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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Make-believe civil war

I've been waiting for someone to point out the obvious about Libya:

There is no battle between "rebel forces" and the Libyan military.

NATO bombs a Libyan position, the Libyan military evacuates - temporarily - and then a rag tag bunch of poseurs flood in, get their pictures taken pretending to be soldiers by a bunch of idiot journalists and/or CIA media people and then run off when the Libyan military comes back.

John McCain told reporters today that meeting these guys was "one of the most inspiring moments of his life" which re-enforces the idea that the 2008 presidential "election" was a choice between Clown-Liar #1 and Clown-Liar #2.

I guess the plan is to "help" the "rebels" one small step at a time until we're in there up to our elbows.

The last guy to have a major hard on for Libya was a former corporal with a funny mustache named Adolf. I guess there's not that many variations when it comes to trying to take over the world.

Looking for oil is risky and expensive, so it requires huge capital and technical expertise. Lybian national oil companies have neither and so rely on the American and European oil companies to finance the oil extraction and export.

Most of the money they earn is spent elsewhere and their sphere of activity remains confined within the Lybian borders.

So despite expulsions, revolution and nationalisation, the renewal of Lybian oil ties to major oil companies is inevitable, with or without Gaddafi.

So what we see now is that it is more cost effective for the major oil companies to back rebel forces in Lybia and the Ivory Coast causing social and political unrest and eventually a regime change than it is to fund increasingly expensive and risky explorations in developed countries where environmental issues may block oil development.

With the corporations funding rebel uprisings in resource rich countries and the media going along with it and framing the unrest as a desire for a democratic form of government, add one or more international military powers (US, NATO, etc.) to oversee and justify the military involvement, and you have a situation like Lybia and very shortly the Ivory Coast providing a cheaper alternative for the exploitation and profit for oil than traditional explortation expenditures.

Do You Get It?

More truth than fiction?

This clip came from the movie "Wag the Dog" but it is more truth than fiction.

For all practical purposes, there are no Libyan rebels. As much as a whack job as Gaddafi is (and he is), for an Arab dictator he treats his people pretty well and they mostly tolerate him.

So where are the rebels coming from?

The news media/CIA.

Some undeniable evidence:

1. LOOK at the pictures

What do you see?

Two or three guys standing around with AKs cheering...a guy sitting in a pick up truck with a large caliber machine gun attached...a close cropped picture of a guy sitting it what might be a tank...shaky footage that at the end of the day shows nothing.

And that's it.

I defy you to show me even one image that you couldn't manufacture in 5 minutes flat in your own home town. Just wrap a scarf around your head and grab a hunting rifle. Instant rebel.

2. The UTTERLY bogus "social media" war

Ya gotta love social media.  If it's on Twitter or YouTube then it has to be true, right?


Also consider this: YouTube has been turned off in Libya...yet the "rebels" are able to post massive quantities of shaky video footage (which shows nothing) up without trouble.

You ever been out in the field with people firing at and bombing you? Do you think you'd have the time to find an Internet connection, override the YouTube block and upload video. Maybe, but probably not.

Manufactured rebels to justify invasion to take the oil- and take out someone who would not support US-Israel attacking Iran.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And Now, For The Kill

By David Michael Green
Smirking Chimp
April 11, 2011

One of the more interesting developments in American history is something that actually didn't happen. But if one wants to gain some appreciation of the degree to which our public sphere has deteriorated over time, it's worth remembering this non-event.

When Dwight Eisenhower came to the presidency in 1953, it was the first time in an entire generation that a Republican had held the office. Prior to that time, the GOP had led the country into unparalleled economic destruction, refused to do anything about the nightmare they'd created, lost five presidential elections running, and sat on the sidelines while Democratic presidents guided the US through a few slightly consequential events like the Great Depression, World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.

The American Constitutional system - with its potential for divided power - isn't so big on the notion of responsible government (as one finds in parliamentary systems), where authority, and thus responsibility for outcomes is clearly assigned to a given actor or political party. Nevertheless, we got pretty close to it in 1953, with the exhaustion of Democratic governance, the repudiation of Harry Truman, and the Republican Spring led by the grey, seemingly-above-politics new president, General Eisenhower.

