Archive for April, 2010

Sunflowers For Christ

April 27, 2010

North Dakota grows sunflowers, hay, Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles,
and Christian kids whose adults proudly call them, “Kids on Fire.”

Missiles 30 times stronger than the ones that vaporized Hiroshima
lie at 150 peaceful- looking sites nestled amidst barns and hayfields.

How do you normalize hell? The children are at Jesus Camp are taught to call themselves “Warriors for God” and to fight without mercy.

One six or seven year old girl is pictured praying in genuine grief,
tears running down her cheeks, “Please don’t Kill them. Don’t kill them!”

She thinks she’s crying for fetuses, for the souls of the unborn.

The sunflowers for Christ raise their heads to the sun. Their feet are on fire.
Their adults prepare to toss them into the furnaces of war.

to the teeth
the sun is setting on the century
and we are armed to the teeth
we’re all working together now
to make our lives mercifully brief
and school kids keep trying to teach us
what guns are all about
confused liberty with weaponry
and watch your kids act it out
and every year now like christmas
some boy gets the milk fed suburban blues
reaches for the available arsenal
and saunters off to make the news
and the women in the middle
are learning what poor women have always known
that the edge is closer than you think
when the men bring the guns home
look at where the profits are
that’s how you’ll find the source
of the big lie that you and i both know so well
by the time it takes this cultural
death wish to run it’s course
they’re gonna to make a pretty penny
and then they’re going to hell
he said the chickens all come home to roost
malcolm forecast the flood
are we really going to sleep through another century
while the rich profit off our blood
yeah it may take some doing
to see this undoing through
but in my humble opinion
here’s what i suggest we do
open fire on hollywood
open fire on mtv
open fire on nbc and cbs and abc
open fire on the nra
and all the lies they told us along the way
open fire on each weapons manufacturer
while he’s giving head to some republican senator
and if i hear one more time
about a fools right to his tools of rage
i’m gonna take all my friends
and i’m going to move to canada
and we’re going to die of old age

Barbara La Morticella

Hang A Flag In The Window, by David Rovics

April 25, 2010

We want a safer country
And it’s in God we trust
So we’ll bomb you during Ramadan
Turn your world into dust
But pull up on your boostraps
And stand on your own two feet
While we blow them off with cluster bombs
Disguised as something to eat

We stand for freedom
And prosperity
So we’ll bomb your schools and hospitals
And make sure you live in misery
All you evildoers
And your children and your wives
With our B-52’s we’ll show you
How we value civilian lives

Give us your hungry, your restless
We’ll show you democracy
A military trial
Or detention indefinitely
We’ll have homeland security
Thomas Ridge all hail
We may not find the terrorists
But we can throw the left in jail

And we will all be safe
And we shall have no fears
Once our retinas have been scanned
And all the walls have ears
And we’re all in good hands
When the FBI is in the know
We’re sure they’ll look after us
Just like they did with COINTELPRO

So hang a flag in the window
And all hail to the chief
Follow the leader
And suspend your disbelief
Our country right or wrong
You know what to do
Sing God bless America
Oh that red, white and blue

When facing anyone with boxcutters
We’ll say put up your dukes
As we spend fifty billion
On bombers and nukes
We’re a beacon of light
And just to make the point
We’ll cut taxes on the rich
And throw the poor into the joint

Yes we’ll bail out the airlines
Put on your green fedoras
And for all the laid-off workers
We’ve got maquiladoras
Yes capitalism will save us
For have you ever seen a
More convincing proof
Than Enron and Argentina

So hang a flag in the window
And all hail to the chief
Follow the leader
And suspend your disbelief
Our country right or wrong
You know what to do
Sing God bless America
Oh that red, white and blue
The Axis of Evil
We’ll bomb ’em down the skids
There’ll be no more terrorists
Once we kill their kids
People may starve
And economies may crumble
But those folks’ll just
Have to learn to be more humble

And give us your money
Debt repayments with aplomb
While we scour the map
For some targets left to bomb
And as another city falls
Upon our sacred American soil
At least we got our Daisy Cutters
And that Alaskan oil

So hang a flag in the window
And all hail to the chief
Follow the leader
And suspend your disbelief
Our country right or wrong
You know what to do
Sing God bless America
Oh that red, white and blue

the constitution: i am confused

April 24, 2010

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a law that had made illegal the creation or sale of videos of dog fights or other types of animal cruelty on the grounds that it violated 1st Amendment free-speech rights.

My confusion is two-fold. “The government argued that depictions showing harm to animals were of such minimal social worth that they should receive no First Amendment protection at all. Chief Justice Roberts roundly rejected that assertion. ‘The First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter or its content,’ he wrote.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/us/21scotus.html?scp=1&sq=animal%20cruelty&st=cse)

The 1st Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . . ” The word “no” is unambiguous. However “The chief justice acknowledged that some kinds of speech — including obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement and speech integral to criminal conduct — have historically been granted no constitutional protection. But he said the Supreme Court had no ‘freewheeling authority to declare new categories of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment.’”

