Monday, December 31, 2012

The world economy: prospects for 2013

by Michael Roberts

When I sat down to write this post on the prospects for the world economy in 2013, I thought I’d better check back to see what I said this time last year about 2012.  After all, economic forecasting has a well-deserved, terrible reputation for inaccuracy. It’s mostly useless, or at least mainstream economics is pretty hopeless at it. There is no space in this post to explain the reasons why – maybe another time.

But anyway, when I read my post on 2012, it seemed to me that the analysis would hardly change for 2013.  So I thought I would repeat the points made at the end of December 2011 and then comment on the differences (if any) now.

I started last year by saying that “2011 was a pretty awful year for the major capitalist economies.”  Last year, I forecast that 2012 compared to 2011 would look “little better, except maybe for the US and Japan – relatively.”

Well, that was broadly right except that Japan performed worse than I expected. Most forecasters were less optimistic about 2012, especially as several thought that the Eurozone would break up before the end of 2012. And 2012 was indeed pretty awful for world capitalism. World economy growth was just 3.5% in real terms, hardly enough to stop unemployment in industry and services rising. In the major advanced capitalist economies, the US grew best at 2% while the bulk of Europe and Japan performed worse than in 2011, with the core of Europe failing to grow by more than 2% while southern Europe entered a depression with little sign of recovery.

As for emerging economies, I commented last December that “the large emerging economies of India, Brazil, South Africa and China are also slowing fast.  India is now growing at only 5% a year, down from 9% at the beginning of 2011, China is slipping towards 7% from 10%, while Brazil has dropped back under 4%.  These growth rates are still much higher than the mature capitalist economies, but given that the emerging economies need to absorb a massive influx of agricultural peasants into the cities for urban employment, the emerging economies need to grow faster in order to create sufficient jobs.” Well, 2012 continued that record. Indeed, it was even worse than expected for the so-called BRIC economies of Brazil and India.

In 2012, unemployment rates fell slightly over 2011 in the US and the UK, but in most of Europe they were worse and youth unemployment continues to hit new highs in most countries. Moreover, the most worrying development was that long-term unemployment has never been higher since the Great Depression. If you lose your job, your chances of getting another have never been so bad. Indeed, in the US, the average length of time without a job for those seeking one is at an all-time record high. The ‘reserve army of labour’ stays constantly large.

Just as I said this time last year, “since the trough of 2009, the major capitalist economies have generally failed to achieve even their former long-term average growth rates and some of them are still contracting.” By the end of 2012, several key capitalist economies had still not got back to their peaks prior to the crisis at end-2007, five years ago.

In last year’s post, I cited two key reasons why capitalism has not recovered ‘normally’ after the Great Recession of 2008-9. The first was that “the rate of profit in the largest and most important capitalist economy, the US, is still in its downward phase…Since US profitability peaked in 1997, that rate has not been surpassed… That has reduced the incentive of the productive sectors of capitalism (manufacturing, transport and services), at least in the advanced capitalist economies, to make new investments and employ more labour over the period since 1997 compared to the period 1982-97.”
That reason was further confirmed in 2012. Rates of profit in the major economies remain below the level reached in 2007, while the level of the mass of profit is still well below the previous peaks. In the US, in 2012, the rate of profit was broadly flat compared to 2011. And that is despite the continued rise in the mass of corporate profits to near record highs, depending of how you measure it.

The failure of profitability to return to previous levels has dampened any recovery in business investment, which is the key to sustained recovery. So, although labour ‘compensation’ as a share of GDP has fallen to a 50-year low to boost profits and increase inequality, there is still no move out of this Long Depression.

I had expected the US rate of profit to fall in 2012. Instead it has stagnated mainly because of this extraordinary rise in the rate of exploitation. But here is a forecast (!). This is unlikely to continue in 2013. Already US corporate profit growth is slowing. Raising the rate of exploitation will not be sufficient to support profitability in 2013. The US rate of profit will fall in the coming year.
I repeat what I said about 2012, “that does not mean a new economic slump (yet)”. I argued that “the history of US capitalism since 1945 suggests that, as the corporate rate of profit falls, eventually the overall mass of profit will peak and fall back. But it can take a lag of some three years or so. That suggests a new crisis of production in the US around 2014 onwards – but not yet.” That’s my key forecast again (help!).

The experience of 2012 confirmed my view that capitalism is really in a long depression similar to that of the 1880s and 1890s that is different from the ‘normal’ cycle of slump and recovery experienced say in the crisis period of 1965-82 or in the ‘boom’ period of so-called neo-liberalism of 1982-97.  I expect 2013 to do the same.

The other major reason for the continued depression “is to be found in the proximate cause of the Great Recession, namely the huge rise in debt or credit (or what Marx called fictitious capital) that delayed the underlying crisis in capitalist production and stimulated the unprecedented bubble in housing and property in the US and elsewhere.”

Some of this debt has been ‘deleveraged’ or liquidated over the last four years. In 2012, US household net wealth recovered in nominal terms (although in real terms, it is still well below that of 2007). The main reason was a reduction in debt (mortgage defaults) and a recovery in share prices (although that mainly benefits the rich).

While private sector debt (corporate and household) as a share of GDP fell, public sector debt ratios rose again in 2012. Since peaking in 2007, US household debt to GDP has fallen 7%, corporate debt is static, but government debt to GDP has jumped 50%. Debt owed to foreigners has also risen, so overall debt has actually risen by 9%. So some deleveraging in the capitalist sector but none overall.
The big debate among mainstream economists in 2012 was whether the policy of austerity adopted in varying degrees by governments was working to cleanse the economy of debt, or instead was making things worse. I covered this question in many posts during 2012. Those governments that adopted more severe austerity saw their economies do generally worse than those that were a little less draconian. But it was marginal. What drove the likes of Spain or Japan in 2012 into slump was not policies of austerity. In the case of the former, fiscal cliffs have only just started to be employed. In the case of the latter, fiscal expansion not austerity is on the agenda of the new conservative government.

But austerity will not go away because it is a necessary part of capitalist economic policy, not just a mad ideological binge, as Keynesians like to argue. As I said, this time last year, “Any increase in government spending begins to encroach on the private sector’s ability to make profit, both through increased taxation and also through competing with the private sector in various areas of investment. Of course, pro-capitalist governments bend over backwards to reduce that burden through cutting corporate taxes (and shifting the burden of taxation onto households and onto any spending by households). …But even so, over the long term, if government debt keeps rising or does not fall, it will become an albatross around the capitalist sector, reducing its ability or willingness to invest.  That is why debt matters, contrary to the view of the Keynesians, who see government spending (through borrowing or not) as the way out of recession.  “

To sum up, in 2013, economic growth in the major economies is likely to be much the same as in 2012 – pretty weak and below long-term averages. But 2013 is not likely to see a return of a big slump in capitalism. I do not expect the US to grow faster than in 2012 and Europe and Japan will struggle to grow at all. The key emerging economies may do a little better than in 2012, as China’s state-directed economy under new leaders invests more. But on the whole, it will be another poor year.  It’s going to take another nasty slump to get capital (both real and fictitious) looking ‘mean and lean’.  So the Long Depression will enter its sixth year with no prospect of respite yet. We are in uncharted waters.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Workers' Party and the Israeli elections

I want people in Cairo to know that in Israel there are revolutionaries seeking change. Social justice cannot exist without real peace. The protest movement is our hope, everyone's hope that here will arise, in the State of Israel, for the first time in history a political, social, economic alternative sane, human, fair, that knows how to be part of the region where it's located.

