Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Former CIA torturer is the new Afghan VP

Left: Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan's new 1st VP.  Dostum is a former CIA man, mass murderer and torturer. 

by Richard Mellor

I was listening this morning to the reports from Democracy Now about the recent elections in Afghanistan where the new government of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzaihas agreed to keep 10,000 US troops in the country.  Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai refused to sign such an agreement with the US due to the murder of civilians by US air strikes. Ghani is a former World Bank employee so there's no solution for the Afghani people to the misery they have been subjected to for years with this US proxy in power.

Democracy Now's report also talks of the Convoy of Death a documentary about a massacre of Taliban prisoners that took place as they were being transported in trucks.  A dominant figure in this is Abdul Rashid Dostum, a CIA employee and notorious Afghan Warlord who has just been elected as Afghanistan's 1st Vice President. He is a well known mass murderer and one of the many mass murderers that the Pentagon has supported.

This blog aired Convoy of Death that clearly implicated the US in the massacre and torture of these prisoners and I was about to republish it but I see that it has disappeared. Here is a trailer for the documentary.
There have been attempts to get the Obama Administration to open an investigation in to it but the US military's involvement in the massacre is obvious when you see this film and the Obama Administration has repeatedly covered for these war crimes.

As an earlier blogpost pointed out, the rise of Islamic fanaticism is due to the meddling and violence in these countries and murder of the people by US imperialism.  Convoy of Death is a very powerful film, a condemnation of US military presence in Afghanistan and a brutal example of the horror that is committed in our name. 

Today's Democracy Now has a fairly extensive audio clip from Convoy of Death and it's well worth listening to or the reader should be able to download the transcript. I just heard Amy Goodman say that they are selling the film for a $75 donation.  It's worth it.

Debt, deleveraging and depression

by Michael Roberts

Last week the Economist magazine reiterated its view that global growth has been slowing (http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2014/09/markets-and-economy). This would be no revelation to readers of my blog, as I have been arguing that the world capitalist economy has failed to return to previous trend growth rates since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. And this confirmation that the world is a depression.

What is a depression and how does it differ from a ‘common or garden’ recession? Think of it schematically. A recession and the ensuing recovery can be V-shaped, as typically in 1974-5, or maybe U-shaped, or even W-shaped as in the ‘double-dip’ recession of 1980-2. But a depression is really more like a square-root sign, which starts with a trend growth rate, drops in the initial deep slump, then makes what looks initially like a V-shaped recovery, but that then levels off on a line that is below the previous trend line. In a depression, pre-crisis trend growth is never restored for anything up 10-15 or even 20 years.
In its piece, the Economist highlighted the significant slowdown in global trade growth. This is a point that I have made before (http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/global-trade-doldrums/), that world trade has slowed to the to the point where the growth in trade is slower than world GDP growth – a situation that means economies with weak domestic demand cannot compensate by selling more goods in world markets.

The Economist adds that the World Trade Organisation has now cut its forecast for trade growth this year from 4.6% to 3.1% and for 2015 from 5.3% to 4%. And that is optimistic as actual trade growth in the first half of the year was just 1.8, lower than in 2012 (2.3%) and 2013 (2.2%). Economists at Citibank, the huge American bank, now reckon global real GDP growth will be just 2.8% this year rising to 3.3% in 2015, well below trend, the slowdown being led by the so-called emerging economies.

And a new report warns that this slowdown coupled with a failure to cut back the overhang of debt, both public and private, built up in the major economies, threatens to cause a new slump in the world economy. This is the so-called 16th annual Geneva report, commissioned by the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies and written by a panel of senior economists including three former senior central bankers (http://www.voxeu.org/article/geneva-report-global-deleveraging).

As bankers, naturally the authors of the report are worried about the level of debt and the failure to ‘deleverage’ while the global economy struggles to recover. The report warns of a “poisonous combination of high and rising global debt and slowing nominal GDP, driven by both slowing real growth and falling inflation”.

According to the Geneva report, the total burden of world debt, private and public, rose from 160% of national income in 2001 to almost 200% in 2009 at the depth of the Great Recession. But the slump did not deliver any deleveraging and total debt rose further to 215% in 2013. “Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new highs,” the report said.
Global debt-to-GDP ratio, 2001-13
Debt did not fall in the developed capitalist economies because the banks were bailed out by huge dollops of public sector funding raised through government borrowing. So while financial sector debt was ‘written off’, it was replaced by public sector debt so that the banks did not lose out. But in the ‘recovery’ period since 2009, the debt build up has been more in emerging economies. The advanced capital economies have debt levels (excluding the banking sector) of around 260% of GDP in 2009 while the emerging economies had ratios half that, but now heading higher (mainly in China).
Debt dynamics for a selection of advanced and emerging economies
Debt EM and DM
Note: DM = developed markets, EMU = Eurozone; EM = Emerging Markets.
Excluding the public sector, only the US and the UK have seen a reduction in private sector debt, (mainly household debt and households defaulted on their mortgages or paid them down. But corporate debt has stayed high and with pitiful levels of growth in real GDP, if interest rates were to start rising significantly, then the corporate sector could find itself in trouble.

That is what happened in 1937 during the Great Depression, when the Federal Reserve decided that it could safely hike interest rates again and the government could stop running budget deficits as the US economy had recovered. That proved badly wrong (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/the-risk-of-another-1937/).

The continual optimism about a ‘return to normal’ has been dashed again and again since 2008. Another figure from the Geneva report shows the slowdown in growth forecasts for both advanced and emerging economies, as captured by the progressive reduction in output projections in the different vintages of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook since 2008. Global growth is now way off trend and well below where it was expected to be in 2008 and every year since.
GDP forecasts
Behind the failure of the world economy to get back on track is the failure to restore the profitability of capital in nearly all economies from the peak of 2006 and certainly from the peak of 1997. In addition, given that the burden of debt on capital remains so high, it is no wonder that smaller companies are unwilling to invest in new technology in any significant way, while larger companies prefer to hold cash, buy up their own shares or issue higher dividends to their shareholders rather than expand productive capacity.

The irony is that if companies do start to expand capacity they will eventually drive profitability down further and so lay the basis for a new slump that would be triggered by any significant rise in the cost of borrowing. That is what the Geneva report’s debt analysis is telling us. And they are worried.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Huge protests continue in Hong Kong Monday.