What's important here is what could have happened, but didn't. The character of American government had changed radically - the most in the country's history - during the two decades since Herbert Hoover had been in office. It was now much bigger in size, it did a lot more things than it used to do, and the federal government had usurped responsibility for policy domains formerly primarily in the hands of the states. Most importantly, the ethos underscoring the relationship between the American people and their government had completely changed. In the past, that relationship had been one characterized chiefly by libertarianism, on the one hand, and oligarchical corruption on the other. With the New Deal, the government was for the first time in the business of serving the public interest and providing Americans a much-needed social safety net. In short, the American welfare state was born.

These changes had been completely contrary to the politics of the Republican Party, and especially to the politics of the plutocrats in American society (for whom the GOP had long prior become an interest-serving vehicle). They saw Roosevelt as a "traitor to his class", and they hated him so much they couldn't even spit out his name. They actually referred to him as "that man".

All of this is relevant and significant because the GOP had a choice to make in 1953. With their hands on the levers of power for the first time in a long time, they could have undone the New Deal. Some in the party wanted to do so. But by that time both Ike and the bulk of his party had left behind the Neanderthal tendencies of the pre-FDR days and had moved to the center-right. Eisenhower famously discussed his position - and that of others in the GOP - in a 1954 letter to his brother: "Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Ah, how very quaint such sentiments now seem in retrospect. Weren't those just the days, back when even Republicans sorta had a heart with a detectable pulse? Now we live in a very different place. It is a place of destruction and despair. An abattoir where the little people go - all 99 percent of the country, let alone the fully dispensable "human resources" found outside our borders - to be sacrificed on the altar of unparalleled greed.

But that's just the beginning of the story. We'd be in bad enough shape if it were only Republicans out to destroy us. Then there's the "Democrats", including the "socialist" leader of the party, Barack Obama. If we're remotely honest about it, we'd have to acknowledge that today's Obama, the former anti-war community organizer, is to the ideological right of yesterday's Dwight Eisenhower, former five-star general, leader of the Normandy invasion, commander of NATO and head of the Republican Party. As today's worst elements of the Republican Party (that is, almost all of them) seek to do exactly the things that Eisenhower called "stupid", there is Obama, facilitating their efforts.

There are the Democrats, continually adding to the pile of tax giveaways for the rich, and therefore adding to the pile of debt which is now being used as a cudgel to force cuts on essential government services, programs despised by the oligarchy since the beginning. There are the Democrats, continually adding to the pile of stupid Middle Eastern wars being fought using resources so scarce that medical care must now be cut for the poor and elderly. There are the Democrats going even further than Republicans in smashing civil liberties and shredding the Bill of Rights. There are the Democrats, as absolutely unwilling as Republicans to remotely face the very real planetary peril of global warming. There are the Democrats, continuing to promulgate the failed Bush education policy of No Child Left Behind.

There are the Democrats, turning yet again to corporate 'solutions' to health care, which enrich parasitical insurance companies but do nothing for sick people other than to deny them care. There are the Democrats (led by a black man, no less!), joining the chorus of Jesus Freak freaks in denying civil rights to gays.

I think the conservative Eisenhower would sooner have become a German storm trooper than a modern Democrat, let alone a Republican - and on far too many days I'm not sure I can see the difference.

I got a letter this week from my good friend, Barack. I call him by his first name because his note was addressed to "David" and signed "Barack". I guess we're old pals, though in my dotage I seem to have neglected to notice that the most powerful and prominent man on Earth somehow became my personal bud-bud. It was a letter to announce that he was launching his 2012 campaign for reelection. He seemed to be laboring under the misconception that I give a shit. He also seemed to think I hadn't heard.

In fact, the media reported that Barack launched his campaign by announcing it over Twitter, that network of abbreviated bursts of inanity which is ground zero for our national epidemic of narcissism. I think that is totally appropriate that he would make such a momentous announcement in that fashion. Not, mind you, because he's a cutting-edge sort of fellow, mobilizing the new social media technology for political purposes. But, rather, because that particular outlet of that medium speaks so perfectly to the impossible lightness of being that is our President Tweet.