For 64 years we've lived in a ghetto. The time has come to get out of the ghetto! Israel has to stop isolating itself. You lie to us about something so important, about our very lives, about our lives, Jews and Arabs. Why? Why do you want to send us to die? So the tycoons will go on getting rich. So in the end they'll take our pension and gamble in the stock market. No! We say no! We'll bring down the wall of Occupation, the wall of racism, and the wall of violence. We want To be free in our land indeed, and our land is the entire world, and this world needs one unique answer, it needs a revolution!

My name is Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka and I'm from the Daam Workers Party.

Workers Party: Election platform for the 19th Knesset, 2013 (abridged) 18/12/2012 by Da'am Workers Party.

"As Israel goes to elections for the 19th Knesset in January 2013, two critical issues cry out for attention. The first is the political stalemate which will lead to a third intifada and a terrible confrontation with the Arab world. The second concerns the austerity program and drastic cuts to the national budget which will lead to unemployment, poverty and the collapse of public services. On one side, the Palestinians refuse to accept the occupation. On the other, a growing swathe of the Israeli population opposes the rampant capitalism that has taken over the country. The popular protests that erupted in the summer of 2011 are evidence that change is possible."

"The Daam Workers Party was actively involved in the protests, and struggles daily for social change among Jewish and Arab workers. Daam offers the Israeli public an agenda of revolutionary change around these two issues: an end to the occupation and the creation of a society based on equality and social justice. A solution to the Palestinian question and peace are preconditions for the creation of a just society in which a person’s ethnic background will not prevent her full participation in society. This blog is not affiliated to the Daam Workers Party."

We are sharing this for the interest of our readers. The full text of this program can be read here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wal-Mart will police Labor conditions at US suppliers.

 
Hundreds die at Wal-Mart supplier in Bangladesh
by Richard Mellor

What a New Year’s treat.  Low waged workers that are employed by subcontractors that supply retail giants like Wal-Mart will have a brighter future apparently.  Wal-Mart says it will monitor these subcontractors in the same way it police’s working conditions at its supplier’s factors around the world.

Wal-Mart insists that this auditing system will be “…similar to the one it uses to monitor overseas factories in places such as China and Bangladesh….”, the Wall Street Journal reports. When I was active in my Union, contracting out of services was something we fought hard to prevent as wages were lower, benefits non existent or slim and conditions in general not up to par. But having Wal-Mart corporation police working conditions is a sick joke, it's hard to imagine that such a development can be reported on without a barrage of responses from the heads organized Labor but we should be used to their deafening silence by now.

Wal-Mart has tried to avoid any responsibility for conditions in the supply warehouses saying that the logistics companies that it contracts with should be targeted.  The logistics companies pass the buck as well claiming that the staffing agencies they deal with are expected to comply with Labor laws.  Workers have complained about horrendous conditions in these warehouses, one group of workers at a warehouse in Mira Loma Calif. complained of temperatures of 125 degrees and that the staffing company that ran the place deducted wages for workers that demanded “safety goggles and dust masks.”  The suppliers have also been accused of arbitrarily withholding wages and overtime pay and of even denying proper medical care to workers suffering from heatstroke. 

The group Warehouse Workers United is backed and funded by the UFCW and other Unions that fund workers’ legal efforts and lawsuits.  The claim is that the UFCW has tried to unionize workers at Wal-Mart but failed.  This issue of why they fail is the question.  The UFCW leadership, like the entire leadership of organized Labor in the US accepts that concessions to the employers have to be made and has consistently offered their members wages and benefits up at the negotiating table.  Like all of them, they have also called workers out on strike for concessions, fewer concessions than the employer is demanding; not very inspiring. It is hard to motivate people around a program of concessions.  Their strategy fails because rather than mobilizing the millions of workers in this country around a fighting program and an offensive of our own, the tactics amount to relying on the courts on the one hand and electing a friendly Democrat on the other.

The conditions in retail and industries that we are talking about here are so bad that the strategists atop organized Labor feel that they can win important allies to the cause for organizing low waged workers and bring in more revenue at the same time. It’s hard to argue against someone increasing their pay to $10 an hour from $8 and most decent people are horrified at the thought of wages being withheld and safety concerns ignored. On top of this, many of these low waged workers are women and workers of color so the issue of racism and sexism can be used to draw in support from liberal groups who believe in equality and fairness for all, including the boss, they can accept us all being poor but don't discriminate.  Like the Union leadership they accept that wages and conditions at the higher end need to be driven down to accommodate the needs of “tough economic times”. We have to be realistic, but there is such a thing as fairness.

It is obvious to any thinking worker that we are in a war here.  Working hours, wages, conditions are all under assault as hedge fund managers and other coupon clippers rake in billions of dollars a year as this blog pointed out yesterday.  It is the power of a united working class movement that will change this situation. Bosses like the Waltons that own Wal-Mart and the others that are part of private equity groups or investment blocs (Bain Capital of Romney fame and Goldman Sachs have each owned Burger King for example) that invest in production will only respond to power.  GM, that swore a Union would never be accepted in its plants and that was one of the largest corporations in the world at one time changed its mind after workers occupied its factories and shut down production.  This is not a utopian dream, some glorification or desire for a lost past, it is what will work today. Strikes today are merely 24-hour protests, but if you can’t shut down production, you can’t win.

In the previous blog we pointed out the potential power of organized Labor which is a mere 12% of the workforce but at the time of the 1968 French General Strike when ten million workers occupied their workplaces only 10% of workers were organized.  Both coasts of the US can be shut down as I hinted at yesterday.  Wal-Mart can be shut down but not using the present methods and without demands and goals that are worth fighting for that can draw workers and our communities in to activity.  Truckers, airlines, the public sector, retail, all these sectors are under assault but workers have to see power in order to openly confront the boss especially one like Wal-Mart.  Even small community businesses can be won to our side with the right program, and if they see our power; they too are under assault. There is still a tremendous disdain and hatred for the rich and corporations in this country, especially since the onset of the Great Recession.

Within organized Labor the obstacle of our own leadership will inevitably be overcome, but we can hasten this development by openly challenging their concessionary, class collaborationist policies; but not by simply calling them names or blaming their obscene salaries and perks which are a secondary issue.  Ideological corruption is the culprit; they accept capitalism and worship the market.  By building fighting opposition caucuses in our locals that can offer an alternative and battle for the consciousness of the ranks and the working class as whole we can turn this tide; the times of middle ground and room to maneuver have passed.

Our greatest crisis is one of leadership

Friday, December 28, 2012

ILA strike averted, contract extended 30 days

by Richard Mellor

It seems a strike by East and Gulf Coast longshoremen has been averted temporarily through the intervention of federal mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).  The major sticking point has been the employers attempt to eliminate or cap payments made to longshoreman that were to compensate for job losses through automation, and containerization.

The payments are known as Container Royalties and the bosses are claiming these costs now amount to $15,000 a year for each worker at the ports.  The federal mediator announced today that, “The container royalty payment issue has been agreed upon in principle by the parties, subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement.” 

So now the bosses and the Union leadership have agreed to extend the ILA Master Contract 30 days beyond the December 29th deadline.  The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the bosses wanted to place caps on the payments and also eliminate them for “newer workers”.  Whether “newer” refers to those with low seniority or new hires is not clear the way it is phrased.

As they always do as some sort of reverence for confidentiality that prevents the members from knowing what is being discussed in detail as it happens, , the federal mediator stated that “….
negotiations will be continuing and consistent with the Agency's commitment of confidentiality to the parties, FMCS shall not disclose the substance of the container royalty payment agreement. What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement.”

