1/31/11

Belittling Others

I mayn't want to be, but I'm prescriptive. Look how I pretend. A snort on the last word, acknowledging his inadequacy. We're not so easily fooled.

Behind the self-depreciation lies a belittling of others. As you've probably gathered by now. His authoritarian approach and strict application of certain rules.

The Text Starts Here

Arabs Revolt: al-Qaeda Waits in the Wings

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The events in Tunisia that have seen an unpopular ruler toppled have inspired people in other countries. They have taken to the streets in Algeria and also in Egypt, considered the leader of the Arab world, in the shape of the most violent agitation against the three-decade regime of American-backed President Hosni Mubarak.

As in Tunisia, in these countries too there is no specified role for the political opposition forces.

This has led al-Qaeda's ideologues and strategists to stay their hand. Apart from issuing a few statements, they don't plan any immediate intervention. They trust that the upheavals will lead to further chaos - welcomed by al-Qaeda - but at this point there is no popular political force capable of providing alternative leadership.

Hence, al-Qaeda will wait and see in the hope that the chaos will sufficiently dilute the state apparatus to allow the group to establish a firm footing, as it has done in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There is no need for al-Qaeda to intervene at this in point," a major al-Qaeda strategist in South Asia told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity.

"Al-Qaeda does not have any role in these circumstances. This is a very preliminary situation. At the moment, these agitations are spreading all across the Arab world, but ahead is a void. There is no leadership to direct those developments.

"Therefore, al-Qaeda will let the agitation go on without specifying its role at this stage. Al-Qaeda's role will begin at the next level, when the agitations reach a climax and the system [of government] collapses in these countries. Al-Qaeda will then prop them up with its plans and strategies," the strategist said.

There's No Such thing As a Free Market

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Fervent capitalists believe markets need to be free. When the government interferes to dictate what market participants can or cannot do, resources cannot flow to their most efficient use. If people cannot do the things that they find most profitable, they lose the incentive to invest and innovate.

Thus, if the government puts a cap on house rents, landlords lose the incentive to maintain their properties or build new ones.

Or, if the government restricts the kinds of financial products that can be sold, two contracting parties that may both have benefited from innovative transactions that fulfill their idiosyncratic needs cannot reap the potential gains of free contract. People must be left "free to choose," as the title of free-market visionary Milton Friedman’s famous book goes.


But the free market doesn’t exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them.

How "free" a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition. The usual claim by free-market economists that they are trying to defend the market from politically motivated interference by the government is false.

Government is always involved and those free-marketeers are as politically motivated as anyone. Overcoming the myth that there is such a thing as an objectively defined "free market" is the first step towards understanding capitalism.

When environmental regulations (e.g., regulations on car and factory emissions) appeared a few decades ago, they were opposed by many as serious infringements on our freedom to choose.

Their opponents asked: if people want to drive in more polluting cars or if factories find more polluting production methods more profitable, why should the government prevent them from making such choices?

Today, most people accept these regulations as "natural." They believe that actions that harm others, however unintentionally (such as pollution), need to be restricted.

They also understand that it is sensible to make careful use of our energy resources, when many of them are non-renewable. They may believe that reducing human impact on climate change makes sense too.

If the same market can be perceived to have varying degrees of freedom by different people, there is really no objective way to define how free that market is.

In other words, the free market is an illusion. If some markets look free, it is only because we so totally accept the regulations that are propping them up are invisible.

'Cutting' America's War Machine

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In defense circles, "cutting" the Pentagon budget has once again become a topic of conversation. Americans should not confuse that talk with reality. Any cuts exacted will at most reduce the rate of growth.

The essential facts remain: United States military outlays today equal that of every other nation on the planet combined, a situation without precedent in modern history.

The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War - this despite the absence of anything remotely approximating what national security experts like to call a "peer competitor".

Evil Empire? It exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who quiver at the prospect of China adding a rust-bucket Russian aircraft carrier to its fleet or who take seriously the ravings of radical Islamists promising from deep inside their caves to unite the Umma in a new caliphate.

What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by US forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive.

The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate "military supremacy" into meaningful victory.

Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them, but is clueless when it comes to ending them. Iraq, the latest addition to the roster of America's forgotten wars, stands as exhibit A.

Each bomb that blows up in Baghdad or some other Iraqi city, splattering blood all over the streets, testifies to the manifest absurdity of judging "the surge" as the epic feat of arms celebrated by the General David Petraeus lobby.

The problems are strategic as well as operational. Old Cold War-era expectations that projecting US power will enhance American clout and standing no longer apply, especially in the Islamic world.

There, American military activities are instead fostering instability and inciting anti-Americanism. For Exhibit B, see the deepening morass that Washington refers to as AfPak or the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations.

Add to that the mountain of evidence showing that Pentagon, Inc is a miserably managed enterprise: hide-bound, bloated, slow-moving and prone to wasting resources on a prodigious scale. Nowhere more so than in weapons procurement and the outsourcing of previously military functions to "contractors".

When it comes to national security, effectiveness (what works) should rightly take precedence over efficiency (at what cost?) as the overriding measure of merit.

Yet beyond a certain level, inefficiency undermines effectiveness, with the Pentagon stubbornly and habitually exceeding that level. By comparison, Detroit's much-maligned Big Three offer models of well-run enterprises.

Egypt: Mubarak's Rule Backed by America

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Like all revolutionary upheavals, the developments in Egypt are serving to clear away hoary myths and lies, including the American ruling elite’s pretensions of support for democracy around the world.

These events are exposing the role of the US government as the lynchpin of reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

From the beginning of the unrest, the Obama administration has made clear its support for Mubarak and the Egyptian regime, a critical US ally.

Obama devoted his remarks Friday evening to defending Mubarak in the face of the mass popular revolt. On a day in which Mubarak’s police killed at least a dozen people, injured hundreds more and arrested an untold number of demonstrators, Obama cynically proclaimed that the US was “calling upon Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.”

Obama spoke as if he were an innocent observer. But the truncheons, guns, tear gas canisters, water cannons and tanks used by the Egyptian government to suppress the people all bear the stamp, in some cases literally, “Made in the USA.”

The US provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year to finance its apparatus of repression, making it the second largest beneficiary of US aid after Israel.

Obama lectured Mubarak about respecting human rights on the very day that WikiLeaks posted US State Department cables showing that his administration was aware of and complicit in Mubarak’s use of torture and assassination against his political opponents.

Obama reiterated the position expressed by other US officials that “those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” as if there could be any comparison between the state violence meted out by Mubarak and the attempts by workers and youth to defend themselves.

The main aim of Obama’s remarks was to make clear the administration’s continued backing for Mubarak. Obama spoke shortly after the Egyptian president appeared on television to declare that he would not step down and warn that he would enforce “security” against “chaos.”

Mubarak’s announcement that a new cabinet would be formed and his empty promises to make democratic reforms and expand economic opportunity only increased the popular outrage, spurring more people to pour out into the streets in defiance of the military-imposed curfew.

