti-immigrant hysteria by the victims of state-corporate policies at home.

Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the U.S. One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy's Fascist government. Or when France, still today the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warns grimly of the "flood of immigrants" and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called "the savage injustice of the Europeans."

The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe's most brutalized population.

In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17% of the vote in national elections, perhaps unsurprising when three-quarters of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jörg Haider won only 10% of the vote in 2008 -- were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won more than 17%. It is chilling to recall that, in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany.

In England the British National Party and the English Defence League, on the ultra-racist right, are major forces. (What is happening in Holland you know all too well.) In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin's lament that immigrants are destroying the country was a runaway best-seller, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, though condemning the book, declared that multiculturalism had "utterly failed": the Turks imported to do the dirty work in Germany are failing to become blond and blue-eyed, true Aryans.

Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they were too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the twentieth century, ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the U.S., including among presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.

I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don't, someone else will.

This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.

If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the "religion" that markets know best -- which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8 trillion housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.

All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are a new edition of Power and Terror, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, Gaza in Crisis, with Ilan Pappé, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. This piece is adapted from a talk given in Amsterdam in March. Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky

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