Therefore, “no” does not mean “no.” It means “sometimes,” which, of course, is nonsense. Therefore, the 1st Amendment is not absolute, merely relative to the political whims of the sitting justices, which absolutely denies the meaning of “no.” The protection of speech and press in the 1st Amendment was intended to protect political, not commercial, speech. But whatever the motivation behind it, it still says “no.” All laws interfering with speech, whether obscene, defamatory, fraudulent, inciting to criminal activity, or whatever, are undeniably un-constitutional. If the nation wants to deny free speech protection to specific types of speech, the only constitutional means of doing so is amending the Constitution.

This is, of course, consistent with the manner in which the Constitution is routinely and consistently ignored in times of war. There is nothing in the Constitution which says “in time of war, this document in not in effect.” Thus, the manner in which the Constitution is obeyed or ignored at the whim of the ruling class makes further clear the fraud and hypocrisy upon which this supposedly “democratic” society rests. And now, since we are engaged in a never-ending “war against terrorism,” we might as well just burn the Constitution.

The second area of my confusion is how videos or magazines depicting dog fighting and cruelty to animals is legal, yet Michael Vick, who grew up in a culture where dog fighting was an accepted practice, was fined millions of dollars and spent about eighteen months in jail for engaging in it. Was Michael Vicks’ real crime being black, and successful?

Joe Bageant, at his best and most insightful

April 22, 2010

I have come to think the price of admission anywhere in the world, (except in America and Europe, where enough dough will get your ass kissed in any circles) is service to others. We have been indoctrinated by an earth devouring capitalist system to believe otherwise. Believe that giving only depletes. And that mankind and civilization came about through kings and warriors and “great men.” But the essential glue of man the social animal, and society has always been on cooperation and sharing. That an endless stream of elite thieves have always managed to steal the fruits of that cooperation does not matter. And the best that is in man still rests on the same fundamentals — cooperation for the greater good of all.

read the full article at http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2010/04/there-aint.html#more

Totalitarian Democracy: a New Poem

April 21, 2010

The first fine dawn of life on earth
The first light of the first morning
The first evening star
The first man on the moon seen from afar
The first voyage of Ulysses westward
The first fence on the last frontier
The first tick of the atomic clock of fear
The first Home Sweet Home so dear
The sweet smell of honeysuckle at midnight
The first free black man free of fright
The sweet taste of freedom
The first good orgasm
The first Noble Savage
The first Pale Face settler on the first frontier
The last Armenian and the last Ojibway in Fresno
The first ball park hotdog with mustard
The first home run in Yankee Stadium
The first song of love and forty cries of despair
The first pure woman passing fair
The sweet smell of success
The first erection and the first Resurrection
The first darling buds of May
The last covered wagon through the Donner Pass
The first green sprouts of new grass
The last cry of Mark Twain! on the Mississippi
The First and Last Chance Saloon
The ghostly galleon of the half-moon
The first cry of pure joy in morning light
The distant howl of trains lost in book of night
The first morning after the night before thinking
The last new moon sinking
The last of the Mohicans and the last buffalo
The last sweet chariot swinging low
The first hippie heading for the hills
The last bohemian in a beret
The last beatnik in North Beach with something to say
The last true love to come your way
The last Wobbly and the last Catholic Anarchist
The last paranoid Lefty
The last Nazi
The first bought vote in the first election
The last hand caught in the last cookie jar
The last cowboy on the last frontier
The last bald eagle with nothing to fear
The last buffalo head nickel
The last living member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
The last Mom and Pop grocery
The last firefly flickerng in the night
The first plane to hit the first Twin Tower
The last plane to hit the last Twin Tower
The only plane to ever hit the Pentagon
The birth of a vast national paranoia
The beginning of the Third World War
(the War Against the Third World)
The first trip abroad by an ignorant president
The last free-running river
The last gas and oil on earth
The last general strike
The last Fidelista the last Sandinista the last Zapatista
The last political prisoner
The last virgin and the last of the champagne
The last train to leave the station
The last and only great nation
The last Great Depression
The last will & testament
The last welfare check for rent
The end of the old New Deal
The new Committee on Unamerican Activities
The last politician with honest proclivities
The last independent newspaper
printing the news and raising hell
The last word and the last laugh and the Last Hurrah
The last picture show and the last waltz
The last Unknown Soldier
The last innocent American
The last Ugly American
The last Great Lover and the last New Yorker
The last home-fries with ketchup-to-go
The last train home at midnight
The last syllable of recorded time
The last long careless rapture
The last independent bookstore with its own mind
The last best hope of mankind
The lost chord and the lost leader
The last drop of likker
The cup that runneth over quicker
The last time I saw Paris Texas
The last peace treaty and the Last Supper
The first sweet signs of spring
The first sweet bird of youth
The first baby tooth and the last wisdom tooth
The last honest election
The last freedom of information
The last free Internet
The last free speech radio
The last unbought television network
The last homespun politician
The last Jeffersonian
The last Luddite in Berkeley
The last Bottom Line and the last of Social Security
The first fine evening calm and free
The beach at sunset with reclining nudes
the lovers wrapped in each other
The last meeting of the Board
The last gay sailor to come aboard
The first White Paper written in blood
The last terrorist born of hate and poverty
The last citizen who bothered to vote
The first President picked by a Supreme Court
The end of the Time of Useful Consciousness
The unfinished flag of the United States
The ocean’s long withdrawing roar
The birth of a nation of sheep
The deep deep sleep of the booboisie
The underground wave of feel-good fascism
The uneasy rule of the super-rich
The total triumph of imperial America
The final proof of our Manifest Destiny
The first loud cry of America über alles
Echoing in freedom’s alleys
The last lament for lost democracy
The total triumph of
totalitarian plutocracy
CODA
Cut down cut down cut down
Cut down the grassroots
Cut down those too wild weeds
in our great agri-fields and golf courses
Cut down cut down those wild sprouts
Cut down cut down those rank weeds
Pull down your vanity, man, pull down
the too wild buds the too wild shoots
Cut down the wild unruly vines & voices
the hardy volunteers and pioneers
Cut down cut down the alien corn
Cut down the crazy introverts
Tongue-tied lovers of the subjective
Cut down cut down the wild ones the wild spirits
The desert rats and monkey wrenchers
Easy riders and midnight cowboys in narco nirvanas
Cut down the wild alienated loners
fiddling with their moustaches
plotting revolution in hopeless cellars
Cut down cut down all those freaks and free thinkers
Wild-eyed poets with wandering minds
Soapbox agitators and curbstone philosophers
Far out weirdos and rappers
Stoned-out visionaries and peace-niks
Exiles in their own land!
O melting pot America!