The Chinese mainland has thousands of demonstrations and protests yearly and the protests in Hong Kong continued today as the Occupy Hong Kong movement is not subsiding. The young woman in the video may well find her strategy for winning woefully inadequate if the Stalinist bureaucracy begins to feel it is losing control. Mind you, the support the movement appears to have including from workers is considerable and some steps forward may well result from these efforts.  It's hard  to judge events from afar but the bureaucracy is facing a serious movement here. Hong Kong is a global financial center and extremely important to the mainland.

Many of Hong Kong's residents are people who fled the mainland in the wake of the Chinese revolution and is it is quite likely that the genie will not be shoved back in to the bottle so easily. Here is another video shot form a drone that gives a birds eye view of the extent of the protests and the numbers involved. Here is a piece from today's Washington Post that gives a little history to the former British colony and the issues behind the protests.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poor Bill Gross denied severance pay. It's a cruel world.

F22: costs $68,000 an hour in the air
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

There was some sad news in the WSJ this weekend. It is much more important than the reports that mass killings are on the rise or as studies that show one person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. NBC News.  More important even than discovering that 26,000 to 45,000 Americans die each year due to the inefficiency of a for-profit health care system.

No my good friends.  This is tragic news that I am sure every hard working American will want to hear. Bill Gross, the bond investor and founder of the capital management firm Pimco has been driven out. Pimco Founder Abdicates After Co-Workers Threaten to Quit Over His Criticism.” the headline in the WSJ read this weekend.

I should first clarify that neither Gross, nor the misnamed “co-workers” are workers.  They live off the profit of capital.  They manage the wealth those who actually do work create and these individuals and their firms earn hundreds of millions of dollars for doing so.  It’s capital allocation and capital in this form as surplus value should be managed and allocated, but not by them.

There’s more to this tragic tale.  Gross who was earning more than $200 million a year at Pimco wasn’t given a severance package.  The gall of it; this country is turning communist, the poor guy is only worth about $2.5 billion.  Compare that to that scrooge and former mayor of NYC Michael Bloomberg and his $20 billion net worth.  What’s next? Heath Care for everybody? Gross is hopping mad, "I've made you all rich…See how you do without me," he announced according to the Journal.

Forbes describes these social parasites as “self made men”.  Words are so important and Gross and his class not only own or control the means of manufacturing society’s needs, they own the means of producing society’s ideas as well, the media, the universities etc. So they choose their words carefully and make sure we adopt them.
Ellison, Gates, Buffet: Source of wealth-----workers unpaid labor time
What made me think about this was that I was talking to a guy the other day who is a financial advisor for a bank.  He’s a decent person, I am sure of that and I assume he has some degree in economics.  What is interesting about those who immerse themselves in mainstream economics or capitalist economics if you like, is that they have never or rarely read Marx’s economic views in their studies. 

As a retired public sector worker I get a decent pension by American standards. The likes of Gross and his class want to put a stop to such things and the public sector pensions are being blamed for the crisis of capitalism in the aftermath of its near collapse a few years ago only to be rescued by public funds and concessions in services and labor.  Prior to us it was the autoworkers but the 1% has tamed them and their union with the assistance of the union leadership at the highest levels.  Capitalism cannot allow workers to have an existence free from want and insecurity.  We must always be in a state of anxiety about the future, fearful of other workers who might take our jobs and means of feeding ourselves and our families.  We must always be in a position to compete as our lives do depend on it in a capitalist economy. The unemployed are there to remind us of this.

I am not ashamed of my pension and believe all workers should have a pension we can live on, wages we can live on.  We should be spending much less time at work and our communities should have all the needs that any civilized society requires; health care (even tiny Cuba has that in every community) housing, education, public transportation etc.  I think readers know what I mean.

My financial advisor’s response to such Utopian ideas was “Sure, we’ll all live like the Greeks then. That’s what happens when you live beyond your means.”  Who says that?  The Wall Street Journal, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and the likes of Bill Gross say it.  Their media says it. Their professors in the universities say it.  It is the ideology of the class that rules and it is lapped up especially by sections of the middle and lower middle class.

But it’s clearly not the case.  There are all sorts of historical data and statistics that would show that living high on the hog or being “profligate” to use a term the strategists of capital like to use, was the problem for Greece and many other countries.  It is not pensions here either.  The productivity of labor is so great we could all be working two or three days a week having more time to organize work, decide collectively what we need, how we produce it and when.

A small example of resources misplaced: I was watching late night TV a week ago and getting frustrated as I usually do at the constant ads interrupting my viewing. I noticed that they are already showing ads for Halloween candy and costumes and it’s not yet October.  Leaving aside the health factor with so much candy being eaten by the nations children, I wondered how much money nationally will be spent on TV advertising in the month up to Halloween.  I would guess in the hundreds of millions.  This is a small example of bad capital allocation and an unfortunate use of artist’s skills.

Then I read that the new air war in the Middle East, against yet another nebulous group of former CIA/Pentagon friends and acquaintances is likely to cost around $10 billion a year, possibly more. According to Sky News,  (Same ownership as the WSJ) “…the first night of air strikes against the IS group in Syria this week, the US launched 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles from ships at sea and deployed sophisticated F-22 Raptor fighter jets. Each missile costs about $1.5 million and the F-22 jets cost roughly $68,000 an hour to fly.”  This is small potatoes of course compared to Iraq and Afghanistan where the US supported Bin Laden and other religious fanatics. But that could change as Obama has warned, the fight against ISIS and whoever else will be a long-term project. Such warfare is also why we are seen as cowards by many of the innocent victims of this impersonal, computer warfare.

As I pointed out in a previous commentary, if one follows the trail of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and beyond, it will lead back to the USA.   And an interesting aspect of the new war from the anti-war president is that they get to test their new plane, the F22.  This has a huge cost attached to it and a huge expense for a weapon of mass destruction like the F22 is money thrown down the drain if not used.  A warplane is no good without a war.  As I quoted a former US official who said during the illegal bombing of Laos in a piece I wrote last week  “When asked to explain the U.S. bombing escalation, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ‘well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do.’". There you have it; things have not changed.

As I write I recall reading some time back about the cost of the F22 and attempts to make it lighter and more efficient. If my memory serves me right I learned that there were 500 engineers working on that project.  What a waste of skill and labor power. That is another critical flaw in the capitalist system; the allocation of labor power along with capital is not planned, not rational.  It the anarchy of the market.

I confess I go on too long but I’ll end with this again. We must reject that there is no money in society. We must reject the idea that the way society is organized, the mode of production we call capitalism is the end of civilization, the only form of social organization there is.  We must reject the idea propagated by the 1%’s media that the Soviet Union (Stalinism) was socialism or communism. We must also reject the idea that that everyone hates us.  It is them that they hate, the folks responsible for US foreign policy and our actions in the world. This means we must purge from our own consciousness the ideology of the ruling class, what Christopher Hill in his great book chronicling the English Revolution called, the “Stop in the Mind”.