The real attitude of the US to the events in Egypt was revealed in Obama’s statement: “The United States has a close partnership with Egypt, and we have cooperated with each other on many issues.”

In other words, the United States views the Egyptian government, despised by its population, as a key strategic ally.

These remarks echo those of Vice President Joseph Biden, who said on Thursday, as Mubarak moved to shut off the Internet and deploy special operations forces, that the president “has been very responsible… relative to (US) geopolitical interests in the region.”

By “geopolitical interests,” the administration means the determination of the United States to maintain its hegemony over the Middle East and North Africa, including the region’s vast oil and gas reserves.

With military aid and training, the US has propped up corrupt and dictatorial regimes from Egypt to the sheikhdoms in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing Gulf States.

Through covert and overt military operations, the US has worked systematically to undermine any government that posed a potential challenge to its interests. Over the past ten years alone the United States has launched bloody colonialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Egypt has played a critical role in the maintaining US domination, particularly since Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, signed the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978.

In 1979, the US lost a key ally with the downfall of the Shah in Iran. Since that time, the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus has worked closely with both the US and Israel in the suppression of the masses throughout the region.

The entire approach of the American government to the events in Egypt is guided by its immense fear that the resurgence of the class struggle in the region will deal a major blow to its geo-strategic interests.

Capitalism: America's Major Religion

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Since capitalism is the nation's official religion, Obama must bow before business executives, who don't believe he has been sufficiently fawning. It wasn't enough for Obama to expend taxpayer funds, as his predecessor did, to save capitalism.

The president has had the effrontery to point out that free markets need sensible regulations to protect consumers from poisoned food, lead-laced toys, and a reckless Wall Street - a position that has angered many among the mogul class.

So even with a roaring stock market and soaring corporate profits, Obama has been obliged to launch a charm offensive that includes a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next month.

This may be heresy, but here it is: The interests of Big Business and the needs of regular working Americans don't always coincide.

As just one example, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, newly appointed as the White House jobs czar, heads a company that relies increasingly on foreign markets for its profits and its workforce.

Since Immelt took over in 2001, GE has shed tens of thousands of jobs here while adding tens of thousands abroad.

That trend is likely to continue, as thousands of other U.S. companies find they can manufacture more cheaply abroad. They can also outsource accounting, engineering, and technical support services, among others.

The business lobby cares more about keeping its taxes low and keeping government regulations off the books than it does about providing good public schools or beating the Chinese at high-speed rail and solar panels.

Last year, Donohue's network spent millions of dollars electing Republicans who pledged to lower taxes, repeal health-care reform, and roll back new restrictions on Wall Street. Those are the U.S. Chamber's priorities.

And the business lobby got what it paid for. The GOP-controlled House has proposed to fight tax increases, defund health care, and emasculate the Environmental Protection Agency.

The GOP has also mocked Obama's new spending plans as more "big government" of the sort its members will oppose.

I expect we'll hear a lot more lip service from business leaders about rebuilding infrastructure and improving public education. But they want low taxes and less regulation even more.

When it comes down to choosing a long-term strategy to promote economic growth or choosing a short-term strategy to promote corporate profits, its members choose the latter every time. If Obama thinks he can count on business leaders for anything else, he's naive indeed.

The US Withers Away

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I'm increasingly overwhelmed by some of the multiple and interrelated Orwellian absurdities at the heart of America’s reigning media-politics culture.

Take the Kabuki drama of peace and harmony planned by U.S. senators and representatives who pledged to sit next to colleagues from the “other” party in the name of post-Tucson civility” during Obama’s SOTU speech.

Both wings of the pro-business, right-tilting “one-party system” agree on core policy fundamentals that deepen the United States’ status as the most unequal and wealth-top-heavy nation in the industrialized world.

Giant (multi trillion dollar) taxpayer giveaways to the same parasitic financial firms that recklessly drove the U.S. and global economy over the cliff in 2008.

Massive tax cuts for the rich, de-regulation of business (a major cause of the 2007-08 financial meltdown).

Corporate-mismanaged health case, corporate globalization and an ongoing elite business assault on unions, social programs, public sector workers, and livable ecology.

American hyper-militarism, big money domination of politics and policy and dumbed-down, business-friendly schooling from K to Ph.D.

Meanwhile vast social needs go unmet in a nation where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent and 25 million are functionally unemployed – a nation scarred by a black-white median household wealth gap of 7 black cents on the white dollar.

Holding hands across supposedly polarized partisan lines, elected officials from both reigning business parties offer no serious to deep problems confronting the American people.

These include mass structural unemployment, extremes of great wealth and mass poverty, massive racial disparity, racist mass imprisonment, and escalating ecological catastrophe.

Add to that the corporate control of media and politics, the ongoing deterioration of social infrastructure, and a vastly expensive military empire that continues to conduct criminal wars both overt and covert, around the world.

1/28/11

Trickle-up Capitalism: The Rich Get Richer, The Masses Get Shafted

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It is well established that income inequality has increased substantially in the United States over the past three decades.

Gains from the prolonged period of economic growth that ended in 2007–08 have gone disproportionately to the upper end of the richest layer of society.

The share of U.S. income accruing to the top one percent of American families jumped from 9% to 23.5 % of the total. These data point clearly to the stagnation of working-class incomes in the United States: Real incomes for male workers peaked sometime back in the 1970s and have not recovered since.”

The last time the inequality gap was this huge was just before the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression.

What about the Have-nots? The 99% in our working economy? Capitalism is shafting them: 40 years of economic gains trickling up. The top 1% got richer. Real incomes for the Have-nots, the bottom 99%, have declined.

The growing disparity in outcomes has coincided with a period of conservative hegemony in American politics. Conservative ideas clearly had to do with the rise in inequality. The economic model favored by Ronald Reagan was intended to open the doors to greater competition and entrepreneurship.

But Reaganomics failed. While pro-market advocates have repeatedly told us that growth nearly always trickles down over time to all or nearly all class cohorts.

But as the years went by, those gross gains at the top of the income distribution pyramid failed to trickle down in any substantial way.

In short, the Reaganomics brand of capitalism failed miserably. And ironically it’s making a rapid comeback. Why? Because the super-rich are obsessed with wealth, power and globalisation.

Davos: A Conspiracy of the Super-Rich

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At the annual meeting of the notorious World Economic Forum, invitation-only club for the Super Rich and friends since 1971, the feel-good mantra is “Committed to improving the state of the world.”

But they’re failing. In 40 years the Haves got richer. Have-nots got shafted. Something’s terribly wrong. When it comes to global economics, Davos is a disaster.

A general view shows the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum takes place under heavy security measures and attended by top politicians, monetary policymakers and senior business executives.

Why? Inside Davos is a secret society, a Conspiracy of the Super Rich, more than half the 2,500 attending the event. They’ve got trillions. And it’s not enough. Right now, many are cruising to Davos at 50,000 feet, enjoying caviar, foie gras, filet mignon and Dom Perignon in the comfort of their tax-exempt Gulfstream 5 jets.