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI

unbelievable – financial truth in the ny times.

April 20, 2010

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/19/youre-welcome-wall-street/?hp

words from a radical priest

April 20, 2010

Dear Friends,

Peace be with you! Just a little update here.

As you may know, I was scheduled in February to give a few church talks on Jesus in Kansas, but the bishops there banned me—“because of my support for women and for peace.” During Holy Week, while I was working on the U.S.-Mexico border, (leaving gallons of water in the desert for the immigrants who cross into the Tucson sector), I heard from the Archbishop of New Mexico that he had removed my priestly faculties—because of my stand against nuclear weapons.

Turns out, he continues to get complaints about me from the pastor, parish and people of Los Alamos. The people who build the nuclear weapons are all devout Christians and Catholics, and do not like being told that this is sinful work, apparently. (By the way: Don’t listen to Obama’s rhetoric; he has poured more money into new nuclear weapons development at Los Alamos and elsewhere than anyone since Reagan. Business is booming at Los Alamos. He is building a state of the art plutonium bomb factory, the CMRR, which the people of Los Alamos are thrilled about.) By not being able to serve as a priest, I think the Jesuits will probably transfer me out of NM, and most of my speaking invitations around the country would be canceled.

I don’t want to move, so I appealed to the archbishop and he said he would give me my faculties back (and allow me to serve as a priest) on condition that I promise never to go to Los Alamos again. This is so absurd! But after talking with Jesuit officials and friends, I’m probably going to agree.

The archbishop said to me–we need nuclear weapons, he is glad we have them, etc. I argued that they are bad for the economy, our health, the environment, that they do not make us more secure, etc.—and even so, I said, we have to help people see that God will protect us, we have to be the people who do what Jesus says and love our enemies, not support preparations to kill them. No, the archbishop said. The church supports the nuclear deterrent, and I do not want you upsetting the church in Los Alamos! How sad.

I’m just writing to share this latest episode with my friends, and ask for your prayers and support as I discern my journey to Peace. Later this year, I will stand trial in Las Vegas on Sept. 14th for last year’s protest at Creech Air Force Base (headquarters of the US drones). My new book is out, “Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings.” I continue to travel and speak across the country, continue to write my weekly online column for the “National Catholic Reporter,” and try to spend time each month in D.C. with my father who is rapidly declining with dementia. It’s a terrible time for the church and the world, so I know it’s a blessing to be in trouble for speaking out for peace and justice, for trying to defend the Gospel of Jesus and pursue the vision of a new world of nonviolence.

Thanks for all you do for peace and justice, and for your support and friendship. God bless you.

John

A Space Scientist’s Thoughts On Obomber’s Space Program

April 18, 2010

“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4)
File: Confusion of Tongues.png

“In their exciting role as capitalists they talk endlessly about the innate value of competition. To be competitive is their equivalent of morality. They treat competition as if it were a universal value enshrined within a single definition. . . . In America, . . . [competition] is carried to the point where a man who can knock a small white ball into a series of holes in the ground with more efficiency and skill than anyone else thereby gains social access to the President of the United States.” – Voltaire’s Bastards, John Ralston Saul.