The contract term under negotiations is six years as contracts become longer and longer in order to maintain Labor peace, and negotiations began in March.  In the last ten years container cargo at ILA operated ports has grown to 110 million tons from 50 according to the WSJ. Almost half of the country’s containerized maritime trade amounting to some $454 billion a year passes through Gulf and East Coast ports.  Retailers would be hard hit as would trucking companies as well as exports of manufacturing goods and agricultural products.

Not being in the industry it’s hard to tell but the usual procedure in these situations is that new hires get screwed, as I have mentioned many times before, they are in the unfortunate position of not being able to vote on contracts that harm them---they have no voice. The Union leadership generally presents the new deal that denies future workers the gains that took 150 years to win as a fait accompli and that’s that.  We have to be “realistic”.

The key language in the short announcement made public is “…subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement.”   What are the bosses demanding for their agreement to royalty payments “in principle”.
We all know through years and years of experience that the Union leadership comes to the table cap in hand seeking a fair and harmonious deal and with the understanding that concessions have to be made.  The issue is where the ax falls and new hires are generally the sacrificial lambs as well as younger workers with less seniority.

The Obama Administration has refused to say whether the President will invoke Taft Hartley if a strike occurs but we can be pretty sure he would.  US capitalism is not about to allow such an economic disruption to an already fragile economy.   Nations like China that export to the US would also feel the pinch.

What stands out is the tremendous potential power of this section of the working class.  Both the ILA and the ILWU could bring this economy to a complete halt.  The problem is that the Union officialdom cannot see any advantage going down that road.  We have had since the onset of the Great recession an uptick in Union activity and general social struggle from the Occupy Movement to Wisconsin events and independent struggles around housing, education, health care and in other areas. A strike of this nature that had an offensive as opposed to a defensive strategy could kick off the beginning of a national movement that would transform the situation and change the balance of class forces in this country.

But to do that would mean to confront this capitalist offensive, challenge it.  It would mean rejecting their view of the world and the idea that society cannot provide a decent living and secure existence. It would mean rejecting the “realism” of the bosses, a realism that leaves people homeless, without health care, without jobs and without a decent public education system. It would mean defying their laws that maintain this inequality and punishes those that oppose it. It would mean relying on the strength of all workers as opposed to their courts and their judges and their mediators.

It would mean refusing to shy away from the term class war, a term the bosses like to use only when we fight back but a war that exists day in day out with the 1% as the aggressors.  It would mean putting an end to $5 and $10 billion a year paydays for coupon clippers. It would mean recognizing that a class war already exists and having a strategy and tactics for winning it as we end wars that set us against other workers who have done us no harm, wars fought for the profits of the global corporations.

It would open the path to a democratic socialist society and it would certainly begin to reduce the alienation and despair that drives people to annihilate their entire family and themselves.  Fighting back always pays.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The fiscal cliff, Okun’s law and the Long Depression

Add caption
by Michael Roberts

President Obama and the Republican-held US House of Representatives are locked in a battle to find a way to overcome what has been called ‘the fiscal cliff’ that the US economy faces in the New year. The fiscal cliff describes the automatic rise in various taxes and reductions in government spending that will be applied from the beginning of 2013.

This is going to happen because there is a range of tax cuts and exemptions that the Bush administration introduced as ‘temporary’ measures and were designed to expire each year unless Congress renewed them. And there are other measures like exemptions from social security taxes for employers in order to keep people at work that also expire, as well as agreed automatic cuts in spending that will be imposed if the President and Congress cannot agree on a plan to control spending and reduce government debt for the rest of this decade.

If the fiscal cliff comes into play, it is estimated that it will cause a net increase and taxes and reductions in spending worth over $600bn, or 4% of annual GDP. The fear is that this is such a large hit to an economy growing at only 2% a year in real terms that, if allowed to take place, the US economy will be driven back into recession.

What is bad news for the average American household is that both the President and the Congress agree that the government’s annual deficit of spending over revenue and the level of federal government debt must be reduced. The difference between them is only over whether that should be done mainly by tax rises or spending cuts.

But even here the difference is minimal: the President does not want the expiring tax cuts to be renewed for those earning more than $250,000 a year while the Republicans want the tax cut to be renewed for all. This makes very little difference to the overall budget saving. It is really aimed at showing an electorate that has just returned Obama to office on a mandate to maintain key government services and make the very rich pay a fairer share that he will keep that promise.
Yet removing the Bush tax rate cuts for those earning over $250k a year affects no more than the top 2% of taxpayers. The most likely compromise is around $500k. So no more than the top1% will pay more in 2013 than they did in 2012.

Ironically, the Obama administration is proposing a long term budget plan that will mean a larger reduction in the deficit by 2020 than the Republican proposals! That’s because, although the Republicans want larger cuts in government spending, they want much lower tax increases. So, as under previous Republican presidents Reagan and Bush, the budget deficits would be higher than they were under Clinton or would be under Obama.

The Republicans want to decimate the main government welfare programmes, the so-called entitlement programmes of Medicare, medicaid and unemployment and social security benefits. These are already insufficient to meet the needs of America’s growing poor, disabled and elderly. Even so, they would save less than Obama plans because the Republicans don’t want to cut defence and home security spending.

The Obama proposals protect entitlement programmes and instead propose significant reductions in services in so-called discretionary spending like education, defence and general services like national parks, environment etc. For example, mental health services have been slashed under previous administrations and, as a result, seriously ill and dangerous people are carrying out more acts of mayhem like the Connecticut school massacre. And yet both sides plan more cuts in federal spending in these areas, while state budgets have already been annihilated.

Discretionary spending by the federal government is now at an all-time low and is set to go further. It will mean that the federal government will not deliver decent public services for Americans in this decade and beyond. It recalls the famous aphorism of radical Keynesian economist JK Galbraith of 1960s America’s ‘private affluence and public squalor’. Only now, even private affluence has dissipated for most Americans.

A shoddy compromise will be reached between Obama and Congress that will leave America’s pensioners, disabled, sick, unemployed and working poor worse off through this decade. So it was disturbing  to read in Paul Krugman’s NY Times column that he was agonising over whether Obama should accept a deal that ‘protects’ Medicare and social security payments at the price of reducing the protection of pensions and tax thresholds from annual inflation by switching the indexing from the consumer price index (CPI-U) to what is called the chained index (C-CPI-U).

U stands for urban consumers, 87% of Americans. The chained index has risen more slowly than the standard index because it tries to account for substitution of cheaper alternatives in the shopping basket. The impact of using the chained CPI would be to reduce annual increases in pensions and tax thresholds by 5% over 12 years, hitting living standards for average American households six times more than the rich. Over a course of an average retirement, future pensions would be reduced by 10%.