For them a Davos invitation is not just a status symbol, not just proof of their power. An invitation confirms the illusion that their Conspiracy of the Super Rich is the main engine driving global economic progress the past 40 years … so they think they deserve all the wealth they’ve accumulated, including their $60 million jets.

Now step into a parallel reality: You’re flying coach to Davos. Can’t sleep. Watch an iPad movie. Old favorite: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” James Bond is also flying to the Blofeld Institute high in the Alps. Blofeld, publicly known for cutting-edge research. But behind-the-scenes, a diabolical plot is hatching.

At night, after a formal dinner, Bond discovers Blofeld is secretly brainwashing 10 beautiful ladies, Angels of Death, to deliver a deadly toxin across the world on his command, a biological WMD. His strategy: Hold the world hostage, demanding more fame, fortune and absolute power.

Yes folks, at some deep level the Davos Conspiracy of the Super Rich parallels Blofeld’s attempt to take over the world. Both symbols of a dying capitalism.

The First Law of Capitalism: Profits Before People

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Creating jobs is not the primary goal of a Capitalist economy. Creating profits for the purpose of Capital accumulation and expansion is the sine qua non and essential function of Capitalism.

As former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich put it: “Under American-style capitalism, profits matter. Jobs don't.” Nothing new here, right?

Back in 1974, the Chairman of General Motors said it best in his NYT article “The Profit System and American Growth. He reminded Americans that “wages, taxes, dividends” all come from profits.

If there are no profits, he said, there is no money for education, health, welfare, no nothing (as the taxes which support these things come out of profits and wages paid by profitable enterprises).

What the chairmen of capitalist industries know, but apparently professor Reich does not, is that under any form of Capitalism---American, Chinese, Brazilian, State Capitalism, National Socialist Kapitalism, Social Democratic so-called “Mixed Economy” Capitalism,---profits are what count. Jobs are the means to that end.

Often larger profits can be made by increasing the productivity of workers and upping overall output. When such efforts are not possible or do not result in an increased rate of profit, some Capitalists---especially those who own and control vital resources---can limit real production, thus creating shortages of that essential product.

They then raise prices without increasing production and thereby increase the profits of their particular enterprise.

Or, in the case of the US and British oil companies, they can support the creation of a foreign organization like OPEC that will cooperate in restricting output in ways that would be illegal in the US or Great Britain.

This hurts the "bottom-line" or profits of other industries dependent upon the restricted resource; and, therefore, is not a long-run solution for correcting crises in profitability for the Capitalist system as a whole.

If profits cannot be increased through new investment in updated labor-saving technology, then those Capitalists who can may increase the hours of their workers, as well as cut their wages and benefits in order to increase company profits.

Or they may set up operations in a foreign country where worker's wages are much lower, benefits nonexistent, hours and other conditions relatively unregulated.

Note the growing profits made by GM now that new hires get less than half the wage earned by veteran workers, Company-paid health benefits have been eliminated, and production of cars in China exceeds that of cars produced in the US.

“The new workers will be paid hourly wages starting below $15, half of the current UAW average. They also will have a cheaper health care plan and pension."

In 2009, with the help of the Obama administration, GM and Chrysler workers were encouraged to give up employer funding of retiree health care benefits in exchange for stock in the company. Under conditions of the bailout, the union is now prohibited from striking over wages or benefits.

If after cuts in wages, speed-ups, unpaid overtime, and longer hours, investment in new plant and equipment is still not deemed profitable, then Capitalists will invest their profits in things other than expanding real material production.

Besides satisfying their own appetite for increased consumption of luxury goods, they turn to speculation in all forms of financial "instruments" (paper) that result in profits for the "winners" and enormous government bailouts for the so-called losers who are "too big to fail."

No expansion of the real economy, that is, no increased production of material goods, nor additional jobs results from these high stakes gambling activities.

2008 Financial Meltdown Could Have Been Avoided

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Wall Street executives, US regulatory agencies, and the US federal reserve are all being blamed in a new report into the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown.

The country's presidential commission also concluded the financial meltdown could have been avoided altogether. But even as it wraps up its two year inquiry, the 10-member panel remains sharply divided over the causes.

The report reflects the views of six Democrats - while the four Republicans have written dissenting opinions.

It also lays much of the blame on what it says are the "reckless" practices of financial firms like Fannie Mae, AIG and Bear Stearns. It says poor controls led to excessive borrowing and risky investments on mortgages.

It also faults "weak" government regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission and US Central Bank - for failing to rein in the banks they supervised.

Singled out is former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan - for backing de-regulation practices that accelerated the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Obama's Role: Furthering the Interests of America's Financial Elite

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From his first day in office, Obama’s overriding concern has been to rescue Wall Street and protect the wealth of the financial elite.

Moreover, his administration has worked systematically to utilize the crisis in order to increase the wealth and power of the corporate elite and reduce the living standards of the working class.

In this, Obama has been remarkably successful.

From the multitrillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street to the corporate assault on wages spearheaded by the forced reorganization of General Motors and Chrysler, Obama’s policies have generated an 83 percent increase in US stock prices since March 2009 and a string of record-breaking bank and corporate profit statements.

The richest 1 percent of the population is now monopolizing a greater share of the national wealth than ever.

The midterm election was itself thoroughly manipulated by the corporate elite and the media to create the most favorable conditions for the implementation of an even more right-wing agenda, which had already been decided upon.

With no genuine economic recovery in sight and the decline in the global position of American capitalism fully exposed by the crisis, the US ruling class was determined to go much farther in destroying more than a century of social gains of the working class.

The election campaign featured the relentless media promotion of Tea Party groups financed by billionaires and pawned off as some sort of grass roots movement, and the phony war of words between Wall Street and the White House designed to give the impression of bitter animosity.

The Democrats, in fact, lost the election because Obama had continued the hated policies of the Bush administration in spite of his promotion as the candidate of “change” in 2008.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the attack on democratic rights including the defense of torture and the perpetuation of the Guantanamo prison camp, the bailout of Wall Street, and the relentless attack on working-class living standards.

The ruling class took advantage of the peculiar and thoroughly antidemocratic character of the American two-party system, monopolized by two right-wing parties of big business, in which the social interests and aspirations of the masses of people can find no expression.

Exploiting the cowardice and duplicity of the Democrats, the bourgeoisie was able to engineer a thumping victory for the Republican right.

What are the political lessons of this experience? First, the impossibility of the American people effecting any real change in policy by means of elections, and the complete domination of the political system by the financial elite.

Second, the bankruptcy of all those liberal and “left” groups that promote the illusion that progressive change can be achieved by pressuring the Democratic Party and its adjuncts, including the trade unions.

1/27/11

Davos Special: Will the Peasants Revolt?

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The global elite is failing to find the “shared norms in the new reality” preached by the World Economic Forum as lopsided growth and income inequalities split the international economy.