From the media:
” Obama sets new horizons for the space race.”
That competition disappeared years ago, but the space remains the same symbol of extreme human ambition…. This is a duel that America can not afford to lose if you continue to play a hegemonic role in the world…. Progress in this area depends in part on the economic and military power. The communications and transportation systems, thousands of routine actions, like taking money from an ATM, are related to space-related technology. As for its military implications, where they still remember the Star Wars project that Ronald Reagan gave the final trump card to end the Soviet Union, the Pentagon considers space as a land of equal or superior defensive category seas or land borders.”

Astronauts’ letter to Obama:
“This [canceling the shuttle] is wrong for our country for many reasons. We are very concerned about America ceding its hard earned global leadership in space technology to other nations. We are stunned that, in a time of economic crisis, this move will force as many as 30,000 irreplaceable engineers and managers out of the space industry. We see our human exploration program, one of the most inspirational tools to promote science, technology, engineering and math to our young people, being reduced to mediocrity .”
So as usual, Obama wants to please everybody except the taxpayer who doesn’t work for the government and her friends.

“President Barack Obama boldly predicted Thursday his new plans for space exploration would lead American astronauts on historic, almost fantastic journeys to an asteroid and then to Mars ” “By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. ”
Where does his confidence comes from? after all, he has no scientific/technical background or education. He is just a little, tall man with big words. Beside, it is easy to put the goal into an imaginary year — 2030; in the same breath, he could predict a surplus of 30 trillions, a complete independence of fossil energy, or a medical cure for stupidity, all in 2030.

“And I expect to be around to see it. ”
Yes, he will have a quite place to watch it – Saint Helena island (if his cell has a Telescreen).

Some thoughts

A small project intended to validate the foundation assumption of general relativity and the assumption on which current mathematical models of the universe depend, for three years of research, including testing, for about two million dollars, was declined twice, during Obama’s presidency, once by NSF and once by NASA. My impression for years, as a space scientist, as well as what I heard from others who work in real space science, is that NASA’s space program has very little to do with science. According to NASA’s view, a successful project must be very, very costly, impressive for the non-scientist, and exciting enough for three-year-old kids. Take Reagan’s Star Wars and Space Station and Bush’s and Obama’s human mission to Mars. Both cost dozens of billions of dollars with almost no scientific value. Since our elite need a formal rationale to justify the spending (after all, we are a democracy), they call it a science, they tell us that we need it for technological progress (communications and transportation systems, thousands of routine actions, like taking money from an ATM, are related to space-related technology) and for education (inspirational tools to promote science , technology, engineering and math to our young people). Well, space system technology doesn’t need human flights. Take for example meteorological satellites, communication satellites, or GPS satellites; deep space exploration has been done for years by robots. It is like building a skyscraper 30 km high to test the atmosphere; you can do it a bit cheaper with balloons. NASA propaganda is so effective that I have had non-scientists trying to convince me, a space scientist, of the importance of the space station — certain drugs can be developed in zero-gravity — well, one could invest this 30 billion directly on these certain drugs. The only scientific contribution of the space station that I have heard of so far is from high school experiments on flies in zero gravity. Regarding education, spending 50+ billion on a big rocket just to motivate science and math education is simply idiotic.

Actually, the math of space flight is quite simple, and if you want to see richer math, just look outside the window at tree branches being moved by the wind, at the water flow from the hose when you water the garden (and if you do it in late afternoon, look at the complicated flight mechanism of the insect that disturbs you), or what about the amazing stabilization of a falling cat. And if you are an indoor person and don’t have a cat, flush the toilet and try to understand why the water vortex is in a certain direction. Everyday nature is math, automobile traffic is math, there is even an interesting math in ecology and social interaction. Going to Amazon.com instead of building a space rocket will save you 50 billion dollars.

There are only two reasons behind the human mission to Mars: 1) thousand dozens of parasites want our tax money. 2) a president wants to be remembered in history as a hero (after all, isn’t it his real personal ambition to be a president?) What a colossal waste of money and human resources. Think about it. The money and the 30,000 or so technically qualified workers could work on domestic projects, on infrastructure, on alternative energy development, in scientific education (as teachers).

And why should we always need to compete and win? For a long time I have had the impression that many Americans can’t distinguish between sport and life. The first thing that comes to mind is the British in WWI. They used sport for the fighting spirit, and in some cases, officers were leading attacks while kicking a football, to elevate the moral. I’ll stop here, since it would be a very long discussion — the culture of sport, wars, and winning in general.

There is another aspect to the space program that, strangely enough, I haven’t read or heard anybody mentioning or criticizing. The official rationale for going to Mars, according to NASA, is to occupy it in the future, thus, to change its climate (creating a life-supporting atmosphere) for a human future colony. It is the most fascistic idea I’ve ever heard of, a brave new world idea. It assumes that our planet is not going to survive in a time scale of a few generations, and that we have an elite whom we should save at any price. This crazy idea is quite compatible with the education Obama received in the elite institutions he attended and is compatible with his self-image as being of this elite. And it is not only saving the elite, it is also dumping everyone else along with the planet. If the priority is space colonization, it is dozens of billions of dollars not invested in green technology, and dozens of thousands of personnel not working on alternative and clean energy. And worse, the human space flight not only doesn’t help our youth in math (look at the decline in math levels since the landing on the Moon), but also gives then an illusion of alternative place to live — we can dump our planet since we have an alternative.