Some Keynesians appear ready to take this shoddy deal. Moreover, as Democrat economist Larry Summers revealed in a recent article in the FT, they do not even advocate a proper progressive income tax system where you pay a higher rate as your income rises or increased corporate tax, now at it lowest since 1945. Summers merely wants to tax inherited wealth a bit more and close various tax avoidance loopholes. None of these measures would help provide sufficient revenue to preserve government services or deliver greater ‘fairness’. (see How to fix a costly and unjust tax system, FT 16 December 2012)

And the debate between Obama and the Republicans over how to reduce government spending and debt has nothing to say on how to get the US economy growing faster and unemployment down. The sad truth is that if the US economy could expand in real terms by 3-4% over the rest of this decade, government deficit would narrow and debt would stop rising as a share of GDP enough to sustain pensions and Medicare in real terms and avoid the fiscal cliff. But there are no proposals on how to do that.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, now safe in his job after Obama’s election victory, has pushed on with a new programme of quantitative easing (QE) by intending to buy more government and mortgage bonds until unemployment falls from its current 7.9% rate to 6.5%. The Fed’s own estimates reckon that this would not be achieved until mid-2015, given weak economic growth. But even 6.5% would be a much higher rate than existed prior to the crisis in 2007, which never rose above 5%. To achieve even 6.5% by 2015 would require that the average job growth of the last year of 220k a month is sustained. If that monthly rate fell to 150K, the 6.5% target would not be met until 2018! Either way, US capitalism cannot restore employment to pre-crisis levels for the foreseeable future.

Okun’s law argues for the obvious relationship between real GDP growth and employment growth. A new paper finds that since the exit from the Great Recession, there appears to be a change in the relationship from prior to the crisis. Employment is currently 2.7% below where it should be. This is further proof that we are in a Long Depression different from normal slumps since the 1960s. There has been a permanent change in the magnitudes of Okun’s law for the US and it seems that 3m jobs have been lost forever. (Ferrara and Mignon, An assessment of the US jobless recovery through a non-linear Okun’s law).

Neither Monetarist nor Keynesian measures have provided solutions that raise the growth rate or restored employment back to pre-crisis levels. As a result, the austerity measures that are planned in any agreement on the fiscal cliff will not stop the government debt ratio rising – the purpose of the fiscal cliff.

The fiscal cliff is not some shock to the economy outside the control of policy makers. The decision to impose automatic spending cuts and tax rises is that of politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. There is no need to do it or introduce any further reductions in the real incomes of average households and public services.

As mainstream economist, turned radical, Jeffrey Sachs, put it in a recent article in the FT (Today’s challenges go beyond Keynes, 17 December 2012), “Unlike the Keynesian model that assumes a stable growth path hit by temporary shocks, our real challenge is that the growth path itself needs to be very different from even the recent past.”

Such a growth path requires a sharp rise in investment and a long-term strategy, says Sachs. He decries the failure to produce such a strategy by America’s political elite and argues for cooperation between government and the capitalist sector to do it. But while the profitability of investment in the productive capitalist sector decides employment and incomes of the majority, the Long Depression will continue until profitability rises sufficiently. So Sachs’ proposal is just as utopian as monetarist or Keynesian solutions to the current Long Depression.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pope: abortion and gay marriage "threat to world peace".

 Pope Benedict: “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,”

by Frankie Durr

The head of the Vatican state has been praying for hours for peace and other such things as popes have done for centuries when they haven’t been warring and colonizing, spreading Jesus’ word, or their version of it. The Vatican’s public relations managers tell him that the average person would love to have peace and more leisure time to go along with it.   The pope took note of this and in his Christmas message he definitely appears to be moving to the left, even calling for a shorter workweek telling the crowd, "The faster we can move, the more efficient our timesaving appliances become, the less time we have.

This subtle call for more leisure time is not all; “And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full,", the pope added.  Well, more leisure time would give people more time to go to one of his churches which would increase revenue, but we have to understand that the pope has to be careful how he phrases things otherwise he might lose the support of the hedge fund managers. 

But don’t cut him short.  When he says, that “…the more efficient appliances become the less time we have.” he is telling us that technology and labor saving devices because they are owned by the capitalist class are used to exploit us further, extract more surplus value from fewer workers while they throw those they don’t need on the dole.

The pope spoke eloquently from beneath his ermine fringed robe. I do not recall Jesus Christ being fond of ermine when I was involved in god worship as a kid but no matter, the pope seems to be moving to the left.  Let’s hope he supports this shorter workweek with no loss in pay.

I do have a few questions about Benedict’s approach though as I read more of his message.  When he said, "The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof?" I’m not sure who he is talking to.  The reason I say this is that most people in the world are homeless or near homeless, millions of us are refuges and millions more migrants due to being refugees or homeless. I mean, he appears to be talking to the homeless refugees and migrants and their attitude to themselves.  It’s a bit confusing.

Pope Benedict also called for societies to be built on justice and an end to the conflict in Syria.  I don’t know if he said anything about Afghanistan and Obama’s drone wars in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other parts of the world.  He called on Israeli’s and Palestinians to have the, "courage to end long years of conflict and division".   Hmm! I have a bit of a problem with this you see because I’m not sure it’s just an issue of courage.  And it would be helpful if the pope had mentioned that Israel’s approval of 5500 new illegal settlements on Palestinian land just in the last week might hurt the chances for any settlement at all.  I know throwing stones at Israeli tanks and bulldozers can dent the paintwork of these machines but he could recognize that there is a bit of a difference between the roles of the two sides here. 

And look, the pope did manage to have a go at the gays saying that gay marriage destroys the “essence of the human creature.” and that gay marriage, like abortion and euthanasia, is a “threat to world peace.”.  Oh dear, I’m not sure I agree with these remarks.  I think capitalism, Wall Street crooks and the thugs in the Pentagon are a greater threat to world peace than gay marriage.  As I read on I am not liking what I read; apparently the pope thinks paedophilia wasn't considered an “absolute evil” as recently as the 1970s.  Whaaat! When I was young I was taught that the pope was “infallible” that means he could not sin.  There’s no such thing as sin but I didn’t know that then. Could it be that the pope is saying this to cover up the horrific level of child sexual abuse in his organization?  I think this may be the case; in fact it gets worse as the pope claims that child pornography has been considered  “normal” in our society.  A Catholic victim of sexual abuse by one of the pope’s employees responded differently, “That is not normal. I don't know what company the Pope has been keeping for the past 50 years.” He says.

Perhaps, Der Spiegel, the German Magazine’s ongoing investigation in to the Pope's role in covering up sexual abuse by priests and allowing perpetrators to continue to work with children in the church has some merit.

I think I have to re-think my support for the pope’s call for a shorter workweek. And if you are still a member of the Catholic church and can’t bring yourself to leave it, please don’t ignore the cancer and consider trying in some small way to fight openly to change it like the Nuns on the Bus are doing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Indian protesters defy law as Manmohan Singh calls for "calm"

Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister is calling for calm as protesters defy bans and battle with police for a second day in response to the rape of a young woman by a number of men on a bus, including the driver. She is alive but on life support.So far six have been arrested including the driver.

The daily harassment and sexual violence against women is an epidemic in India often suppressed  until breaking out in New Delhi with these protests against such brutality.  The injuries to this woman are horrific.  The demonstrators are calling for more protection of women on the streets and tougher laws.  Most rapes are never reported due to the shame the victim feels, the culture around rape in Indian society and the failure of the authorities to deal with it properly.   There are 900 rape cases in in Delhi alone that are "waiting to be heard" the Wall Street Journal reports.

Calls for "calm" from government spokespersons whether from the mouths of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Putin or others are standard faire when the anger that people feel due to the violence and injustices of capitalist society turns in to mass action against the state. One politician in India not unlike his western counterparts claimed that 90% of rape allegations "involved consensual sex". We hear that all the time.  It's no wonder Marx was so reviled for attacking the so-called "sanctity" of marriage.  "To the moralist, prostitution does not consist so much of the fact that the woman sells her body but rather that she sells it out of wedlock.", wrote Emma Goldman.