Delegates at the Swiss ski-resort of Davos identified rising food prices, North African unrest and competing remedies for an uneven global recovery as evidence of increased discord.

Such flash-points tempered optimism about the strengthening global expansion and are pressuring policy makers to unite and show they can narrow the social and economic disparities before they derail prosperity.

One lasting effect of the financial crisis has been the growing awareness of the unfair way in which the world's wealth is distributed.

Zhu Min, the former deputy governor of the Chinese central bank, who now works for the International Monetary Fund, goes as far as saying: "Inequality is the biggest single issue facing both the advanced and the developing economies this year."

Quite right too, most people will say, but why should inequality, which is hardly a new phenomenon, suddenly be front and centre in places such as Davos?

One reason is that the emerging markets have begun to confront more openly the question of redistribution. Millions of ordinary Chinese people want to share in the spoils of the economic awakening, just as people in the West are angered by corporate excess at a time of general austerity.

Another is the understanding that inequality goes hand-in-hand with systemic risk. It is noticeable in the US, for example, that wealth inequality peaked in 1928 and then again in 2007 – just before awful crashes.

Concentrated in the hands of too few people, wealth begets speculation, asset price bubbles and ultimately disaster.

Hopefully, too, the emphasis on inequality reflects the shaming of those with huge wealth by a public enraged at their greed and irresponsibility.

There are mutterings in the corridors at Davos that the disparities of wealth in so many countries may lead to a 'peasants' revolt'. Tunisia may just be the beginning of a direct challenge to the rich elites.

One needs only to think of the outrage over bankers' bonuses, for example, and the more general antipathy towards big business that has become a feature of Western society, at least. Davos could be become the Bastille of the anti-capitalism revolution.

The New American Dream: Almost Everyone Can Be Poor

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One aspect of "American exceptionalism" was always economic. US workers, so the story went, enjoyed a rising level of real wages that afforded their families a rising standard of living. Ever harder work paid off in rising consumption.

The rich got richer faster than the middle and poor, but almost no one got poorer. Nearly all citizens felt "middle class".

A profitable US capitalism kept running ahead of labour supply. So, it kept raising wages to attract waves of immigration and to retain employees, across the 19th century until the 1970s.

Then everything changed. Real wages stopped rising, as US capitalists redirected their investments to produce and employ abroad, while replacing millions of workers in the US with computers.

The US women's liberation moved millions of US adult women to seek paid employment. US capitalism no longer faced a shortage of labour.

US employers took advantage of the changed situation: they stopped raising wages. When basic labour scarcity became labour excess, not only real wages, but eventually benefits, too, would stop rising.

Over the last 30 years, the vast majority of US workers have, in fact, gotten poorer, when you sum up flat real wages, reduced benefits (pensions, medical insurance, etc), reduced public services and raised tax burdens. In economic terms, American "exceptionalism" began to die in the 1970s.

The rich, however, have got much richer since the 1970s, as every measure of US income and wealth inequality attests. The explanation is simple: while workers' average real wages stayed flat, their productivity rose (the goods and services that an average hour's labour provided to employers).

More and better machines (including computers), better education, and harder and faster labour effort raised productivity since the 1970s. While workers delivered more and more value to employers, those employers paid workers no more.

The employers reaped all the benefits of rising productivity: rising profits, rising salaries and bonuses to managers, rising dividends to shareholders, and rising payments to the professionals who serve employers (lawyers, architects, consultants, etc).

Since the 1970s, most US workers postponed facing up to what capitalism had come to mean for them. They sent more family members to do more hours of paid labour, and they borrowed huge amounts.

By exhausting themselves, stressing family life to the breaking point in many households, and by taking on unsustainable levels of debt, the US working class delayed the end of American exceptionalism – until the global crisis hit in 2007.

By then, their buying power could no longer grow: rising unemployment kept wages flat, no more hours of work, nor more borrowing, were possible. Reckoning time had arrived. A US capitalism built on expanding mass consumption lost its foundation.

Predatory Capitalism Owns Us

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The true division in America is between the 1% that controls the wealth, resources, property, and the economy, and the expendable 99% that are offered up to service it.

This disparity, when forced to extremes that are only slightly worse than the current situation in America. In western capitalist countries there are crashed economies, bail-outs, massive debt, unemployment, and austerity measures, all in service of the debt to global banks.

A growing movement against the predatory capitalism of the wealthiest 1% has begun.

The financial system crashed, or was crashed. The banks raided the public coffers to supposedly salvage their institutions. Over the past two years, since they took that money, they have reported record profits.

Now, it is apparently the job of the people, whose money was taken by the banks and financial sector, to now repay that money to the banks and financial sector.

Republicans and Tea Party politicians, and pundits, have railed against the absurdity of American citizens actually being empowered enough that they might have ownership in what their money, labor, and resources, have been used to purchase.

Accusations of “Socialism” and “Communism” have been used to describe anyone (including the current, center-right, capitalist administration) unwilling to allow a completely free, unregulated, self-serving, laissez-faire system without at least providing adequate health-care, education, and basic social services, with the money taken from the people, the expendable 99%.

Anyone that might even suggest that an economic system serve the citizens, rather than a debt created by those that demand payment, is accused of being un-patiotic, un-American, and extremist.

Anyone who thinks such things is without representation in this political system. You have no representation in government.

Your only choices are how to pay the debt to the bankers, and who among you are going to pay what share. The poor, the middle class, the business class, entrepreneurs, managers, laborers, unionized workers, migrant workers, doctors, lawyers, and candle-stick makers are all part of the expendable class.

You’ve clawed, scratched, climbed, and done everything possible to become the best you could be. And, in the end, all you are, all you think you have, and all that you are able to do, or produce, is in service to the banks.

Whether it’s payments on a McMansion, private school tuition, the best medical insurance money can buy, or a two room flat and a bus pass; all your money ends up at the bank. What they don’t get from you directly, they take from your collective resources through your government.

We are all part of the Expendable Class– the have-nots. Some of you may have more than others, but all of you service the same financial elite.

Those of you with more simply end up giving more back to the banks. They profit off your labor, skills, insurance, and investments. You are allowed to keep a share, some more than others, but they take that from you in any way they can.

You are valuable property, and will be allowed incentives that will keep you producing profits for the banks.

Whether through higher taxes, lower services, higher tuition, increased interest rates, insurance payments, or privatization of your land, resources, and utilities, you are all paying the same debt, all to the same global financial institutions, whether directly or indirectly.

The current system, and your representatives, assist only in allowing you to fight amongst yourselves. You get to decide whom amongst you pays what share.

None of your representatives, nothing in your political system, is fighting against those that have indebted you. They all have the same plan. They all plan to use you, and your resources, to pay off the bankers.

SOTU: Obama Speaks in Platitudes

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What is the state of the union? You certainly couldn’t tell from that platitudinous hogwash that the president dished out Tuesday evening. I had Obama to be his eloquent self, appealing to our better nature, but instead he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble.