We must reject the ideology of the ruling class because, if stop for a moment to think about it, it doesn’t correspond to objective reality as we live it.

In short, we must think for ourselves.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Irish "Shawshank" Tunneller Nabbed

I do think that Marx had something to say about the ancient art of pub crawling. The Irish working class are renowned for their ingenuity when it comes to perfecting this art and the tactics used to place them atop the list in the global Pub Crawlers League.  The story below is reprinted for the interests of our readers.  It is from the Tyrone Tribulations Blog and was posted by Gombeen.  Brendan Behan would have been proud. And he's a plumber too.
An Omagh plumber tunnelled a hole from under his bed to the local pub 800 feet from his house over the course of 15 years, a court heard today.
Patsy Kerr had been summonsed to Omagh County Court after it emerged he had been the cause of a collapsed sewage pipe from a neighbouring house. Kerr told the court about his secret tunnel and the reasons behind it:
“The wife has a bad snore on her and after watching the Shawshank Redemption on RTE one night in 1994, I decided to do something about it so I waited til she was in a deep sleep and then set about digging a hole under the bed in the direction of the pub. I used all manner of tools from spoons to a heavy duty tunnel boring machine I managed to sneak down there when she was at the shops. It wasn’t until 2009 that I hit the jackpot and came up through the women’s toilet mop and bucket room.”
Kerr explained how he spent the last five years heading to the pub via his tunnel at 11pm before returning at 1am, undetected by his deep sleeping wife:
“To be honest I was sort of glad I was caught. She was always smelling drink off me in the morning and I was explaining it away as a natural odour. But recently I was finding myself singing rebel songs and stuff coming back up the tunnel and it was only a matter of time before I was caught anyhow. The landlord was also wondering how I was just appearing out of nowhere at the same time every night and disappearing from the women’s toilets.”
The tunnel was finally discovered after the DOE performed a survey on a sewage problem which turned out to be caused by a pipe Kerr had hit accidentally, causing sewage to leak into his tunnel over five years. The judge questioned Kerr’s wife as to why she never smelt the sewage odours from her husband. Mrs Kerr simply shrugged.

Economics: Solving crises – it’s easy!

You see the cause of slumps under capitalism is easy to discern and, as a result, what to do to avoid them is also straightforward. John Maynard Keynes sorted this out nearly 70 years ago – and without any reference to Marx or any other theorist of crises.

So says Philip Pilkington in a recent post on his blog (Keynes’ Theory of the Business Cycle as Measured Against the 2008 Recession). Pilkington is a research assistant at Kingston University and member of the Political Economy Research Group (PERG) at Kingston University, a UK centre of radical post-Keynesian economists, with its economics department now headed by the brilliant Steve Keen (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/paul-krugman-steve-keen-and-the-mysticism-of-keynesian-economics/.) Pilkington blogs at http://fixingtheeconomists.wordpress.com/

Pilkington tells us that Keynes sorted all this out in Chapter 22 of the General Theory when he discussed the nature of the ‘business cycle’ and Pilkington concludes that of Keynes’ explanations: “I think they hold up pretty well today”. Pilkington says that Keynes makes clear what the “key determinate” of slumps in production and investment under capitalism: (Keynes quote): “The Trade Cycle is best regarded, I think, as being occasioned by a cyclical change in the marginal efficiency of capital, though complicated, and often aggravated by associated changes in the other significant short-period variables of the economic system.”

As Pilkington says, Keynes’ category of the marginal efficiency of capital (MEC) is “basically the expected profitability that investors think they will receive on their investments measured against the present cost of these investments.” Keynes’ concept of MEC is his version of Marx’s rate of profit. But it is different in some very important ways. First, Keynes is wedded to the neoclassical concept of marginalism. This is the idea, as things (supply or demand) grow, they rise, at the margin, at a slower rate; so there is a diminishing return on each new unit added. Marginalism is not justified in reality: indeed, there is plenty of evidence that there are economies of scale i.e. returns can increase not fall i.e. MEC can rise with expansion. But Keynes joins the neoclassicals in reckoning that, as capital gets larger, the MEC will fall. Indeed this is the basis of his view that capitalism will eventually move to some ‘stationary state’ of nirvana, leisure and prosperity. But that’s another story.

The other aspect of Keynes MEC is that his definition of capital is full of as many holes as Piketty’s (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/thomas-piketty-and-the-search-for-r/ and others). Is capital just new investment of the stock of capital; is that investment just in tangible structures, equipment and technology, or does it include financial assets like bonds, stocks etc? It is not clear. Also, like all mainstream economics, capital is a ‘thing’ for Keynes, namely it is either tangible equipment or claims of ownership on companies like stocks.

For Marx, capital is a social relation: it is about the way the ownership of things by capitalists enables them to exploit the labour power of those who own nothing but the ability to work. In practical economic terms, that means Marx’s rate of profit includes the cost for capitalists in employing the workforce, as well as purchasing raw materials or factories. So you cannot work out what is happening to the rate of return on capital without including the value creating role of labour. Keynes and all mainstream economists since Smith and Ricardo carefully ignore the value of labour power in their definition of capital.

In doing so, we expose the real difference between Keynes explanation of crises and that of Marx – and which is closer to reality. What happens to cause a slump (recession or depression) in an economy, according to Keynes/Pilkington, is that there is “a sudden collapse in the marginal efficiency of capital.” Pilkington is keen to show that, as against the more ‘orthodox’ Keynesians, the “predominant explanation of the crisis is, not primarily a rise in the rate of interest”.

Pilkington expounds the thesis in relation to the US property slump in 2006-7 that triggered the Great Recession: “Keynes would argue that the causal chain went as follows: interest rates began to rise the MEC of investors began to fall eventually the MEC reached a threshold point at which investors stopped building houses. A recession ensued”. Who these ‘investors’ are that stopped building houses is not clear, but leave that aside. The question that flows from this ‘causal chain’ is: why did the MEC fall at some ‘threshold point’? According to Pilkington/Keynes: “The key component in the MEC is, of course, investor expectations. Keynes is clear on this and distinguishes himself from those who claim that a rise in the rate of interest is the cause of the crisis.”