Now the government attacks the protestors and wants to "enable dialogue." It wants "dialogue" on its own terms which means maintaining the status quo if they can.  The violence in India against the poor takes place daily amid incredible wealth.

These developments terrify the ruling classes of global capitalism.  The power of the masses terrifies them, they have to contain it at all times, stifle it, violently attack it in the name of calm and dialogue. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Epidemic of rape and harassment of women in India

Police beat and attacked protesters that erupted after the raping of a woman who was thrown from a moving bus after her ordeal. She is in hospital in critical condition. Here is an interview with one activist.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Newtown massacre and the debate about gun ownership

As to be expected, the local paper yesterday had yet more extensive coverage of the aftermath of the Newtown CT massacre and the need for gun control, in particular the banning of assault rifles. For the uninitiated, an “assault rifle” is one that is semi-automatic meaning that each time you pull the trigger, the spent cartridge is ejected and another shell enters the chamber while an automatic is a weapon that fires continuously as long as you have the trigger depressed.   It is simple to convert these types of weapons.

Politicians in San Francisco intend to introduce legislation banning hollow point bullets and require anyone buying more than 500 rounds at a time to register their purchase with the police.  The intent is to remove ammo “meant to cause extreme damage” the SF Chronicle reports although it would seem to me if one is forced in to a position to have to point a gun at someone and especially if they had to use it, causing extreme damage would be the intention.  Death is about as extreme as it gets I suppose. It is something no person under normal circumstances would relish doing, including in a war scenario, but war is not what we might consider a “normal” circumstance for most of us, neither should the conditions that some people live under.

“Ammunition specifically designed for law enforcement and the military has no reason to be in our homes and on our streets.”, says SF Mayor Ed Lee.  Knowing that the police are the only armed force in society is very reassuring to the relatives of the 28 black youth shot by police in the first three months of 2012 I’m sure; “Of the 28 killed people, 18 were definitely unarmed. 2 probably had firearms, 8 were alleged to have non-lethal weapons.”  One youth shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car and after being frisked twice

I lived in East Oakland, a few miles north of here for almost 20 years.  Much of East Oakland is referred to as the “killing zone” due to the homicide rate.  There have been 124 homicides this year according to Chip Johnson who has a regular column in the SF Chronicle.  Johnson laments that despite having no gun store, the city is “awash with guns”, many of them are brought in by dealers who buy them in Nevada and other areas, and cites police department statistics that show there were 530 shootings in the city where humans were the intended targets.  There have been 736 instances so far this year where vehicles or homes were hit and half of all shootings are never investigated according to data.  Many of those who have been moved to action by Newtown consider the tragic deaths of youth in Oakland just the way things are, it’s the normal situation---“just life in Oakland”.  There are no calls for massive state intervention in the form of jobs, education, infrastructure, to end this crisis.  Just the opposite, the cuts we are facing worsen these conditions. And as well intentioned as people may be, candlelight vigils won’t solve things either.

Alongside this report there is one about another innocent bystander in East Oakland shot by a stray bullet and Johnson makes it plain in his column that Oakland, despite California’s “tough gun laws” is proof they’re not working.  Elderly people, young children and babies have also been killed by stray bullets fired in the process of a robbery or internecine wars between various drug gangs. It is indeed tragic.

There is no doubt there is a crisis in US society that is related to homicides, particularly among black youth in the inner cities, most of these deaths are young black males shot by other young black males. The influx of hard drugs, especially crack cocaine in to the inner cities, is considered to have been a major factor in the increased gun violence over the past 20 years.  There are numerous sources that claim the CIA was responsible for the introduction of crack cocaine into the inner cities in this period and the injury and death rate among black males tripled.

But in these very same communities there is an even worse crisis and that is the economic one.  In August 2011 the black youth unemployment rate was 46.5% according to Business Insider.  Some put the unemployment rate in some urban areas as high as 80%. The BLS reported that more than half the black males between the ages of 12 ands 19 were unemployed in 2010.  US society has prison for these young people, prison and drugs. No matter what race religion or color you are, putting this many young people on the streets with nothing g to do and no chance of a job will lead to trouble.

Mass killings like those at Newtown and Columbine are more often than not committed by the children of middle or upper middle class families. Adam Lanza’s father is a GM executive.  We can discuss gun control all we like but there is more afoot here.  Lanza’s family had come apart.  That his mother would have assault rifles and other weapons lying around the house where a son with known emotional issues could lay his hands on them is questionable but of secondary importance. 

I am no expert on family life or human psychology.  But I do know that life in the US is an extremely stressful one.  There is very little security here and when hard times hit, you are very much on your own. The constant reminder that the individual is in control of their destiny overwhelms you.  I often wonder what it must be like to be 20 years old.  We cannot escape the world around us.  We are told we should own this car or have that job, buy those shoes if we want to be respected.  Success is the hedge fund manager, the business owner, the actor or the baseball star.  We must have these things but most of us never will.  If we don’t have them, it’s our fault. And there are no workers here, just watch Hollywood movies, if we are portrayed at all we are non-thinking stupid, beer drinking slobs. Look at the houses people have, the opulence, this is not America.

The pressures of a materialistic, individualistic, winner-take-all society destroy personal relations and family life.  This is true no matter what one’s social position and for the executive types the competition becomes fiercer and fiercer in the race to the top so it’s no wonder the family fragments.  Someone wrote recently that in capitalist society, and we’re in the belly of the beast in the US, alienation, depression and a sense of emptiness are normal reactions.  The US mass media, afraid to show a breast on television glorifies violence as young children watch endless hours of murder and mayhem.  The US military is heavily involved in the design and production of the extremely violent video games our young people play.  They are good training for the hand/eye coordination needed for modern warfare. You’ll be a good drone operator if you can master the video games. One study found that: "70% of nine- to eighteen-year-olds report playing violent M-rated (for Mature players seventeen and older) games."  and that 89% of video games were found to contain some violent content. This is what should be discussed in a serious way. *

The crisis in US society is a result of how society is organized; it is a crisis of capitalism.  The millions of people that have lost their shelter; the millions who have lost all due to medical needs, the disenfranchised youth in the inner cities that have no future but the prison industrial complex that houses more human beings than that of any other country and the thousands of people thrown out of the country’s mental health institutions only to end up homeless---this is what there needs to be a national debate about, followed by action. I have been involved in campaigns for renters’ rights and have been stunned at times by the horrific conditions many of the slumlords’ victims have to endure, many of them single mothers with children.  Let’s talk about that.

In the shadow of the Newtown tragedy, the politicians responsible for this social crisis are now calling for a debate about gun ownership and magazine capacity.  These same politicians have instituted policies domestically eliminating social services that kill and maim more children than tragedies like Newtown.  They have supported a foreign policy that has murdered hundreds of thousands of children in other countries in their defense of US corporations’ profits. Obama cries no tears for Pakistani or Afghani children his drones have wiped out. There are some 18 suicides a day among veterans from what I have read. What causes that, a high capacity clip?

No sensible person opposes serious background checks and other steps to prevent firearms from ending up in the wrong hands. But let’s not let them use the issue of gun ownership to obscure the real cause of the sickness that pervades US society, the crisis of capitalism and their worship of the market.

* http://law.wlu.edu/deptimages/Law%20Review/66-3WhitakerBushmanVideo.pdf

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

US Media having a field day with Newtown Killings: Politicians cover the bases

Another tragic scene too familiar in the US
The media madness after the mass killings in Newtown continues.  It is yet another unimaginable tragedy and we are filled with sadness for those whose loved ones died here.