He embraced clean air and a faster Internet while ignoring the depth of our economic pain and the Wall Street scoundrels who were responsible—understandably so, since they so prominently populate the highest reaches of his administration.

He had the effrontery to condemn “a parade of lobbyists” for rigging government after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase to be his new chief of staff.

The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole.

Instead the president conveyed the insular optimism of his fat-cat associates: “We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”

How convenient to ignore the fact that this bubble of prosperity, which has failed the tens of millions losing their homes and jobs, was floated by enormous government indebtedness now forcing deep cuts in social services including state financial aid for those better-educated students the president claims to be so concerned about.

Obama is so clearly the “good cop” scheming to plunder and rape the confronted “citizen” by cooperating with the corporate “bad cop”. Hope and change my ass. He is a fraud plain and simple. His voice grates on me so badly now I simple can't listen to his obvious bullshit.

Israel Wants Palestinians to 'Disappear'

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The U.S. complicity in Israeli expansionism, and the desperate acquiescence of the Palestinian leadership in Israeli demands for its surrender, have now been exposed in the massive document leak by al-Jazeera.

Dubbed the Palestine Papers, the collection of almost 1,700 documents was obtained from unknown, possibly Palestinian, sources and covers a decade of “peace process” maneuvering.

So far, there is only silence from the Obama administration, which is implicated in the documents along with the Bush and Clinton administrations. But reaction around the world is voluble and hard to ignore.

Palestinians, the documents show, offered compromises that verge on total capitulation. At a time in 2008 when talks with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were coming to a head and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pushing hard, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his colleagues offered Israel the 1967 borders, the Palestinians’ right of return, and Israeli settlements on a silver platter.

The Palestinians would have agreed to let Israel keep all settlements in East Jerusalem except Har Homa; allowed Israel to annex more settlements in the West Bank (altogether totaling over 400,000 settlers).

They would have agreed to an inequitable territorial swap in return for giving Israel prime West Bank real estate, and settled for the return of only 5,000 Palestinian refugees (out of more than four million) over a five-year period.

And still Israel rejected the package of compromises, which they said “does not meet our demands” -- presumably because their principal desire is that the Palestinians simply disappear.

The Palestinian eagerness to offer Israel such massive compromises has been the most prominent story from the Palestine Papers.

But the story of the pressure one U.S. administration after another has exerted on Palestinian negotiators to make these concessions and accommodate all Israel’s demands shows U.S. conduct throughout almost two decades of negotiations to be perhaps the most cynical, and indeed the most shameful, of the three parties.

1/26/11

What Obama Should Have Said in His SOTU Address

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I propose to tell you what we need. If you are able to mobilize and force the clowns in this chamber to perform their duties properly, we can succeed in moving America forward. If not, I plan to resign and retire to private life.

After all, I've got fuck you money now. I'll be fine. You'll be screwed, but don't say I didn't warn you. Maybe Hillary can whip you into shape. At any rate, to the tasks ahead!

1. Immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, closure of hundreds of unnecessary military installations around the world.

2. A massive program of public works and public employment that will leave the nation with a modern rail systems, both metropolitan and inter-city, a new electric grid, universal free broadband, and a restored Gulf Coast wetlands.

3. Formation of a postal savings bank that will provide a rock-solid vehicle for personal savings and offer 'plain vanilla' financial instruments, particularly mortgages; breakup of the remaining, overgrown banks; write-down of all 'under-water' mortgages to their market value.

4. Strong enforcement of the right of workers to form and participate in trade unions.

5. Full taxation of the returns to wealth, restoration of income rates prevailing in 2000, a national carbon tax.

6. Replacement of the House and Senate with a unicameral legislature based on proportional representation.

This is fun, isn't it? I could go on, but you who still have jobs need to get ready for bed.

In closing, my fellow Americans and Kenyans, I remind you that the people united will never be defeated. If only you idiots could unite. But I digress.

This nation has the potential to lead the world proletarian revolution. This journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step. Take the step, comrades. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win!

'Human-Rights' Imperialism

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Groups such as Human Rights Watch have lost their way by imposing western, 'universal' standards on developing countries.

Founded by idealists who wanted to make the world a better place, [the human rights movement] has in recent years become the vanguard of a new form of imperialism.

Want to depose the government of a poor country with resources? Want to bash Muslims? Want to build support for American military interventions around the world? Want to undermine governments that are raising their people up from poverty because they don’t conform to the tastes of upper west side intellectuals? Use human rights as your excuse!

Human Rights Watch is hardly the only offender. There are a host of others, ranging from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders to the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard and the pitifully misled “anti-genocide” movement. All promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call “universal”.

Just as Human Rights Watch led the human rights community as it arose, it is now the poster child for a movement that has become a spear-carrier for the “exceptionalist” belief that the west has a providential right to intervene wherever in the world it wishes.

Those who have traditionally run Human Rights Watch and other western-based groups that pursue comparable goals come from societies where crucial group rights – the right not to be murdered on the street, the right not to be raped by soldiers, the right to go to school, the right to clean water, the right not to starve – have long since been guaranteed.

In their societies, it makes sense to defend secondary rights, like the right to form a radical newspaper or an extremist political party. But in many countries, there is a stark choice between one set of rights and the other. Human rights groups, bathed in the light of self-admiration and cultural superiority, too often make the wrong choice.

Human rights need to be considered in a political context. The question should not be whether a particular leader or regime violates western-conceived standards of human rights. Instead, it should be whether a leader or regime, in totality, is making life better or worse for ordinary people.

'Free Trade' Apostles

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Adam Smith recognized that the division of labor would make people dumber by robbing them of non-specialized skills. Yet he thought that this was a price ― possibly compensated by education ― worth paying The widening of the market increased the growth of wealth. This made him a fervent free trader.

Today’s apostles of free trade argue the case in much the same way as Adam Smith, ignoring the fact that wealth has expanded enormously since Smith’s day.

They typically admit that free trade costs jobs, but claim that re-training programs will fit workers into new, “higher value” jobs. This amounts to saying that even though rich countries (or regions) no longer need the benefits of free trade, they must continue to suffer its costs.

Defenders of the current system reply: we leave such choices to individuals to make for themselves. If people want to step off the conveyor belt, they are free to do so. And increasing numbers do, in fact, “drop out.” Democracy, too, means the freedom to vote capitalism out of office.

This answer is powerful but naive. People do not form their preferences in isolation. Their choices are framed by their societies’ dominant culture. Is it really supposed that constant pressure to consume has no effect on preferences?

We ban pornography and restrict violence on TV, believing that they affect people negatively, yet we should believe that unrestricted advertising of consumer goods affects only the distribution of demand, but not the total?

Capitalism’s defenders sometimes argue that the spirit of acquisitiveness is so deeply ingrained in human nature that nothing can dislodge it.

But human nature is a bundle of conflicting passions and possibilities. It has always been the function of culture (including religion) to encourage some and limit the expression of others.