Anyhow, Barack wrote to tell me that he wants to do a big old grass roots campaign again next year, one that doesn't start with "expensive TV ads", but with me - "with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends". Now those would be some brief goddam conversations, I can tell you. "Hey neighbor, let's do some organizing for Obama, 'cause he capitulates so gracefully!"

"Hey co-worker, would you like to pay more taxes so that rich people can contribute even less than they already do? Let's give Barack another term!" I don't think so.

Then he let me in on a little Team Obama secret that, "In the coming days, supporters like you will begin forging a new organization that we'll build together in cities and towns across the country. And I'll need you to help shape our plan as we create a campaign that's farther reaching, more focused, and more innovative than anything we've built before. We'll start by doing something unprecedented: coordinating millions of one-on-one conversations between supporters across every single state, reconnecting old friends, inspiring new ones to join the cause, and readying ourselves for next year's fight."

Wow! That's awfully flattering. The President of the United States - ol' Potus himself - wants my help in shaping his plan to create a people-driven, grassroots campaign for "the cause" of giving him a second term. If only I didn't have other plans for, gosh, well, the entirety of every waking minute in 2012. Looks like, for some reason, that project he has in mind is going to be a big job, too. He goes on to tell me that, "We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily. [Oddly, I don't remember this campaign slogan from 2008.] It never does. But as my administration and folks across the country fight to protect the progress we've made - and make more - we also need to begin mobilizing for 2012, long before the time comes for me to begin campaigning in earnest."

There's that word "fight" again. Ol' Barack, he's a real fighter, eh?! At least now that there's an election where something that he wants is at stake. I noticed that he didn't really seem to fight for anything during his first two years in office, least of all for anything progressive. Even his health care legislation, which is only partially progressive on a good day, didn't seem to inspire any spunk from the president. Did you ever get the feeling that he wanted it real bad? Do you remember him ever pushing the public to rally hard behind this national necessity, making the urgent case for how it would make the country better off, in the same way that, say, Reagan or Bush pushed hard for their beloved tax cuts, or their wars based on lies? Do you even remember Obama standing up to the insane lies told about him and his legislation, the death panels and government rationing and socialism cant, and so on? For that matter, do you remember Obama ever even defining what shape his own signature bill had to take? Single payer? Public option? Money for stethoscopes?

Predictably, a president who stood for nothing during a period of multiple crises got routed in the midterm election. Even still, did it seem to you like he cared very much about that? I'm starting to develop a new theory about Obama. In 2008 I thought he might be a progressive. Then I thought he was such a wimp that it was just easier for him to capitulate at every turn, rather than to fight for progressive values. Now I think he's truly regressive in his politics, and is purposefully altering his operating environment to allow him to pursue those policies while still remaining the nominee of a party that's supposed to be devoted to the people's interests. "Golly", he can say to stupid Democratic voters, "I really wanted to be progressive on [Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, health care, education, gay marriage, the budget, the economy, the environment, civil liberties, whatever] but those mean right-wingers won't let me. And now there's even more of them than there used to be! What can I do but give in even more?" It's a perfect formula for anyone with those priorities. Regressivism begets more regressivism, under cover of the long shadow of a genuinely liberal Democratic Party, thirty years dead.

Meanwhile, the current condition of the United States is fantastical, the stuff of legend, the kind of absurdity that no one would find credible enough to buy were it presented as a work of fiction. We have genuine crises, but we ignore them. Instead we squabble about non-issues, while the ship of state rapidly sinks. And who is squabbling? The far left versus the far right? The reds against the blacks? We should be so lucky. No, it's this faction of political whores carrying water for the oligarchy versus that almost identical faction of political whores carrying water for the oligarchy. Meanwhile, the only seemingly assured ticket to electoral success in our political system on any given day is to have enacted failed policy ideas the day before. And, most bizarre of all, no one will seek to reward the depredations of the political class more rapidly than those who are its victims.

Wonderland would seem to Alice quite the paragon of rationality by comparison.