So there is a ‘sudden collapse’ in the MEC of ‘investors’ because they change their ‘expectations’ on the future return of their investments. The cause of crises is thus reduced to the unpredictable (and possibly irrational) psychology of capitalists (investors). This is a subjective, ‘individual agency’ theory of slumps. In contrast, Marx looks at the aggregate accumulation of value and surplus value by the capitalist economy and develops a law of profitability based on the exploitation of labour that explains objectively why capitalists ‘suddenly’ stop investing and a slump ensues.

Moreover, Marx’s theory of crises can explain their regularity; Keynes/Pilkington’s cannot. In the latter, slumps are unpredictable and cannot be regular because they depend on ‘expectations’. Indeed, as Pilkington points out, Keynes denies that there is any ‘business cycle’ at all. And yet when Keynes wrote the General Theory, the evidence of cycles of boom and slump in capitalist economies had been well documented by the likes Wesley Mitchell, Burns and Schumpeter (see Jose A Tapia Granados entitled Does investment call the tune? Empirical evidence and endogenous theories of the business cycle, to be found in Research in Political Economy, May 2012, http://sitemaker.umich.edu/tapia_granados/files/does_investment_call_the_tune_may_2012__forthcoming_rpe_.pdf).

Anyway, with MEC as the cause of crises, Pilkington argues that the cure for crises follows. If the MEC falls ‘suddenly’, then the authorities must cut interest rates to the bone, below the MEC, to restore investment and growth. The problem is that in a depression even that may not be enough and liquidity preference (the desire to hold cash) turns into a ‘liquidity trap’ that an economy cannot get out of even when interest rates are ‘zero-bound’ as they have been since 2008. So Pilkington/Keynes says the authorities must resort to fiscal expansion to ‘pump-prime’ the economy i.e. increase government spending and/or cut taxes. Again to quote Keynes: “the collapse in the marginal efficiency of capital may be so complete that no practicable reduction in the rate of interest will be enough” especially “as it is not so easy to revive the marginal efficiency of capital, determined, as it is, by the uncontrollable and disobedient psychology of the business world. It is the return of confidence, to speak in ordinary language, which is so insusceptible to control in an economy of individualistic capitalism.”

So you see, crises are down to ‘confidence’ and ‘business psychology’ and we must turn these around for the better. Government spending and tax cuts for capitalist companies can do this. Thus the Keynesian answer is not to replace the failed capitalist sector with a planned economy owned in common (heaven forbid!), but to restore the ‘confidence’ of capitalists.

Now I and others have discussed in detail why fiscal spending, whether to raise consumption or boost investment, in a capitalist economy is no guarantee that it will recover (see my posts and papers, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/keynes-the-profits-equation-and-the-marxist-multiplier/). The Keynesian multiplier won’t work unless the profitability of capital rises (the Marxist multiplier). Indeed, increased government spending in a depression can lower profitability further and extend a slump. Even more important, Marx’s law of profitability will eventually return and the boom will turn into another slump in due course.

Fiscal austerity will make the crisis worse or prolong it, according to Keynesians. This is the line of Simon Wren-Lewis, the arch Keynesian who blogs at http://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/. In a recent post (The entirely predictable recession), he argues that the ‘second Euro crisis’ of 2010 onwards was caused by Euro governments trying to reduce government spending at a time when private investment had collapsed. Instead there was a need for ‘countercyclical’ fiscal stimulus to the economy. So the second recession was entirely predictable under Keynesian theory, he says.

Actually, just how much fiscal austerity was applied by Eurozone governments is a matter of debate, but what Wren-Lewis does not explain is: why the crisis started in the first place back in 2008 – a global crisis clearly nothing to do with fiscal policy and more to do with a collapse in capitalist sector investment. Why was that not predictable from Keynesian theory?

Anyway, Pilkington continues. Keynes’ explanation of ‘sudden’ slumps provides a model for avoiding slumps, you see. “Thus the remedy for the boom is not a higher rate of interest but a lower rate of interest! For that may enable the so-called boom to last. The right remedy for the trade cycle is not to be found in abolishing booms and thus keeping us permanently in a semi-slump; but in abolishing slumps and thus keeping us permanently in a quasi-boom.”

So we need to maintain very low rates of interest ‘permanently’ so that the MEC (hopefully) is always higher and an economic boom can go on forever. If this sometimes generates ‘credit bubbles’ and dangerous artificial booms in property or stock prices, then that is where we use fiscal policy and tax those bubbles away. As Pilkington concluded “I think that this is overly simplistic but certainly on the right track….In this scheme the central bank controls overactive investment markets but does not really hold responsibility for ensuring that economic growth be maintained continuously. That is the role of fiscal policy.” By this judicious macroeconomic management, we can avoid crises forever!
Pilkington, however, is reluctant to allow the people and politicians to have a say in this brave new world of Keynesian policy. “Personally I think that democracies are seriously flawed and politicians generally stupid and short-sighted. For this reason I would recommend building institutions that automatically open up the fiscal deficit”. So fiscal action will become outside democratic control, just as finance capital has managed to get monetary policy out of democratic control with ‘independent’ central banks. The more you consider the Pilkington/Keynes causal chain of slump and the policy solutions of macroeconomic management divorced from democracy, the less it is convincing and the more it is distasteful. Keynes, the patrician, the Platonian philosopher king, knows best.

But would such macro-management of a capitalist economy work? Well, we have had the experience of such attempts in the post-war period when governments attempted to use fiscal policy ‘countercyclically’ to keep the economy on even keel. For a while, it seemed to work and in the Golden Age, investment and GDP growth was strong. But then it all went ‘pear-shaped’ in the 1970s, with the first simultaneous international slump in 1974-5 since the Great Depression and the emergence of ‘stagflation’ (low growth and high inflation) – the opposite of what Keynesian economics predicted. Why did this change take place?

Marxist theory explained it best. The Golden Age was nothing to do with successful Keynesian macromanagement and the subsequent crisis was nothing to do with it being dropped. It was down to the profitability of capital. This fell from the mid-1960s onwards through the 1970s and no matter how much fiscal management or interest rate juggling governments engaged in, governments could not avoid slumps and slower growth. It was not the ‘psychology’ of investors that changed the economy; it was the objective change in profitability that changed ‘investor expectations’.
It also changed bourgeois economic theory. Keynesian economics gave way to monetarism and neoclassical equilibrium theory. The more radical aspects of Keynesian theory (uncertainty, irrational expectations, the marginal efficiency of capital) were dropped for more orthodox theories of supply and demand for money.

Simon Wren-Lewis, has been lamenting the failure to maintain Keynesian economics as providing the best explanation of capitalist economies and the best prescription for avoiding slumps. In Where macroeconomics went wrong, he comments “Why did we have a revolution which overturned an existing methodology and temporarily banished Keynesian theory,… I would love to know the answer to these questions.”