What if the rich decided they were rich enough?. As more and more people found themselves with enough, one might expect the spirit of gain to lose its social approbation. Capitalism would have done its work, and the profit motive would resume its place in the rogues’ gallery.

Davos: A Louis Vuitton Style Ad for Capitalism

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What passes for a global elite has just invested in the two-hour drive in the snow from Zurich to Davos in Switzerland for the 2011 World Economic Forum (WEF).

Ostensibly they will discuss the state of the world under the overarching theme "Shared Norms for the New Reality". One of these norms is "collective sacrifice".

In the context of the rich and powerful that sounds like the ultimate paradox. The mood in Davos is expected to be "somber"

I network, therefore I am

A case can be built that Davos offers significant sectors of the so-called "globocrats" the opportunity to buy intellectual seriousness.

Essentially these globocrats are politicians, chief executive officers, bankers, hedge fund managers, diplomats and academics, plus U2's Bono, not all of them meritocracy darlings.

Davos though offers an added bonus. A stint does not entail listening to "the rest", that annoying, amorphous entity also known as "the people."

They include drought-afflicted subsistence farmers, desperate refugees from failed or failing states, flesh-and-blood victims of "structural unemployment."

Not forgetting those millions of foreclosed-upon, riches-to-rags middle classes and lower middle classes barely surviving in the developed North. They are unlikely to crash the Davos talkfest anyway.

The WEF is a prestige brand (some would say "scam") - promoted with ruthless efficiency. As it duly congregates mostly the super-wealthy (some would say plutocracy) of what Zygmunt Bauman has defined liquid modernity, it costs a ton of money.

From basic membership at about $52,000 (plus an entrance ticket at $19,000) to an annual "strategic partner" membership at a whopping $527,000 (plus five allowed invitations at $19,000 each).

Virtually nothing is solved in practice at Davos by the sound of these so-called "great minds" schmoozing - be it in "public" sessions or in some secret rendezvous at a private suite.

Like in Hollywood parties, the point of Davos is just to show up, network and work the room. The financial elite, government bureaucrats, billionaire charity moguls and think tankers are always networking anyway.

So-called "problem solving" sessions at Davos are usually nonsense - or a bad joke, like Microsoft's Bill Gates discussing development strategies with former US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz (this actually happened).

No one in Davos saw the 2008 financial crisis coming. And once the proceedings are over, few would not blink to pack the Moet and jet-safari from Davos to Darfur to pose for a Louis Vuitton-style ad, complete with Sudanese refugees as extras in full regalia.

Neoliberal Policies Have Been a Disaster

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In 30 years, liberalisation has produced only €1.3 trillion, or barely twice the total U.S. and European bank bailouts. Furthermore, the public guarantees for banks amount to €6 trillion.

Neoliberalism has also financialised the major economies and commodified almost all of life. Global financial assets totalled $595.3 trillion in 2007, or 11 times the world's annual output, and vast profits are made from managing money, not from using it.

States raised interest rates between 2004 and 2006, thereby helping to trigger the crash and then rescued the private banks who had caused the crisis.

The United States put the equivalent of two thirds of its GDP towards that, and the United Kingdom 87 per cent of its GDP.

The leading politicians are so terrified of the financial sector that no state has imposed significant conditions on the biggest beggars in recorded history — who, far from spending the money on drink or even on manufacturing drink, are not putting it to any productive use.

That is because neoliberalism is intensely moral and political; its proponents, starting with Friedrich von Hayek, founded elite think-tanks solely to wreck the public provision which transformed and enriched U.S. and northern European societies and economies after the war.

The plotters, who hated democracy, never tested their ideas in the public sphere; Hayek's stated aim was to control the minds of the intellectuals and the politicians.

American academies submitted too, deifying Paul Samuelson while dropping the equally Keynesian Lorie Tarshis from their curricula after a ‘vicious' campaign. Tarshis favoured the highest wages compatible with full employment, and opposed monopolies.

The state was hijacked at the top, as were social-democratic parties, in a planned takeover. But when various European economies faced 40 per cent unemployment in the 1990s, even adherents of the Washington Consensus saw that their formulaic crusading produced messy and uneven results and never transcended national and regional concerns.

That exposed neoliberal conceptions of knowledge itself. Hayek insists that we can never know the aggregate outcomes of individual actions; he admits that our successes or failures are then due to chance, not to our judgment and action, and adds that we must conceal this lest the public lose their will to work.

The fact that his arguments are founded on major epistemological commitments sets him apart from macroeconomists in particular.

The latter search for tidier equations, perhaps with a view to achieving prediction and control, which Hayek says we can never achieve because knowledge itself is too radically incomplete and uncertain to be susceptible to that kind of treatment.

Neoliberalism is as much an epistemological project as a moral, political, and financial one.

1/25/11

Being by Yourself: Thirty-Six

Hubris

I always feel ashamed after an outburst like that. Who am I to talk about hubris? Take the prophet home as a lifestyle accessory.

You can quote my getting older means a bypass round any further development. The opinionated look for pastures old. By criticising others I describe myself.

Getting Carried Away

Who do we know best? I'm revealed by exposing you. Nor must I settle into smug uncertainty. Just because I can't give you a reason doesn't mean I should attack the ability to.

So, apologies for getting carried away. For a moment there I believed in. There were so many verses I forget the chorus.

Not Actually Being

One should play, not actually be. I'm made up as the swinging prophet. Even that's going too far.

I'm potentially yours. Home of the range of capabilities not yet made use of. I may have the powers to be without realisation. Imagine the effort involved. Was it purpose?

In a Flash of Generalisation

Do you want a full or less life? Trying to make sense out of the shuffle. I've been given a task. To move this rock from a hard place. I'm trying to make it come true.

If there's one thing we've got in common. What do you think the laboratory's for? By copernicus! I've got the evidence to show. In a flash of generalisation. May I proudly present my proof?

Pretending to Exist

I've found as the fruit flies. I can testify. Enough of the build-up already. Enlighten us.

Well to tell you the truth, I'm not sure. Is that it? This is where we come in. I really can't pretend to exist.

My Mind's Still Set

We try to make believable lives out of cardboard and glue. As a matter of fact doesn't convince me. It's a position I'm locked into.

Don't be deceived by the disorganisation. My mind's still set. I may give the appearance of abandonment. I'm only trying to put across.

Meet me after the show. You'll see I'm well and truly joined up.

The Text Starts Here

Thirty-Seven

Obama Kowtows to the Financial Aristocracy

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The White House has in recent days gone out of its way to make clear that tonight’s State of the Union Address will outline an agenda tailored to the demands of the American financial aristocracy.

A video preview of the address distributed by the administration to supporters has been the subject of numerous media reports and commentaries.

In the name of making the US competitive and creating jobs, Obama will call for an even closer relationship with big business, outline a program of deeper cuts in social spending, and signal further reductions in corporate taxes and the lifting of regulations that impede profit making.

The State of the Union speech will reiterate the propaganda of the administration and the media that “job creation” is inseparable from the unfettered operation of free market capitalism.