The politicians that preside over the mass murders of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children around the world are concerned so they say. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who receives an "A" rating and no doubt lots of money from the gun lobby says the massacre means, "it's time to move beyond rhetoric". Manchin had  a campaign ad in 2010 that showed him firing a rifle, but notes now that assault rifles with large magazines aren't used for hunting.

Nick Rahall, another Democratic House member from West Virginia also loved by the gun lobby and one of the biggest recipients of NRA money tells the Wall Street Journal that "aggressive action" is needed and points to "gaps in our mental health system" and a prevalence of "violence in our culture."  He only "points" to the gaps in mental health system because it is unlikely he or anyone else will do anything about the fact that thousands of mentally impaired people wander the streets and sleep under freeway underpasses in this country. 

The right wing imbecile and "B" movie actor Ronald Reagan had a lot to do with throwing the mentally impaired on to the streets.  Vietnam veterans, and no doubt veterans of the more recent slaughters are also subject to mental illness, after all, war can make you sick if you're not Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or John Wayne who made millions from propaganda movies glorifying violence.

As we've commented in earlier blogs, the hypocrisy of Obama and other representatives of the corporations in the aftermath of Newtown is sickening.  Obama has waged a drone war abroad murdering thousands of innocent children.  He supports unconditionally the brutal and inhumane treatment of Palestinians and theft of their land by the Zionist regime and will, if need be, slaughter Iranians as well on behalf of the western energy corporations. 

Joe Lieberman, the arch Zionist and warmongering Senator has opened his mouth.  He is another character that supports the massacre and murder of Palestinians and their children.  It's hard to listen to anything this guy says but he told reporters after the Newtown shooting that "These events are happening more frequently and I worry that if we don't take a thoughtful look at them we're going to lose the hurt and the anger that we have now."

Call me cynical but I don't believe these people are experiencing "hurt and anger". I do not.  They are concerned about their political careers and their investments and the dominance of US capitalism.  Neither Lieberman nor Obama have made public statements condemning US foreign policy that has brought about the deaths  of hundreds of thousands of children throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Have they condemned Madeline Albright and her view that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children has been "Worth it?"  They have not because they are, along with their class colleagues, among the orchestrators of this foreign policy.

The NRA has remained silent, Wal-Mart, the largest US seller of guns and ammo has removed a website advertising a gun similar to the one used at Newtown and the California State Teachers' Retirement System is "reviewing" the $500 million investment it has with Cerebrus, the private equity firm run by billionaire coupon clipper Stephen Feinberg. Another dolt, Dan Quayle, is on the board of Cerberus---connections with political families are useful for business. They are scrambling for  cover, temporarily, they hope.  The NRA has been silent.

It is likely that the federal assault weapon ban that expired in 1994 will be renewed and large capacity clips will be banned or limited in some way.  But the constant massacres are beginning to concern them in a real way as these types of killings are of much more concern to most Americans than al Qaeda or foreign terrorists; Senate majority leader harry Reid said yesterday that the government must "accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens" and that a discussion needs to take place on "..how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow."

The problem is that violence is institutionalized in US society.  It is a very militaristic society.  It declares a "war" on everything.  The racist war on drugs is a disaster and has incarcerated over two million people, more than any country in the world.  The (in)justice system executes the mentally impaired and youth.  Hollywood produces endless films filled with violence and macho scenes yet you can't see a naked breast on television, the apparent escape of a nipple from Janet Jackson's dress has the authorities in an uproar and here we are in the porno capital of the world.  It is a running joke that so many Hollywood movies are constant violence and scenes of destruction that so many Americans are unable to sit through a movie with dialogue.

Then we have the video games that millions of young people play. Many of these are designed by the US military as they are good for hand/eye communication.  The problem with these movies and games is the violence is so emotionless. People kill and kill then go sit down have a coffee and chat with their girl; they feel nothing but it is a very traumatic thing to do for a "normal" person, kill someone.  Watch US TV.  and compare how many times guns are pointed at people compared to shows from other countries.  People barely flinch, act like it's nothing, but I have had guns pulled on me, it is a frightening experience.

I was also thinking today about the prevalence of these right wing Christian organizations.  They suppress critical thinking (you don't need to think if you know you're going to heaven); they support a murderous US foreign policy and promote patriotism and blind obedience to god and country.  After 911 the media was full of reports from experts about why these people did what they did. They "Hate us because of our freedoms".  How childish is this, but this was the line from the country's president and many politicians.  They were just "evil" men. I always say that in one sense, the US population is the first victims of US capitalism, we are in the belly of the beast here.  It is a very controlled society when it comes to the mass media, education and such.  A friend jokingly told me that Americans learn about a foreign country after the Pentagon has bombed it and they can see little maps on CNN showing where it is. There's tremendous isolation here.

We'll see where this goes.  But focusing on guns or no guns is a smoke screen.  The US is the worst country of the advanced capitalist countries to be poor in.  The ideology that you are responsible for your own condition is still quite strong so when people have worked hard all their life, done everything right only to see it collapse as they lose all including health care and shelter; they blame themselves and crack up.  The mentally ill who are walking the streets as the mental health services are cut often live under the radar until a schizophrenic out of his meds shoves someone under a train. But it is a credit to humanity that the vast majority of the people left to survive in the streets don't hurt anyone, don't commit violence on a daily basis.  Simply being homeless is enough to make one sick.  On top of all this, more than any other capitalist economy, we live in a 24 hour marketplace, we can't escape it; we must buy, buy, buy and consume the things they tell us we need to be somebody. There's a lot of powerlessness here.

Limiting magazine sizes, banning assault rifles, this will not solve America's problem.  We are supposed to accept, as comments form a reader pointed out the other day, that killings in the ghettos among the poor and people of color is "normal", we are supposed to accept and can always move out if we have the money, but this too is a country not "protecting its citizens" but the Newtown killings are not poor people, not people of color, its more their base of support.  I would love to be wrong but I cannot see them doing much around mental health either as this would be theraputic and here they respond with repression.  My guess is that repression will take first place again, laws that punish as capitalism continues its mad scramble for profits.

Japan election: lowest turnout since records began

by Michael Roberts

Japan’s main centre-right pro-capitalist party, the Liberal Democrats (LDP), under Shinzo Abe has won a landslide victory in Sunday’s general election for the lower House of Representatives.  So the party that was invented by the Americans after the second world war to consolidate capitalist democracy in Japan and has held power for most of the succeeding 65 years, has been returned again after four years of being in the wilderness.

What excites the media is that the LDP and its junior coalition partner, the Komeito, have probably enough seats to obtain a two-thirds majority in the lower house.  That means the government can ensure that its policies cannot be blocked by the upper house Senate, where the Democratic Party (DP), the defeated government party, holds a majority.  The DP has been resoundingly defeated as the electorate have been hugely disappointed by the failure of the DP to carry out its promises of cleaner, less bureaucratic government and an end to the stagnation of the economy (called the ‘lost decades’) that Japanese capitalism has experienced since the end of the 1980s.

For the electorate, the DP turned out to be even worse than the LDP, as the economy juddered under the shock of the global economic slump, the tsunami and the risk of nuclear calamity.  The DP just proposed more taxes and government spending cuts and its leaders bickered, leading to three prime ministers in four years.