I think the answer is obvious: the Keynesian approach in its most radical form (“the socialisation of investment”) was unacceptable to the strategists of capital anyway; and even its more moderate approach was a failure in explaining the crises of the 1970s and 1980s. So mainstream economics returned to the theory of ‘free markets’ untouched by expensive government taxation and spending, and to a forthright attack on wages, regulations and employment. This was necessary to restore the profitability of capital. This became the neoclassical, neoliberal mainstream (for more on this, see the draft of an appendix on Keynesianism for my forthcoming book, The Long Depression, APPENDIX TWO). Keynesian economics had no answer to ending crises while preserving capitalism, so it was dropped or merged into the mainstream. It still does not provide an explanation for the current slump and depression or a way out.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Laos? Where's Laos? The Pentagon could teach ISIS about real violence.

Laos: Red and Yellow are areas the US bombed
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
"In September 1969, after a recorded history of 700 years, the Plain of Jars disappeared.... It had become the first society to vanish through automated warfare." -- .Fred Branfman

“What the eyes don’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over.”, my mother said to me retrieving a potato that had fallen on to the kitchen floor and alighted there for a very brief moment.   It is one of those sayings that rings true and the institution that most Americans despise, the US government, lives by it. It is one of those weird abnormalities that workers, in this case Americans who hate and distrust government so much rally to the call when the very people they distrust demand support for their predatory corporate wars. Naturally, these ventures are not portrayed as slaughter on the behalf of corporations and the 1% but defensive battles against foreigners or foreign philosophies that threaten our way of life. 

US capitalism has succeeded in providing its citizens with cheap food, mindless mass entertainment and relatively unhindered mobility.  Freedom is riding down the road on one's Harley (without a helmet) with gun strapped to the side. Its media is extremely powerful and controlled and its religion is Christianity.  There are dangers everywhere, communists, dictators, African warlords and of course, African Bees. It is said that we learn about geography here after the US military has bombed a country and we can see CNN’s Wolf Blitzer standing atop an interactive map of the region.

President Obama made an impassioned speech for a global response to the rise of ISIS in the Middle East at the UN earlier this week.  ISIS is yet another of the numerous groupings that hate America and whose names change as the people remain the same. Most, if not all of the leading figures in these organizations are known to top US officials and are usually former friends and employees. Let’s not forget that the Egyptian tyrant, Hosni Mubarak, was considered  “family” by Hilary Clinton. And US capitalism with Obama as its chief spokesperson defended Mubarak in the wake of a mass uprising until it became impossible to continue doing so.

No God condones this terror….” Obama said at the UN referring specifically to the beheadings by ISIS of US journalists. Why beheading should be regarded as a greater act of terror than injecting someone with drugs that take 45 minutes to kill them or keeping human beings in solitary confinement for 30 years raises more questions than answers.Anyway, Washington's allies, the Saudi's are experts at it.
No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil.” Obama added.

ISIS is without doubt composed of some nasty characters.  But how and why such formations arise is more complicated and I refuse to be silent when criticism comes from a representative of an institution, the US government that, if I believed in such a thing as evil, would be leading the premier division. After revealing some of the crimes of US imperialism a friend asked me why I live here.  Is that the response that should have been given to a criticism of the Nazi rise to power or their treatment of minorities, labor leaders, gays etc? Was she implying we keep our mouths shut?  I think so.

I have used the murder of some 3 million Vietnamese as an example of the brutality the US establishment and its representatives inflict on weaker opponents that stand in the way of the US 1%’s rapacious quest for the domination of world markets and the profits that result. We are all too familiar with the brutality as we witness it back home. Ferguson is an example and the daily murder of black youth.  The way the poor, the weak or infirm and veterans are treated. The attacks on our living standards and wellbeing are intensifying overall. One of US capitalism’s most effective weapons in its domestic war against US workers and the middle class after racism and sexism is the foreign enemy but on a global scale, the crimes of ISIS pale when compared to the horror US capitalism has inflicted on foreign soil; the whole US government hierarchy is populated by mass murderers.

When I came to the US I remember first seeing these small Asian people, many of them rather disheveled and weary, often pushing shopping carts. They were colorfully dressed in what was obviously traditional costume. I learned that they were called Hmong and were tribal people from Laos.  The CIA had used them during the Vietnam War which made them very unpopular in their own country.  So beyond the mass murder the US government committed in Vietnam and Cambodia, let’s take a look at Laos, the small South East Asian nation that the US bombed for 5 years from 1964 to 1969. US capitalism dropped two million tons of bombs on one million people in that little venture.

Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded devices. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by these since the bombing ceased. (My added emphasis).  Here are some other startling facts about the U.S. bombing of Laos and its tragic aftermath:
  • Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War (210 million more bombs than were dropped on Iraq in 1991, 1998 and 2006 combined); up to 80 million did not detonate.
  • Nearly 40 years on, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed.More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos.
  • Each year there continue to be over 100 new casualties in Laos. Close to 60% of the accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children.
  • Between 1995 and 2013, the U.S. contributed on average $3.2M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.
  • The U.S. spent as much in three days bombing Laos ($51M, in 2010 dollars) than it spent for clean up over 16 years ($51M). Source Legacies of War.
Who needs farmland?

Thank you USA

Fred Branfman, commenting on AlterNet on the book he co-edited,
Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life under an Air War  which is a collection of stories and details of these events and what the bombing meant from the victim’s point of view wrote:
 “The bombing, which eradicated the 700 year old civilization and turned the survivors into penniless refugees, was quadrupled after a November 1968 U.S. bombing halt over North Vietnam. It leveled every village and burned, buried alive, maimed and drove underground tens of thousands of civilians, where they lived like animals until evacuated to refugee camps in the capital city of Vientiane where they wrote this material.

Branfman again: “When asked to explain the U.S. bombing escalation, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ‘well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do.’".

Such incredible, ruthless arrogance from one of the architects of the mass murder.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book written by Laotian victims.

1. "A Life Whose Only Value Was Death,” by a Thirty-three-year-old Woman
A life whose only value was death. I saw this in the village of my birth, as every day and every night the planes came to drop bombs on us. We lived in holes to protect our lives. There were bombs of many kinds, as in this picture I have drawn. It is not beautiful but it shows the shooting and death from the planes, and the destruction of the bombs. This kind of bomb would explode in the air and was much more dangerous than other ones. I saw my cousin die in the field of death. My heart was most disturbed and my voice called out loudly as I ran to the houses. Thus, I saw life and death for the people on account of the war of many airplanes in the region of Xieng Khouang. Until there were no houses at all. And the cows and buffalo were dead. Until everything was leveled and you could see only the red, red ground. I think of this time and still I am afraid.