“My principal focus, my number one focus, is going to be making sure t hat we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs not just now but well into the future,” Obama said in the video.

“We’re also going to have to deal with our deficits and our debt in a responsible way. And we’ve got to reform government so that it’s leaner and smarter for the 21st century,” he added.

In the coded language of American politics, this means an intensification of wage cutting and cuts in social spending.

It is a damning commentary on the reactionary consensus of US politics that nearly two-and-a-half years after Wall Street propelled America and the entire world into the deepest crisis since the Great Depression, a Democratic president flaunts his complete subordination to the banks and corporations.

Capitalism on Life Support

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It would be hard not to acknowledge that our world is in crisis, or at least at a turning point. The models which were developed at the start of the industrial revolution have either failed or are crumbling in front of us in “real time”.

If communism died in the 80′s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism is now on life support. Nothing was revolutionary about the industrial revolution, but instead the industrial leviathan enslaved workers and started destroying our ecosystem by its immense appetite for resources and for burning energy.

The ruling transnational elites, either in the corporate, financial or political sectors, are now operating outside national boundaries with complete disregard for local populations.

To an American businessman, it doesn’t matter if his home town is experiencing double digit unemployment if he can find a cheaper way to fabricate a product in China or India.

Workers in both China and India are paid meager wages, which barely allow them to survive but allow the Chinese or Indian counterpart of the US businessman to become wealthy in the process.

Globalization has made capitalism into a destructive machine of wealth concentration without any concerns for the “worker bees” producing the wealth, and for the damage it creates to our environment by draining our resources.

Global Food Crisis: The Gathering Of A Perfect Storm

The global food crisis is expected to get worse in 2011. It is due to speculation on commodities and land, climate change and overpopulation. Worldwide we have now some major systemic problems on both sides of the food scarcity equation: supply and demand. Both parameters are driving up food prices.

On the demand side the main factors responsible are commodities and land speculation by global financial markets, a demographic explosion and the use of crops for fuel.

On the supply side, the loss of crop land to non-farming activities, diversion of water to city areas and climate change, with its heat waves and floods, are already taking a dramatic toll on our ability to produce more food.

What global capitalism, both at the level of governments and of corporate mega-players, should do (but won’t) for its own survival is to redefine security and shift spending from military and policing purposes to investing in solutions.

Capitalism should be redirected to tackling the emergencies of climate change, water scarcity and overpopulation. The path that we are currently following is unsustainable and is likely, as it has in Tunisia, to fuel social unrest against national and transnational ruling elites.

Ending the Accumulation of Wealth

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It was only in the 18th century that greed became morally respectable. It was now considered healthily Promethean to turn wealth into money and put it to work to make more money, because by doing this one was benefiting humanity.

This inspired the American way of life, where money always talks. The end of capitalism means simply the end of the urge to listen to it.

People would start to enjoy what they have, instead of always wanting more. One can imagine a society of private wealth holders, whose main objective is to lead good lives, not to turn their wealth into “capital.”

Financial services would shrink, because the rich would not always want to become richer. As more and more people find themselves with enough, one might expect the spirit of gain to lose its social approbation. Capitalism would have done its work, and the profit motive would resume its place in the rogues’ gallery.

The dishonoring of greed is likely only in those countries whose citizens already have more than they need. And even there, many people still have less than they need.

The evidence suggests that economies would be more stable and citizens happier if wealth and income were more evenly distributed.

The economic justification for large income inequalities ― the need to stimulate people to be more productive ― collapses when growth ceases to be so important.

Perhaps socialism was not an alternative to capitalism, but its heir. It will inherit the earth not by dispossessing the rich of their property, but by providing motives and incentives for behavior that are unconnected with the further accumulation of wealth.

The Fat Cats Gather at Davos

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Why is the Davos Conspiracy of the Super Rich (with its high-toned mission to “collaborate in a proactive, integrated and systematic manner to address global challenges”) actually creating a global economy?

One that's deteriorating at high speed, where war, disease, population and poverty are accelerating at alarming rates, where the planet’s commodity-resources are rapidly disappearing?

Why? Because Davos really is a disaster. Their economics is a disaster, capitalism a disaster. The Davos’ world view is a disaster. But unfortunately, the Super Rich cannot see this reality cruising at 50,000 feet. They can’t even see the risks once at Davos.

Yes, Davos does have a thick-slick report about 28 global risks (warning: it only takes three happening simultaneously to trigger a global shutdown).

But the real motives of the Super Rich are personal wealth, political power, glory. They care little for the masses.

They are myopic narcissists, like Blofeld’s Angels of Death, trained solely to laser in on profit opportunities, marginalizing risks. Sadly, they will never see the next big catastrophe in time, will not act till it’s too late.

The facts on economic progress since Davos launched in 1971 are undisputed: In the new American Interest Journal, Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History” and one of the leading minds behind President Reagan’s foreign policy wrote:

“It is well established that income inequality has increased substantially in the United States over the past three decades, and that gains from the prolonged period of economic growth that ended in 2007–08 have gone disproportionately to the upper end of the richest layer of society.”

Super Rich billionaires grabbed the bulk of economic prosperity since Davos was launched. Fukuyama says “a study by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez shows that between 1978 and 2007, the share of U.S. income accruing to the top one percent of American families jumped from 9% to 23.5 % of the total.

These data point clearly to the stagnation of working-class incomes in the United States: Real incomes for male workers peaked sometime back in the 1970s and have not recovered since.”

The last time the inequality gap was this huge was just before the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression.

Trickle-up capitalism: Rich get richer, the masses get shafted

What about the Have-nots? The 99% in our working economy? Capitalism is shafting them: 40 years of economic gains trickling up. The top 1% got richer. Real incomes for the Have-nots, the bottom 99%, have declined.

Since Davos was launched four decades ago, the Super Rich only come to share with other Super Rich. They share little with the rest of the world.

Their motives are selfish. They come to Davos to share clever legal, political, tax and financial tricks that will protect and increase their personal wealth and power, with token caring for the masses.

The results are clear: For the Super Rich, Davos a money-maker. For the world economy, Davos is a disaster.

Comrade Obama's State of the Union Address

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Workers and Peasants of America! I bring you greetings from the executive committee of the bourgeoisie! This introduction to my remarks may surprise you, so I will explain.

After long reflection I have decided to abandon my abortive efforts at compromise with the neo-fascist troglodytes of the Republican Party and return to the radical outlook of my youth and the dreams of my father.

The next six years of my tenure will be tumultuous as the corporate duopoly known laughingly as the two-party system scrambles to adjust to my left turn.

Fear not, companeros y companeras, the future is bright. The contradictions of capitalism intensify, thanks in no small part to the incompetent flailing of our retrograde elites. Let us review.

Our so-called economic growth has powered along based on a series of financial bubbles, leading to ever-increasing instability, mass unemployment, and misallocation of capital. All things our vaunted financial innovation and market liberalism were supposed to cure.