Think about it.

joshua

An Economic Primer Not To Be Ignored

April 16, 2010

When Democrats are to the Right of Libertarians

Social Security in the Bullseye

By ALAN NASSER

But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. It is planning for security of the second kind which has such an insidious effect on liberty. It is planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their incomes.

Let a uniform minimum be secured to everybody by all means; but let us admit at the same time that all claims for a privileged security of particular classes must lapse

[T]here is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom.

There can be no question that adequate security against severe privation will have to be one of our main goals of policy.

Friedrich A. Hayek, The Road To Serfdom, University of Chicago Press, 1944, pp. 120, 121, 122

Ordinary Americans are considerably to the left of their alleged representatives in the Democratic Party on a good many of the Big Issues. Folks generally disapprove of the wars, and they overwhelmingly support New Deal-Great Society programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. No matter to the Party leadership, which has been galloping to the right since Jimmy Carter. The Clinton-Obama mania for “bipartisanship” harbors a conception of politics that acknowledges the rightward shift of the Democrats and accordingly excludes conflict and contestation, an oxymoron that rids politics of the political. One hears no loud and persistent Democratic voice in opposition to announced reductions in Social Security benefits.

Keeping the Consensus on Balance

Obama’s repeated pleas to the Republicans to acknowledge that both his and their strategic values and aims are and should be identical is an ironic confirmation of Nader’s campaign claim, repeatedly referenced and indignantly dismissed by the Democratic faithful, that there is no significant difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The sneering citations of Nader’s remark are offered as a reductio ad absurdum of any kind of third-party politics: how could anyone worth listening to claim that there isn’t the teensiest difference between, say, Clinton and Bush?

But Nader held no such thing. On the contrary, he insisted that there is the teensiest difference between these similaria. Just not enough to make a difference to wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) and other military intrusions (Yugoslavia, the Iraq sanctions), the trashing of the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society, deference to the financial plutocracy, indifference or hostility to unions, insensibility to now-historic inequality, and the rest. Sure, they dispute among themselves, but Obama’s continuity-politics makes this look increasingly like a game played with a wink and a nod.

The show does occasionally get out of hand when, for example, far-right ideologues disrupt the procedings by hurling a monkey wrench into what should be standard legislative machinations. The political elite is expected to know better, but sometimes it needs to be reminded of the importance of business as usual. Obama has offered just such a reminder to his Republican cohorts.

On January 29 he delivered a televised speech to the House Republican caucus. Near the end of the talk he declared: “We’ve got to be careful about what we say about each other sometimes, because it boxes us in, in ways that make it difficult for us to work together, because our constituents start believing us. They don’t know sometimes this is just politics what you guys or folks on my side do sometimes.” Obama is reminding the Republicans of the function of apparent inter-Party conflict. Ritual mudslinging is “sometimes” merely a show, “just politics” -note the cynical conception of politics as a kind of con game- and is not to be taken seriously by the apparent contestants. The Republicans seemed to have forgotten this, and Obama worried that this threatened to de-legitimize the political system by making the patented congressional horse-trading difficult to sustain. It’s like “professional” wrestling. Were one of the wrestlers to launch an authentic assault on his opponent the whole point of the choreographed roughhouse would be lost.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: Social Security in the Bullseye

The depth of the Republocrat consensus is evident in the attack on so-called entitlement programs. Let’s focus on Social Security (SS), the most successful US program explicitly intended to reduce poverty. The first unambiguous admission that an attack on SS is on the agenda appeared in The New York Times’s report on Obama’s three-year domestic spending freeze. (January 26, 2010, “Obama to Seek Spending Freeze to Trim Deficits”, by Jackie Calmes) The article mentions cuts in “air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.” We are assured there will be no reductions in the most extensive components of the social wage: “But [the freeze] would exempt… the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” So no reductions in SS. Unless we read on.

The cuts are in discretionary spending, covering programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year. How could such relatively small cuts be thought to make a difference to the magnitude of the deficit? Could it be that these cuts are intended as a Trojan horse opening the door to reductions in, for example, SS? Yes it could. “[O]ne administration official said that limiting the much smaller discretionary domestic budget would have symbolic value. That spending includes lawmakers’ earmarks for parochial projects, and only when the public believes such perceived waste is being wrung out will they be willing to consider reductions in popular entitlement programs, the official said.”

There you have it – a frank admission that SS and other “popular” programs are on the chopping block. ‘“By helping to create a new atmosphere of fiscal discipline, it can actually also feed into debates over other components of the budget,” the official said, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.’

The elderly and infirm will be forced to pay for the bailout and the wars, the latter’s funding, incidentally, being the single biggest annual addition to the deficit.