The current budget brouhaha is only the most recent and obvious example of this political pathology par excellence. Think about it. Here's the real version of what has happened: A decade ago, the United States had the greatest budget surplus ever recorded in human history. Then the regressives came to power. They quickly slashed tax revenues, especially from the rich, borrowing like crack addicts in order to pay for their profligacy. They meanwhile spent gigantic sums on wars based on lies, on hugely increased military spending apart from the wars, on a new Medicare benefit which they insisted on setting up in a way that massively benefitted insurance and pharmaceutical corporations rather than the federal treasury, and on general pork barrel spending, thus driving the national debt up dramatically further, and creating the world's greatest ever deficits. Let me repeat, it was the GOP who did this. Now these very same people are falsely claiming an electoral mandate to slash spending, screaming that borrowing is an urgent problem which must be addressed at all costs. At the same time, they continue each year to further slash revenues coming in to the government, massively exacerbating the very problem they claim to desperately want to solve.

Their solution is to cut spending on essentials for poor people and the middle class. They have completely taken any form of tax restoration off the table. They won't dream of reducing military expenditures, which are bloated to an absurd degree. They cannot contemplate allowing the government to buy way cheaper drugs from Canada, or negotiating a bulk price discount for those drugs, let alone rescinding their (socialist) prescription drug benefit plan. They would never accept a reduction in the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on corporate welfare each year for agricultural or sugar or oil or other industries.

Instead, they're right back at us again, with more of exactly the same formula.

Wisconsin's Paul Ryan continues his (only in ueber-Wonderland) multi-year run as a media darling, some sort of budgetary guru, some sort of brave truth-teller. He this week released a ten-year plan that is, in fact, astonishing for how cowardly and dishonest it is. It slashes almost every form of domestic spending imaginable, dramatically cuts Medicare for seniors, and turns control of Medicaid over to the fifty states, each of whom can of course then do whatever they want with it. Most amazing of all, while this entire draconian meat-axe of a budget proposal is predicated on the urgent necessity of slashing deficits, Ryan's plan would gut revenues to the government by lopping almost 30 percent off of top individual and corporate tax rates, taking the top rate down from 35 percent to 25 percent. No wonder, then, that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that Ryan's plan would actually increase deficits, the direct opposite of the very rationale that supposedly justifies its existence.

Perhaps most ludicrous of all is the context in which this all arrives, along with the latest budget deal slashing $38 billion in federal spending on domestic programs. The two most urgent problems facing the United States today are global warming and a crappy economy for workers that is probably never going away. But the stuff we argue about has nothing to do with the former, and only exacerbates the latter (because cutting spending will kill the demand in the economy which is precisely what is needed now to stimulate a recovery). We, as a society, could not possibly be more irrelevant to ourselves. And that's the good news. If only it was just irrelevance.

None of this is random, however. This has been a three decade long process to produce that which our unparalleled greedy rich have craved the most, namely, a return to the good old days when they had everything and the rest of us had nothing. They have been indignant at the very notion of the slight bit of economic egalitarianism America managed to maintain for a couple of generations. They sat on their hands, gnashing their teeth, from the 1930s through the 1970s, because they had to, but now they've come back with a vengeance.

Exporting jobs, slashing government programs, moving tax burdens, bankrupting the government, breaking unions, coopting Democrats, creating bogus news media, dumbing down education, fabricating scary bogeymen, stealing elections. It's all there, man.

Remember when Nixon and Kissinger decided to kill socialism (not to mention lots of people) in Chile by "making the economy scream"?

Welcome to Chile Norte, amigo.

As Scott Walker and Paul Ryan and the rest apply the finishing touches, the job is today almost complete.

And now, for the kill.
About author David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg at regressiveantidote dot net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,


Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Fate of The Top 1% Is Bound Up With How The Other 99% Live

By Susie Madrak
Crooks and Liars
April 2, 2011

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that America's top economists are running around with their hair on fire? (Or whatever passes for it with economists.) Nobel Prize winner Joe Stiglitz in Vanity Fair sounds the alarm about growing economic inequality in America. I wonder if anyone in a position to do something about it is listening?

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far.  

Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain.

The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. 

Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important.

America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. 

The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. 

With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now!

Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Sounds like a bit of an implied threat there, Joe! Of course, predicting something is often confused with a recommendation...