But the media’s focus on the LDP’s likely huge majority means that it has missed a much more significant fact from the election.  The estimated turnout is an all-time low since figures were kept in 1890!   The voter turnout is estimated at 59.52%, below the previous record low of 59.65% in the 1996 election and the post-war record high in the 2009 election of 69.3%.  I dug up the figures from the Japanese government and the decline in voter support in this election has been particularly awful this time especially if you consider that elections before 1945 were dubious, to say the least.
Japan voter turnout
There is no space or time now for me to consider why Japanese capitalism has been such a miserable failure over the last 30 years.  But let’s look at the key Marxist indicators for now.  The great rise of Japanese manufacturing after the second world war was driven by a very high rate of profit.  That rate fell fast during the 1960s and the Japanese ‘miracle’ came to an end in the mid-1970s.  After the first worldwide post-war economic crisis of 1974-5, Japan began to struggle.  Japan’s annual economic growth was 3.8% from 1974 to 1990, compared with 9.2% from 1956 to 1973.  Japanese capitalism had exhausted its reserve army of cheap labour and a rising organic composition of capital kept profitability low.
Japan rate of profit
Japanese capitalism now tried to boost that profitability by looking for higher profits in unproductive sectors like real estate and finance in a forerunner of the great credit boom that the US and Europe entered after 2002.  Japan’s credit bubble burst in 1989 in a similarly disastrous way as in the global financial crash of 2007-8.  Japan entered a recession that also coincided with a worldwide slump in 1990-1. But while the other major capitalist economies made a relative recovery after that slump, Japanese profitability declined further during the 1990s.

The main reason seemed to be an unwillingness on the part of the ruling elite in the banks, big corporations and government to entertain a deleveraging of the over extended financial sector.  Just as the US and European governments did in 2009, they got the taxpayers and the state to bail out the banks and the big institutions.  As a result, Japan was left with a huge public sector debt that weighs down on the productive sectors of the economy, sucking up new value and savings (as a proportion of national output, public debt is more than double that of the Europe and the US).  Japanese capitalism became zombie capitalism.

In 1998, Japan’s political elite tried to ‘reform’ under a neo-liberal prime minister Koizumi who opted for the restructuring of the banks, privatisation of state agencies and higher taxes.  This produced a short revival in profitability, at the expense of average living standards, reduced pensions and worse work benefits.  The electorate then hoped that the new Democratic Party, an amalgam of former socialists, social democrats and liberals would be a new  beacon to clean up Japanese politics, end corruption and restore growth.  But the triple whammy of earthquake/tsunami, nuclear and global economic crisis knocked Japanese capitalism over again.  By 2010, Japan’s nominal GDP was lower than that of 1994.

Now huge numbers of voters have become disillusioned with all parties and we have this all-time low turnout.  The LDP is back in the saddle, pledged to spend more on government projects, not to raise taxes, boost exports by devaluing the yen, to restore the nuclear facilities, raise military spending and act ‘tougher’ with China.  Indeed, the same old tired policies of the last 30 years.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A US ambassador's tough life. Botswana? "No thanks."

US ambassador's UK home
by Richard Mellor

All this talk of "Government by the people for the people" sounds good, but "which" people are we talking about is important to understand.  "The people" are not all equal in a class society such as ours. I had some guy tell me the other day that he was a capitalist but there's no "capitalist class" so I guess the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Round Table and the National Association of Manufacturers has a huge percentage of its membership that get a wage check every two weeks or so, you know; plumbers, retail clerks, teachers.  The IMF and World bank boards are full of working folk too no doubt.

Let's see, I wonder if I could become the US ambassador to the UK.  I'm originally from there and know a bunch of folks back there, some good dart players too.  I used to work in a glass factory once so know a bit about assembly work as well as sewer construction. It seems I'll have a bit of competition though.  The leading contender for that job is Anna Wintour the editor in chief of Vogue Magazine. According to Business Week Magazine, she raised $500,000 for Obama and "inspired the Runway to Win" fashion line, the Obama handbags and other important stuff that brought in $40 million more.

Wintour getting the plum job isn't guaranteed either. Obama's national finance chair, Matthew Barzun who married an heir to the Kentucky bourbon fortune and Marc Lasry, a coupon clipper (Hedge fund manager) who raised more than $200.000 for Obama are alos in the running.  I wonder as a retired backhoe operator if I might have a chance, especially as I didn't even vote for Obama.

Thirty one percent of US ambassadorships are political appointees according to The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) with the rest being career diplomats.  The best, most lucrative, go to the political appointees.  The present ambassador to the UK is Louis Susman, an investment banker.  Having these rich folks as ambassadors in the wealthier countries is important as the budget allotted to these embassies does not cover all the parties and expenses so the wealthy cough up a million or so of their own money.  "Just filling the flower vases for the embassy in London is very expensive." Tex Harris, the former president of the AFSA says.   The current president, Susan Johnson defends the lavish parties and gatherings that are necessary to help spread peace and democracy throughout the world noting that spending taxpayer money on lavish parties has "always been a sore point for people who misunderstand that this is work, it's not play."

What heroes these representatives of ours are.  Spending their own hard-earned money expecting nothing in return but the welfare of millions of American workers as they help build a peaceful and stable global community.  The UK ambassador has lots of room to hold such events too, a 12-and a half acre estate in London.  Italy's not bad either coming with a villa and a 5000 bottle capacity wine cellar.

These diplomatic expenditures are necessary, "..in the hopes of encouraging conviviality and commerce between their countries" BW writes noting that through a US government "...art in embassies" program they can adorn the walls of their establsishmen with the finest art from US museums.

This is diplomacy in action, sacrificing all for the welfare of others.  Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is under what amounts to house arrest in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and Bradley Manning is fighting for his life after being tortured and imprisoned in the US  for releasing cables sent between embassies that revealed a dark, dishonest and seedy side of this phony diplomacy. In other words, for sharing with the rest of us what these folks are actually doing.

What we have is a government by the capitalist class for the capitalist class.  As these representatives of the coupon clippers maintain their ability to plunder the resources of the global community with catastrophic consequences for human life and the environment, one US politician explains that the competition among billionaires for a US ambassadorship is "like paying $25 million to go in to space......it's a fun thing to do."

The world is their playground as they say.

Newtown slaughter, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Drones.

It is a tragedy what happened in Newtown Connecticut, 28 people dead, 20 of them children. I cannot watch it for a number of reasons. One is the sorrow I feel for the children and their families and genuine sympathisers. Then there is the hypocrisy of the rest of the squads that are flocking to the area. The wimp Obama  in the lead. These tragedies must end he bleats. But even though he is in his last term and does not have to win re-election he backs away from taking on the NRA. Then the mass media the same. I am not in favor of taking away the right of working class people to own a gun, this would leave only the capitalist state and the rich armed, but I am in favor of two things.

But before we go on to an alternative let us think about a missing detail that is not being discussed at this time of Newtown. Drones. Obama weeps about Newtown but the US government is slaughtering people, children, women and men in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Leave aside Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. CNN estimates that 400 targeted killings have been carried out in these three countries and 3,000 people have died overall. In Pakistan alone Obama ordered over 280 drone strikes, that is over 6 times more hits than Bush in his 8 years. Living under a drone war is living under "mass collective torture." The US has a secret kill list. This is intended to go on. As one CIA killer said the thing about drone attacks is it is like using a lawn mower, when you have finished the grass grows again so you have to mow again.

Back to the approach to gun ownership in the US. As I say i am not in favor of taking the guns away from everybody as this would leave only the capitalist state and the rich armed. They would use these weapons to put down the working class. But I am in favor of sensible procedures for people to buy guns and a restriction on the number of guns per person, perhaps two per person and the types of guns. And a restriction on the size of cartridge. This would slow things down a bit.