The talk of cuts and reductions is in fact a follow-up Trojan horse. Finance capital, which is now squarely in the political driver’s seat, has long had as its wettest dream the privatization of SS. The 1990s saw a concerted putsch to “reform” SS by think tanks such as the Urban Institute, the Concord Coalition, Third Millennium, Citizens For A Sound Economy, the Cato Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis. Most of these institutions were heavily funded by Wall Street. They produced a barrage of studies and statistics designed to undermine SS. The basic message was that, in the words of a 1998 report by the Heritage Foundation, “the Social Security system is bankrupt.”

From the perspective of finance capital, SS funds are a pot of gold, vast sums sitting idle, reinforcing working people’s sense of entitlement, and not doing the work that enormous agglomerations of cash are supposed to do, namely multiply themselves like rabbits. Money is to be sure also a medium of exchange, but great sums of money under capitalism are to be invested, put to use to make more of the same. Accumulate, accumulate, that is Goldman and the profits.

The Press Hypes the Scare: The New York Times on Baker and Wiesbrot

During the 1990s the press was transmitting Wall Street’s line as fact. Typical of media reporting was Katharine Q. Seelye’s May 14, 2000 article in The New York Times warning that Social Security “will begin paying out more than it takes in by 2015.” Seelye apparently thought that what Social Security “takes in,” i.e., its income, is exhausted by payroll taxes. This is either inexcusable ignorance or deliberate deception. It should be common journalistic knowledge that an additional component of Social Security’s annual income is the interest on the Treasury bonds it holds, which at the time accounted for the 270-billion-dollar surplus the system was officially projected to have in 2015. In fact, this surplus was planned precisely in order to cover the anticipated shortfall. Seelye added insult to injury when she further claimed that “without a major fix, the system could go broke by 2037.”

This kind of argument, common in the mainstream press, was addressed in microdetail by Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot in their book Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago, 2000), a response to the ongoing propaganda blitz to scare the public into fearing for the future of SS. They used the same statistical sources employed by the privatizers to show that slapstick mathematics and plain ignorance concealed the health of SS. Baker and Weisbrot showed that the benefits paid out by Social Security were projected to slightly exceed taxes received by 2014. This is irrelevant to the viability of SS. The privatizers know full well that the funds borrowed from Social Security by the US Treasury are to be paid back, as they have been since the system’s inception, with interest. Accordingly, the system’s total income consists of payroll taxes plus interest income. Baker and Weisbrot showed that the contribution from interest payments made it possible [at the time Seelye wrote the May 2000 article] for the system to pay all benefits out of its income until 2022. From then until 2037, it will draw on the principal in the trust fund to maintain full benefit payments. Does it follow, as Seelye claimed, that after 2037 SS is destined to “go broke”? Not at all. These payments could be further extended through 2074 with a mere 2.07 percent payroll tax increase, about 1 percent each for employer and employee.

It is not as if there are absolutely no references in the press to the facts of the matter or to the surreptitous privatization agenda. It’s just that the relatively few citations of serious scholarship have no net effect on the overall impression communicated by the media. What follows is a paradigm case.

Op-eds based on the Baker-Weisbrot book appeared in a number of mainstream sources, but getting the issue straight was not so easy. In early 1996, Robert Pear of The New York Times wrote a major story discussing Dean Baker’s position on SS, which was run intact by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But when it appeared in the Times, Baker’s criticism of the case for privatization had been cut. The Times did publish an article critical of the scare-mongers by one of its own editors, Fred Brock, titled “Save Social Security? From What?” in its Business section (November 1, 1998, p. 12), which favorably quoted Baker. Brock went on to attribute the hysteria of the privatizers to “hidden agendas…..Wall Street would love to get its hands on at least some of the billions of dollars in the Social Security trust fund . . . But knowing that the idea [of full privatization] won’t fly politically, [politicians] are pushing for partial privatization, in which individuals would invest a portion of their contribution in the stock market, all in the name of rescuing the system.”

Here was a frank admission, in the Newspaper of Record no less, that the save-SS crowd’s real objective was privatization. Still, in the very same issue, the lead editorial claimed that “The next Congress will have to deal with nothing less than . . . devising a plan to save Social Security in the next generation” (p. 14) You can’t win.

Twelve years later, we find exactly the same New York Times doublespeak. On March 24 the Times ran a front-page article titled “Social Security to See Payout Exceed Payin This Year”, by Mary Williams Walsh, calling this “an important threshold [SS] was not expected to cross until 2016…” In the same article Stephen C. Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, is quoted as confirming that this “threshold” makes no difference whatever to SS since its government bonds exceed $2.5 trillion. In fact, the system will be able to pay full benefits without a tax increase until 2037, the same year indicated by Weisbrot and Baker in their book.

No matter to Walsh, who informs us that “analysts” regard the “threshold…as a tipping point – the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency..” Walsh approvingly cites Alan Greenspan’s prescription: “When the level of the trust fund gets to zero, you have to cut benefits.”