8. "They Died Like Animals Die In The Forest," by a twenty-seven year-old man
My village used to have hills, forests and homes next to our ricefields. Everyone had ricefields, buffalo and cows. We earned our livelihoods with happy hearts. We always helped each other to develop our upland and paddy ricefields. But then came the airplanes to strike at our houses until they were completely lost, until we had no place left to live. And we were afraid because the planes came almost every day. It was as if we were in jail. We couldn't go anywhere. All we could do was sit in the mouths of the holes.
In the third phase, we couldn't even put them in boxes anymore because we had no more wood. We just dug a hole at the foot of the hill and buried them. This is how it was when the people died in this region. They died like animals die in the forest because the planes bombed every day. Therefore we were afraid and didn't have the courage to do the right thing. Someone died and we just took him and dumped him and ran back very fast. Some people were not even buried, they were just dumped in a box and left in the forest.

9. "Why Did The Planes Drop Bombs On Us?," by a thirty-nine-year-old farmer
On March 14, 1967, four planes of the jet type dropped their bombs to gether to destroy my village and returned to shoot twice in the same day. They dropped eight napalm bombs, the fire from which burned all my things, sixteen buildings along with all our possessions inside, as well as maiming our animals. Some people who didn't reach the jungle in time were struck and fell, dying most pitifully. By the time the fire died down it was dark. Every one came out of hiding to look at the ashes of their houses. Even the rice was all burnt. Everyone cried at once—loudly and agitatedly. Some families had been wounded. We were all heavy hearted and mournful almost to the point of losing our minds.
The other villagers and I got together to consider this thing. We hadn't done anything, nor harmed anyone. We had raised our crops, celebrated the festivals and maintained our homes for many years. Why did the planes drop bombs on us, impoverishing us this way?
As time passed, the planes came and bombed all the neigh boring villages just as they had bombed us. Then the planes started viciously shooting in the forest and jungle and in all inhabited places, forcing us to steal away and hide in holes—to dig deep holes to live in. The fixing of food to eat together disappeared. The pagoda fell into disrepair; the monks were all hiding in holes and trenches. The miseries caused by the air planes were immense, because the bombs were large and if they fell in even a deep hole everything would be destroyed.

In a so-called “free” society, we can find this information. But compare the media-time given to selling prescription drugs for invented ailments or what perfume one should wear to important history like this.  Business secrets and important information about the functioning of government, especially its foreign adventures are not part of a public information process.  The US capitalist class learned a thing or two from their defeat in Vietnam.  Human beings have compassion.  Human beings have a strong sense of solidarity and feeling for the suffering of others no matter what their nationality or religion. They made a mistake allowing the media free reign. I remember well seeing the war on the evening news, the napalm, the bombs the killing; the bombs falling from the sky on peasant villages, falling by the hundreds of thousands and the flames engulfing the inhabitants, the animals, every living thing.

That was the end of that.  In their invasion of Panama we saw no dead bodies (check out The Panama Deception) Grenada next to nothing, Iraq, Afghanistan wherever the violence is waged we get the sanitized version and the “embedded” journalists are simply reporters for the US military and State Department.  The architects of slaughter don’t trust the American people with the truth because they know we won’t like it and it will divert our attention away from their stupid reality shows to reality.

It is important for us to become fully aware of this history, not the sanitized CNN broadcasting version of it but in its entirety; the real reasons behind the slaughter and the aftermath.  Even selfishly we can imagine that the trillions wasted by US capitalism’s for profit wars would be enough to provide a secure, leisurely and safe existence for every American and in fact every person on this earth.

It is important to know this history because the method of secret, sanitized war/murder has been perfected even further and is continuing in the Middle East. The drones further isolate the perpetrator from the victim.  It is this global policy, developed not by workers, not by ordinary Americans, but by representatives of the owners of the major sectors of the economy and their generals at the Pentagon that is the cause of the rise of Islamic fanaticism, not a religious book or tracts.  The government as Engels once remarked, is the 1%’s executive committee. It is a government of a small group of people, by a small group of people to defend and perpetuate the economic interests of a small group of people.

The reader should put oneself in the place of an Iraqi worker, a Palestinian or Syrian worker, an Afghani woman or man.  Every thinking Arab worker is aware that their oppressive governments are funded and armed by the US taxpayer. While you may never go to a place like Laos, think seriously about how the effects of the US government’s slaughter there affected people even to this day. Children in Laos and Vietnam are still being born with defects, in the case of Vietnam from the Dioxin the US poured on their food and their bodies, US veterans are also still dying from it.

Most people recognize that a people and governments are somewhat different things, but they still bombed and destroyed in our name and continue to do so. We are responsible and become more responsible if we refuse to do nothing, refuse to even reject their truth, their scripted information and develop our own views. ISIS is a very limited threat to American workers.  Our problems emanate from a much more familiar source. Settling accounts with our own 1% will eradicate threats like ISIS permanently and will open the door to world peace in a real way; we can speak as a class liberated.  We have to follow our gut instinct that leads even conservative workers to recognize that bosses and workers are not on the same team and reach across national borders and unite with our own kind.  That’s the problem with nationalism, their phony “united we stand” mantra, and why “Workers of the World Unite” is such a powerful idea.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The roots of Islamic terrorism spring from the soil of US foreign policy

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

When I was young I took a train from Ankara to Baghdad.  It went down through southern Turkey, through the tip of Syria and down through northern Iraq, through Mosul, Nineveh, Babylon to Baghdad. After a brief stay in Baghdad I took the bus to Basra where I met Goan traders and ate and drank with them. I felt such joy at sitting with people whose ancestors had sailed this region trading their goods for thousands of years.

Throughout the journey, Turks, Kurds, Syrians, Iraqis were kind to me despite the dirty role British imperialism had played in the area.  No Muslim accosted me or was rude to me whether Shia or Sunni although I wouldn’t have known the difference. I remember as a 21-year old sleeping on the floor in the compartment on the train going along the border between Turkey and Syria.  People would get in with goats and chickens, perhaps going to market, I assumed. I woke up one morning and the first sight I saw was a Muslim woman feeding her child right there, breast and all.  There were a number of men in the compartment but no one batted an eyelid, it seemed to me as normal procedure although not something I saw very much back home.