On top of that a background check for all that is comprehensive. Even over 70% of the NRA members want all to have background checks. But background checks should be more than just state of mind. There are economic factors, social factors, records of violence all should have to be taken into account.

Guns in society are not inevitable pathways to violent societies. in Switzerland everybody owns a gun and has to be able to shoot. But it is one of the least violent countries in the world. Why. Because it has a high living standard, its has very good social standards, housing and health care and education. People have a place for themselves and a certain stability even though it is a capitalist country.

The US on the other hand has mass poverty. It has mass racist and sexist division as the extreme wealthy whip up division to hold on to their wealth through divide and rule and repression. It also has many many people severely damaged through the countless wars it has fought to defend the loot it has plundered from other countries and is still looting, for example the oil, gas, and other wealth from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Latin America.

It also has the extreme glorification of violence. The mother of this young boy who is said to have done the shootings bought the guns and taught him to shoot herself. Incredible!!!!!  Then he shoots her first.

Then you have the video games where it is pretty much shootins and blowings up non stop. Then you have the movies where unless somebody or somebodies are blown up in the first few minutes and then regularly throughout they are thought to be unwatchable. Who did the thugs at the Republican conference bring to talk to them. Make My Day Eastwood, best known for the scene where he tries to provoke his victim into doing something so he as a cop could kill him. If this is not glorifying violence I do not know what is. As I say incredible.

A thoroughgoing transformation of society is all that can end the violence in this country.  The 1% must stop holding the wealth and holding down the 99%. The only way that the violence will end in the US is by changing society. By a mass movement of the working class which will fight for a better life for all. This is the only way.

Sean.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Oops!. Ten kids killed in Afghanistan. Thank you Bradley Manning.

Oh, well, looky here. I read tonight that a land mine in Afghanistan killed ten young girls.  Two others were killed in a land mine explosion. These silly girls were collecting firewood and one of them, perhaps the most "silly" hit the land mine with an axe.

The media says that most of those killed were between nine and eleven.  These unexploded devices are  a major problem in Afghanistan.  Most of these weapons were manufactured in the US.  We can be proud that we, the US, is the largest arms manufacturer in the world producing more weapons of mass destruction than the rest of thew world combined.

As a matter of fact, we feel compelled here to remind our readers of Bradley Manning, imprisoned, tortured and even faced with the death penalty.  He decided, as a matter of conscience, to releease, to share with the world and millions of us as Americans, a rather disturbing video of what our tax money and our troops were doing in Iraq.  This young man, a hero when you think about it, was doing us all a favor when he released this video. After all, we are supposed to live in a democracy and all Americans should be apprised of what out government is doing. This is what he released to the world.

.

Commentary on "The mass killings in Newtown"

by Jack Gerson

Some of you may have already read the piercing comment that Gary (one of this blog's regular readers) wrote in response to Richard Mellor's "The mass killings in Newtown, Conn. have deep social roots".  Gary's comment really resonated with me. Here's Gary's comment in full, followed by a bit more from me:


I would like to add to some of your fine posts here. I grew up 5 minutes down the road from Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. My home town, where my parents still live is Monroe, CT. The next town over.

A couple of brief points I want to get off my chest.

I acknowledge this as a horrible, horrible tragedy.

Now, down the road about 20 minutes from Newtown is a former industrialized city named Bridgeport CT where youth are threatened by gun violence on a near daily basis. And at least 17 murders have occurred this year alone. This pattern repeats itself year after year after year.

Unfortunately, the national media and political figures do not speak much about the violence that occurs in Bridgeport and I hate to say such a thing but I live here and I know that people in the surrounding suburbs accept the violence there as "normal"...nothing can be done.

The multinational corporations in the area have long since abandoned the average worker in Bridgeport. General Electric being just one of an incredibly long list of such companies to leave the residents there in very desperate poverty.

It is well past time to demand that every member of society have decent housing, productive work and a secure retirement. It is well past time to insist that guns be made illegal in the united states. It is well past the time to demand that huge mulitnational corporations be forced to fulfill a role to society in every country where they do business that goes beyond only profits.

The tragedy in Newtown should lay bare all that is completely dysfunctional with unbridled capitalism and change must occur. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

Gary makes an essential point. While in no way diminishing the grief and loss of the parents and community in Newtown, nor lessening the tragedy of so many lives being snuffed out when most had barely begun, it is a fact that across the U.S., every year, thousands of adolescents -- and children -- in communities like Bridgeport die violent deaths. This is the case in the low-income, working-class and poor communities in every urban area, and especially so for black and Latino youth. And the reactions are invariably what Gary encounters in Bridgeport: "... people in the surrounding suburbs accept the violence there as 'normal' ... nothing can be done." 

 I have found this to be very much the pattern in Oakland, California. For years, I taught at Castlemont High School, located in one of the poorest communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, in "Deep East" Oakland, violence is an everyday occurrence. Most students had close friends or relatives who had been killed in the neighborhood. One time, the school was sprayed with bullets from a passing car -- two students shot in the face, one paralyzed for life. Another time, someone fired a high-powered rifle from off-campus into a classroom during school hours (fortunately, noone was hit). And every year, several times a year, the school would go on "lockdown" because of a shooting in the area.

The response among the more affluent, and in the mass media, hasn't been, "Let's address the underlying problems of social inequality, the poverty and racism victimizing this community every day." No, rather, it has been "Oh, that's just Castlemont. That's just East Oakland. That's normal for 'them'. Can't do anything about that. And since we can't do anything about it, let's ease the city's 'budget crisis' by making still more cuts." So this racist, blame-the-victim attitude is used as an excuse to exacerbate the grinding poverty and  social inequality that underlie the despair and violence,  in turn making the despair and violence worse still. Thus, only a few weeks after Castlemont was shot up by drive-by gunmen, the Oakland school district laid off the school's librarian and permanently closed the library; eliminated all of the school's vocational programs (although they were self-funding and had helped hundreds of students to find jobs in an area where the unemployment rate for blacks under 25 is over 50%); eliminated academic electives (e.g., French) and made cuts to others (science; history). Cuts were made to clerical, custodial, and teaching staff. It is a textbook case of  blaming the victim to deepen the victimization.

There's one thing in Gary's overall excellent comment that I'm not sure I agree with. That's where he writes, "It is well past time to insist that guns be made illegal in the united states." While I don't like the free availability of semi-automatic weapons, and while the overall level of violence in the U.S. certainly is cause for pause, I fear that a "War on Guns" will be used in much the same way as the "War on Drugs". The latter has had little effect on the availability of drugs on the street. But that's not its real target. Indeed, it has increased instability and, especially, police harassment in low-income black and brown communities across the U.S. It has been used to criminalize a whole generation of black and brown youth, to effectively reinstitute, what Michelle Alexander calls "The New Jim Crow". I fear that a U.S. "War on Guns" will be turned in much the same way -- as an excuse to increase police harassment and violence, to facilitate still more incarceration of especially black youth, to increase fear and hopelessness in low-income communities.

And let's not forget: the teary-eyed Barack Obama, who is so concerned about wanton gun violence, devotes every Tuesday morning to reviewing and modifying the lists of "terrorists" around the world to be assassinated by drone missiles. So I guess I am for some form of gun control after all: disarm and destroy the U.S. nuclear and drone arsenal; shut down all foreign military and CIA bases; withdraw all U.S. troops; crack down on weapons exports from U.S. arms manufacturers. That would be a start to getting at the root causes of violence in the U.S.