(You still can’t win.) Nowhere in the article is there so much as a hint that less draconian alternatives are entirely feasible economically: the payroll tax could be progressively calculated, rather than at the same rate for all income levels, employers could pay a higher portion of the payroll tax than is currently required (50%), the cap on income subject to the FICA tax could be raised or lifted altogether and investment income could be FICA-taxed. Each of these alternatives is based on the same principles of fairness underlying any system of progressive taxation. They place a greater responsibility for financing the system on the better-off. This kind of tax structure should be familiar to Americans – something like it was in place from the end of the Second World War up to the Reagan era.

The fairer options are indeed economically workable, but it’s the politics that counts. The politics of The New York Times, Wall Street and the entire neoliberal consensus is single-mindedly indifferent to fairness, if that means legislating in the interests of those most vulnerable to the current depredations of finance capitalism.

The Bipartisan Panel to Reduce the Federal Deficit

It’s been remarked that only a Republican could have opened dreaded Communist China to US trade, investment and tourism. Nixon’s anti-communist credentials were unimpeachable. Similarly, only a Democrat could do away with “welfare as we know it”, the sixty-year-old federal income guarantee for poor families. Clinton remained ambiguous on SS. Gutting Aid To Families With Dependent Children was a tall enough order – let the next guy take care of SS. George W. Bush was perceived by no one as a friend of the working stiff. Even he was not foolish enough to persist in making a major issue of his privatization agenda after the stock-market debacle attending the bursting of the dot.com bubble. Given the popular and sacrosanct nature of SS, prepping the public for a hitherto-unheard-of assault on the program would require the credentials of an uncommonly popular Democrat.

In his books and interviews Obama had claimed that his most admired postwar president was Reagan, and he repeatedly trashed the residual supporters of the New Deal and the Great Society.

His vehicle for initiating the hatchet job on SS is the bipartisan panel charged with planning the reduction of the federal deficit. It is an open non-secret that the panel will recommend reductions in SS, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The day before his appointment as co-chair of the panel, retired Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson said in an interview with the Washington Post: “How did we get to a point in America where you get to a certain age in life, regardless of net worth or income, and you’re ‘entitled’? The word itself is killing us.” (Feb. 17, 2010)

Simpson had for a time chaired the Senate subcommittee that overseas the SS program. During that time he favored cutting SS spending by raising the age of eligibility for retirement and reducing benefit levels.

Obama chose as the Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles, a Wall Street banker and former White House chief of staff under Clinton. He is currently on the board of directors of Morgan Stanley and was a director of General Motors from 2005 until its 2009 bankruptcy. It happens that these two companies were among the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s financial bailouts. Bowles also served as chairman of the compensation committees of both companies, a position he still holds at Morgan Stanley. It was the compensation committees that awarded eight-figure bonuses and salaries to GM and Morgan Stanley executives.

Everyone knows what the bipartisan panel will recommend. Or so claims Erskine Simpson, in a February 17 interview with the New York Times: “There isn’t a single sitting member of Congress – not one – that doesn’t know exactly where we’re headed.” The Times responded with the suggestion that the panel’s recommendations would not be able to be implemented “unless Mr. Obama breaks his campaign promise not to raise taxes for households making less than $250,000.” The overwhelming majority of these households are working class. There will be SS cuts and tax increases, but not on the plutocracy.

Looting Social Security as Resumption of the Historic Enclosures

It is a truism that capitalism is about both discovering and creating as many profit opportunities as possible. The idea is to commodify as much of what was hitherto not a commodity as one can get away with. This is nothing less than a generalized systemic tendency to privatize everything that one can get away with privatizing. As The Old Man pointed out, the original act of capital accumulation was the original large-scale privatization, namely the enclosure movement.

From the late fourteenth to the eighteenth century vast areas of land held in common by local communities and used by villagers on a shared basis were enclosed by landlords and turned into private property. Fences were erected and the courts were given the function of issuing title deeds. This was the first large-scale and systemic abolition of social security.

The tradition of the commons was as old as humanity itself, and was not done away with with an instant wave of the economic wand. All that is solid melts away over a very long period of time. The original forced enclosures were succeeded by “Parliamentary enclosure,” when acts of Parliament formally reconstituted common resources as private property. Indeed, the history of enclosure in England from the late fourteenth to the late eighteenth century might be termed the “primitive privatization,” the historical progenitor of the contemporary neoliberal project to privatize and deregulate everything.

The Parliamentary enclosures transformed what had originated as a wave of coerced expulsions into a political process, the legally sanctioned removal of any obstacles to the ongoing and limitless accumulation of capitalist wealth.

This secular tendency of capital to universally privatize was temporarily offset toward the middle of the twentieth century by the emergence of the New Deal in the United States and Social Democracy in Europe. But even these meager provisions of non-market benefits proved to be too radical for capital. Born-again capitalism is now the order of the day, and social security is once again, as it was way back then, perceived as a principal obstacle to profitability. The struggle of large English landowners to privatize historically common land finds a contemporary counterpart in the campaign of big banks and Wall Street brokerage houses to put to private, profitable use resources currently earmarked for workers in need. Just as the social costs of the transition to capitalism were borne by the working population, so will the attempted transition back to pre-Keynesian capitalism be borne by the same class.