I thought of these days and the tragic situation in that part of the world today as I read Obama’s speech at the UN, the institution representing global capitalism.  I was disgusted as usual thinking firstly of how the workers of the Arab and Muslim world must feel. The words of Obama as the representative of US capitalism carry no weight among the workers of the world especially the former colonial countries.  The so-called coalition the US has clobbered together to bomb Syria (a sovereign country) without discussion with its government is laughable, a right den of thieves. Qatar?  This is a private business dressed as a nation state that brutalizes workers, especially those most desperate workers form the poorest countries.  Hundreds of them die there due to the barbaric working conditions. It is a humanitarian and environmental nightmare.  Jordan Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Emirates, these are the flunkies whose place at the apex of their societies is guaranteed by US troops, weapons and money.

No God condones this terror,” Obama said referring to ISIS, yet another new group that is determined to take away our freedoms. But this is not a new group at all, just the re-gathering of former flunkies the US has used in the past.  No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil., Obama adds.

But surely some gods do justify terror.  ISIS is relatively small potatoes in the terror department when history is observed.  US capitalism slaughtered some 3 million Vietnamese, poured highly toxic chemicals on their food in order to place in to power a puppet government that couldn’t get elected by its own people. The Vietnamese never threatened or harmed America. Is Obama saying the Christian version of god didn’t condone that? After all, the US is a “Christian” country. If god didn't should he apologize on our behalf?

Did Jesus “condone” the US imposed sanctions in Iraq that caused the deaths of 500,000 civilians, mostly women and children?  Madeline Albright, the former US secretary of state did. She told ABC news the deaths were “Worth it”.

Obama went on (don’t laugh) “…the future belongs to those who build not destroy.”  Unless he was talking about building weapons of mass destruction I have a hard time believing this.  When I flew from Vienna to Skopje in the late 1990’s it was in a prop plane.  The advantage is that you fly much lower and can see more.  The beautiful “blue Danube” as Strauss called it was full of concrete and steel all the way down as the US and maybe it’s then coalition (the Boy Scouts of America I think it was) had bombed all the bridges.  The US bombing here had driven 30,000 refugees in to the area I was staying.  The US bombed Iraq in to the stone-age, it destroyed Fallujah using white phosphorous on the population in the process. US capitalism recognizes no borders or sovereign states barring those that can fight back.  Russia hasn’t been bombed, nor China, and North Korea with nuclear capabilities wasn’t invaded.  This country lost 10% of its population the last time the US terror was unleashed on it.

Obama called for a, “…new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology,”. Perhaps the “civilized” people’s of the world could put a stop to the crappy TV shows that come out of the US and the children’s video games that the US military help design. They’re good for future drone operators and that’s about it.

Obama promises that the US will not become an occupying power, simply a bombing enthusiast which is much safer as fewer Americans are killed that way. It’s bad enough that the cost of these corporate ventures fall on the US taxpayer’s shoulders, but our sons and daughters coming home in body bags might lead to some social unrest sooner than later. America will, “..be a respectful and constructive partner” says Obama.  What he means by this is that US construction firms, Bechtel, Halliburton etc. will rebuild a society after the US has bombed it.  The US will not “tolerate terrorist safe havens” Obama stated, affirming that sovereign states and borders are no defense against US warplanes or drones.  The F22 is being tested in real killing for the first time in Syria; one has to test one’s equipment doesn’t one?

He also made it clear what all this activity is really about when he reminded US capitalism’s rivals at the UN that after a good bombing session, “..we will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.”.

We know the victims of this policy abroad don’t believe, or more accurately, have nothing but contempt for the public proclamations from US capitalism, but surely US workers can’t believe it. Over the past few years public education and anything associated with it has been savaged. Fees at public universities have risen so much it has put an education out of reach for so many working class youth and student debt at more than $1 trillion is greater than credit card debt. Workers wages, benefits and living standards continue to decline and the youth that capitalism has abandoned have been thrown in to prison by the hundreds of thousands. The police in the urban centers are killing black youth at will and expanding their activities beyond this traditional hunting ground preparing for the social unrest that is inevitable as US capitalism places the cost of its corporate wars squarely on the shoulders of US workers, youth, the poor and middle class.   Manufacturing workers in the US are becoming more attractive as a source of low waged employment, a Caterpillar (the source of the equipment that destroys Palestinian homes) plant in London Ontario shut down, fired its workers and moved to the US Midwest where wages are 50% lower. As we’ve said before, you can’t have guns and butter.

The most important point in the last quote is the one that tells of the real reason for the endless warfare the US government is conducting and that is the “programs to support entrepreneurship”.  The US wars are market driven.  Since the ending of the bi-polar world with the collapse of Stalinism and the rise of market oriented nation states especially China and to a lesser extent India and Russia, US capitalism’s influence on the world stage has waned----new competitors are on the scene and that means increased tensions between capitalist nations. The US is still the most powerful economy and definitely the most up to date military having the most advanced weapons of mass destruction and being the most prolific arms producer and dealer in the world, producing more than the rest of the world combined.

With small weaker nations it is attempting to bomb, unsuccessfully, the free market in to ascendancy and as part of US imperialism’s sphere of influence.  What did Marx say about the capitalist class?  This class, “….must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” The problem is that in a globally integrated economy consisting of separate nation states, it is not only the US capitalist class that charts this path.

As my opening remarks point out, the area of the world that US imperialism has so destabilized was safe and not unfriendly in the main.  In Iraq I felt safe and was treated decently. Some Iraqi’s I once met in London later on after I moved to the US were angry that their struggle for a more open democratic society was made all the harder by the US’s support for the dictator Hussein. But even under Hussein, Iraq was one of the more secular regimes that had women in government.  The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been hastened by US foreign policy.  Dominant figures in this movement are well known to the US foreign policy planners.

The undermining of national democratic movements and political movements for self-determination in these regions as a matter of US foreign policy while in turn financing and arming reactionary Muslim tribes and Mullahs as in Afghanistan, is what has given religious fundamentalism its energy.  The government of Mohammad Najibullah and his People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan which ruled briefly after the Soviet occupation should have been critically supported by US workers, our organizations and political parties. Instead, the US supported and armed the reactionary Mullahs and the Taliban that eventually crushed the regime, castrated Najibullah and hung his body from a street lamp. Up until 1999, every Taliban government official was on the payroll of the US government.

Obama is boasting now about the Islamists having no place to hide and that there will be no negotiation with terrorist etc.  But the US has always negotiated with terrorists. The US has been arming Syrian oppositionists but accuses Russia of supporting Ukrainian separatists.  The Obama administration recently threatened the parents of the US journalist beheaded by ISIS that if they attempted to pay a ransom to terrorists they would be criminally liable, perhaps they could be terrorists themselves.