When Libertarians Sound Like Marxists

The passage at the head of this article from Friedrich A. Hayek’s best known book is overlooked in every treatment of Hayek’s thought I have found. The Road to Serfdom is one of the most influential books of our time and stands to libertarianism as Capital does to socialism. It was identified by Milton Friedman as one of the most important influences on his own thinking. But capitalism’s acolytes have read the book selectively. The main thrust of the cited passage would have been supported by Karl Marx.

The section from which the passage is taken deals with libertarianism’s conception of security, with an eye toward determining whether a commitment to individual liberty is compatible with a political guarantee of material security. When the book was published in 1944 it was generally recognized by Europeans that socialists and communists were at the forefront of resistance movements there and that the Soviets were a formidable threat to Hitler’s forces. It was thought that Greece and Italy might emerge from the war as socialist or communist states. Hayek felt the need to come to terms with Marxian-inspired notions. And keep in mind that Hayek was quite familiar with the social insurance programs, dating back to the nineteenth century, of his native Austria. He had no bone to pick with these kinds of program, which underwrite “the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all”.

Hayek makes it clear that what is anathema to libertarianism is redistribution of privately earned income. Liberty prohibits the state from guaranteeing “the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others..” One has an unqualified right to one’s private wage or salary; redistribution violates this right by robbing Peter to pay Paul in order to secure the “privileged security of particular classes”. The rise or fall of one’s private income is to be determined by the market alone. Hence, the state must not engage in planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their incomes by changing anyone’s “relative position” in society. Keynesian measures are out.

Hayek asserts, on the other hand, that state “planning” designed to provide the same basic measure of material security to everyone is entirely compatible with the prohibition of redistribution favoring one group against another. Hence, security is of two kinds. The first is the type Hayek grew up with, the second redistributionist. Hayek not only approves of the first kind, he seems to think that citizenship of a wealthy society includes an individual right to that kind of security, a minimal level of subsistence possible only through “a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision”: “There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health….There can be no question that adequate security against severe privation will have to be one of our main goals of policy.”

Who would have thought? Hayek’s ungrudging concession is more radical than the Social Security program, which guarantees minimal security only after retirement. Hayek’s system would be available to all for a lifetime. On this issue, Hayek stands far to the left of anyone on Capitol Hill. For shame.

Alan Nasser is Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He can be reached at nassera@evergreen.edu

http://counterpunch.com/nasser04162010.html

Senate Sickingly Grovels Before Israel: 76 US Senators Sign on to Israel Letter

April 15, 2010

More than three quarters of the U.S. Senate, including 38 Democrats, have signed on to a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implicitly rebuking the Obama Administration for its confrontational stance toward Israel.

The letter, backed by the pro-Israel group AIPAC, now has the signatures of 76 Senators and says in part:

We recognize that our government and the Government of Israel will not always agree on particular issues in the peace process. But such differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies. We must never forget the depth and breadth of our alliance and always do our utmost to reinforce a relationship that has benefited both nations for more than six decades.

A similar letter garnered 333 signatures in the House, and its support marks almost unified Republican support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, along with strong, but more divided, public Democratic discomfort with Obama’s policies in the region.

Signatories include key Democrats like Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, Chuck Schumer, and Robert Menendez as well as all but four Republicans, with signers including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Scott Brown.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin, however, did not sign; nor did Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry and ranking member Richard Lugar.

The full Senate letter, circulated by Senators Barbara Boxer and Johnny Isakson, is here.

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved – including the United States.

We also urge you to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds that tie the United States and Israel together and to diligently work to defuse current tensions. The Israeli and U.S. governments will undoubtedly, at times, disagree over policy decisions. But disagreements should not adversely affect our mutual interests – including restarting the peace process between Israel and her neighbors and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

From the moment of Israel’s creation, successive U.S. administrations have appreciated the special relationship between our two nations. Israel continues to be the one true democracy in the Middle East that brings stability to a region where it is in short supply. Whether fighting Soviet expansionism or the current threats from regional aggression and terrorism, Israel has been a consistent, reliable ally and friend and has helped to advance American interests. Similarly, by helping keep Israel strong, the United States has helped to reduce threats to Israel’s security and advance the peace which successive Israeli governments have so avidly sought.

It is the very strength of our relationship that has made Arab-Israeli peace agreements possible, both because it convinced those who desired Israel’s destruction to abandon any such hope and because it gave successive Israeli governments the confidence to take calculated risks for peace. As the Vice President said during his recent visit to Israel: “Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the U.S. and Israel.” Steadfast American backing has helped lead to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

We recognize that our government and the Government of Israel will not always agree on particular issues in the peace process. But such differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies. We must never forget the depth and breadth of our alliance and always do our utmost to reinforce a relationship that has benefited both nations for more than six decades.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Johnny Isakson

United States Senator

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25227.htm