There is no permanent way out of this mess on the basis of capitalism, not Russian, European or American capitalism. We may yet see more sectarian crises in the advanced economies and efforts to break up existing nation states.  What we are witnessing is capitalism in decay.

Working people have no nation. We own no industry. We control no military and we have no political power which means we have no diplomatic missions or means of communication with workers in other nations outside of existing unions and political parties.  The only negotiations that take place about issues that decide who lives or dies, who eats and who doesn’t who gets water and who doesn’t is negotiation between representatives of capitalism; a squabble among thieves and among thieves we know there is no honor.

It is difficult to imagine a state or government that is a government of, for and by those who do the work in society, who work for wages. But the capitalist class hasn’t always held state power, capitalism had no future in that situation, it could not develop in to what it became. The capitalist class had to fight for state power and they did. They made history and advanced the forces of production.

But their time is over; their system cannot even feed billions of human beings despite having the resources to do so. The capitalist mode of production and the political structures that have arisen from it cannot advance humanity only destroy it, it has passed its expiration date.

The choice then is not just democratic socialism or barbarism as was once said, but socialism or the end of life as we know it.

It’s OK though, it’s doable with a little effort.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Climate Change Panel on the eve of the NYC Rally.

This is a panel from the evening before the recent climate change rally in NYC. Kshama Sawant, the socialist Seattle councilor speaks around one hour and six minutes in.

So far I have only listened to her speech that was pretty good I think although she never touched on the treacherous role of the trade union leadership in our movement and organizations as defenders of the market and capitalism. Sanders spoke after her. It's hard for me to give Sanders any credibility as he pretty much acts like a left Democrat and supported the Zionist regime's murderous assault on Palestinians in Gaza. He waffles on the issue of an escalation to confront the most recent threat to the American way of life, ISIS. (It's never raised that they're a threat to corporate profits and this is Washington and Western capitalism's primary concern with them). When challenged from the floor its clear his objection is that the US should not confront ISIS alone but with an international coalition.  RM.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Christian myth and The God Who Wasn't There

"But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence."  Jesus of Nazareth, quoted in Luke 19:27 New American Bible.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I have just watched the film, The God Who Wasn’t There.  It is a short one-hour documentary by a former fundamentalist Christian who was educated at a Christian school here in California.

The film doesn’t say anything new for atheists or those that don’t accept Christian mythology as real life, but it starts off with a really interesting 6 minutes of footage debunking Christian history and revealing the obvious inaccuracies and gaps in the historical record.

Of course, the worship of gods, Christian ones or otherwise cannot be explained away through rational argument as facts don’t matter to believers.  This is made very clear when the filmmaker returns to the school for an interview with the principal.  The principal admits that there is no empirical evidence or any scientific evidence that the world works in the way his institution’s teachers tell the young people it does; it’s simply faith.  It doesn’t matter to the him that he offers no evidence for his views.

Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith points this out.  There is no way a medical degree would be issued to anyone who used this same method, they would be thrown out, and laughed out of the room.   As I have said before, in the US, a political figure can start a speech thanking god or talking about god or that his or her decisions are based on god’s will without anyone batting an eyelid, but try saying you got your inspiration from Odin and people would think you’re nuts. But what’s the difference really?

These beliefs have no place in the political sphere or public discourse. It’s fine if people want to believe in mythology as real, they have a right to do so.  But it’s not that individuals believe this stuff, it is that it is state sanctioned.  I know and have worked with many people in my life who actually believe that this Jewish woman gave birth to a child from supernatural being and all that this entails but when these ideas are given credibility by the state and the institutions of learning it becomes problematic.

I have always said that I have respect for the fundamentalists because they do their very best to live their lives according to Christian teachings.  Christianity, like all religions is not a tolerant dogma, it is not inclusive. It is a violent philosophy and makes it perfectly clear that if one does not accept Jesus Christ as your savior and the one and only god then you are condemned to eternal damnation.  I know a lot of Christians who pick and choose what they want from the teachings but what is that about?  You are either a follower of Christ and the teachings of Christ or you are not. How can the Bible be wrong?  As the movie asks of the viewer: How do moderate Christians make sense?  They are not Christians surely. It’s like I always tell my liberal/moderate Catholic friends when I raise why they are a member of such a corrupt and violent organization, it’s like saying you’re in the KKK but your local branch is OK, your not a racist, it’s the head office.

The reason there are many Christian Zionists in Israel blind as they are to the horrific suffering of the Palestinians, is that for them, and apparently a large percentage of the American Christian population (the ones that vote), the crisis in the Middle East is a precursor to the return of their messiah. Harris comments in the movie that there are people who if they were to see a mushroom cloud rising above Jerusalem would see the silver lining in that horrific event.

Religion is a very useful tool in keeping people in the dark.  As we all know, once someone tells you in a discussion on any subject that their views are faith based or that Jesus tells them this or that, the discussion is over.  Never mind that just about everything Christianity has taught over centuries has been wrong and disproved.  Once the faith card is played, critical thinking stops.

Religious education is in some ways the worst form of child abuse in that the child has no defense. The movie used some clips from Mel Gibson’s (the right wing Catholic filmmaker) The Temptation of Christ, an incredibly violent film. It reminded me of my childhood and the affect those scenes had on me back then. I remember my mum walking me round the walls at St John’s church in Banbury showing me the stations of the cross and I couldn’t stop weeping.  I hated those people that were so cruel to this guy who was, after all, the person I owed my very existence to.  Mind you, the indoctrination was not all powerful as human nature took its course. In my bedroom I had an altar with two candles, one at either end with a Virgin Mary statue in the middle. When I reached that tender age where the art of self-pleasuring became known to me I would turn the statue around.  Couldn’t have her see that, sinner that I was. But she was a god wasn’t she? Could she see everything? The great thing about it all though is that you can be forgiven.

I saw the light long ago and am so grateful that I am free of all that magic and fantasy presented as real life and can address the world as it really is.  As I say, what is the most dangerous thing for me, is not that people as individuals believe this, but that it is presented as real in the institutions of learning, the media, the movies, and politics. The difference between ISIS, or any other religious extremism and those that follow the teachings of the Christian bible as historical fact is political, not religious.  The fundamentalists would govern in the same way, but in a developed capitalist economy the political structure doesn’t allow it, not yet anyway.

This movie is 7 years old you can see how much attention the mass media pays to films like this.  Not good for the mind.