My best efforts to ease the burden of this calamity were thwarted by fools in both parties. The stimulus effort was of insufficient magnitude, while tax cuts and quantitative easing are ineffective. The result is sustained, record-high unemployment. Moreover, the financial risks built into the system were transferred to you, the proletariat.

This is how capitalism works, after all. The commanding heights of finance and industry over-leverage with the connivance of the monetary and regulatory authorities, their mere flunkies, and as the boom proceeds the bosses get rich.

When the bottom falls out, the government -- meaning you -- inherits the whirlwind. Oh and by the way, the bosses get bonuses for their achievements. Heads they win, tails you lose.

With your support, I might have done more to prevent this. But it was all too clear to me that this would not be in the cards. You were too busy agonizing about taxes, death panels, budget deficits, and immigrants. Guns, God and gays.

Is there no end to your distractions? In that light it seemed for me the only option at this time is to come out of the closet. We can only hope you succeed in tearing yourself away from Dancing With the Stars.

While our economy is collapsing from within, important pressures combine to exacerbate our looming disaster. I speak of the implosion of U.S. imperialism.

As that fascist monarchist terrorist antediluvian primitive Osama Bin Ladin has foreseen, the U.S. ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan bid fair to further empty the public coffers and drain our military resources.

We have blown up more innocent people than our predecessor G. Bush. But still the enemy hunkers down, unbowed. And why not? The colonial government of Afghanistan is a kleptocratic atrocity. It wouldn't last 15 minutes without an American military presence, and even then its prospects are pathetic.

As my predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower had foreseen, our military industrial complex has grown obese in the marketing of its herd of sacred cows. All manner of malfunctioning weapons systems that aren't needed continue to be churned out of the nation's factories.

Missile defense that doesn't work against missiles that our enemies do not possess, and wouldn't use if they did possess them. And you voted for it, my friends.

Yes, you ordered this shit sandwich. Whatever piece of crap is manufactured in your neighborhood has proven to be sufficient inducement for you to vote for whatever politician is more adept at prostituting himself to its promotion.

These are the fruits of our economy, my friends. Worthless munitions, massive over-building of housing, and popular entertainment fit for morons. Welcome to your Gross Domestic Product!

Meanwhile, things that matter to actual well-being -- leisure time, environmental amenities, fairly-priced health care services, public investment -- these are discounted in what passes for popular economic discourse.

1/24/11

My Mind's Still Set

We try to make believable lives out of cardboard and glue. As a matter of fact doesn't convince me. It's a position I'm locked into.

Don't be deceived by the disorganisation. My mind's still set. I may give the appearance of abandonment. I'm only trying to put across.

Meet me after the show. You'll see I'm well and truly joined up.

The Text Starts Here

America's Left Must Recreate Itself

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The American Left’s strategy must be to re-create itself wholesale. It's likely to take at least two decades. It will have to eschew the Democratic party.

At the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, European labor had to eschew the various Liberal/Whig parties which shared only a part of the Left’s agenda and had no intention of ever delivering on anything else no matter how often Lefties voted Whig.

It will have to begin to see the neoliberal pundits of today as political rivals, rather than as outright allies. It will have to mobilize, turn into voters, the 30% or more who are currently able to vote but do not do so.

They come overwhelmingly from the poorest segment of society and do not vote purely because they see neither mainstream party as having anything for them. The Left must build its own electorate and its own party, and leave the Democrats to sink or swim as they are able.

As to the tactics, those are simple: we must use the rhetoric and the logic of Class War, for that is indeed what it is.

You're either for us or against us. For the Left as a reconstituted movement of the poor, the struggling and the working-to-get-by (what used to be the Middle Class).

Or for the “interests of corporations and the rich — which, today, reign virtually unchallenged”. The latter includes both the Democratic party’s leadership and the A-list blogospheric shills who enable their faux-leftism time after time. As Chris Hedges wrote recently:
We decry the excesses of capitalism without demanding a dismantling of the corporate state. The liberal class has a misguided loyalty, illustrated by environmental groups that have refused to excoriate the Obama White House over the ecological catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

Liberals bow before a Democratic Party that ignores them and does the bidding of corporations. The reflexive deference to the Democrats by the liberal class is the result of cowardice and fear.

It is also the result of an infantile understanding of the mechanisms of power. The divide is not between Republican and Democrat. It is a divide between the corporate state and the citizen.

It is a divide between capitalists and workers. And, for all the failings of the communists, they got it.
The basic problem is that the Rich ate all the pie. What do you intend to do about it? Snuggle up to their Democratic Party incarnation some more in the hope of getting some crumbs? There used to be a term for that, on the plantations. House nigger.

Government for Corporations & by Corporations

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When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that money is free speech, multinational corporations began outright purchasing legislators who would construct the legal framework for dismantling the social infrastructure in favor of an authoritarian corporate state.

Capital replaced people in the political equation. This sleight of hand facilitated stocking the judiciary with corporate sycophants rather than justice-dispensing public servants.

By reifying corporations as omnipotent persons and by equating capital with free speech, the Supreme Court gave corporations and their CEOs enormous power.

Since corporations do not have a pulse or a conscience, the courts essentially created sociopathic institutions that are driven by an insatiable lust for profit.

Originally, corporations were moderately controlled by government through regulation. But as corporate influence in government waxed, corporations began to lobby for, and to win, greater deregulation. The revolving door between big business and government gave rise to the corporate state and to unfettered capitalism.

Corporate power expanded. Driven by the religion of market fundamentalism, capitalists championed the deregulation of industry and markets.

Money triumphed over people. With deregulation the disparity between rich and poor reached historic proportions. Corporations that were ostensibly created to serve the public interest mutated into a malignancy that is eroding civil liberties and killing the planet.

The duplicitous meanings of democracy are used interchangeably by the plutocracy, leaving the American people ambivalent and confused. This was an engineered bait and switch that went virtually unnoticed by a naïve and somnolent public.

And thus capitalism, the very antithesis of democracy, became synonymous with representative government in the public mind. Few people have bothered to question, much less challenge, the secular matrimony of capitalism with democracy.

The perversion of democracy permitted non-persons — corporations — to have representation in government by shutting out actual persons.

Prostituted by corporate money, politicians put profits above the needs of the people. Capital gained primacy over human beings, and the market was deified as an omniscient, divine oracle. Now it is regarded as a primal force of nature too powerful to be controlled by mortal men and women.

Owing to the perversion of language created by the elite, the definition of democracy must be revisited and reinterpreted. Corporations have replaced people in the formula and capital has become synonymous with free speech.

The dictionary definition of democracy was altered to become “Government by the corporations; a form of government in which supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the corporations.” Now capitalism is God and human beings are its subordinates.

Spineless Liberals

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Obama is another stock character in the cyclical political theater embraced by the liberal class.

Act I is the burst of enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate who, through clever branding and public relations, appears finally to stand up for the interests of citizens rather than corporations.

Act II is the flurry of euphoria and excitement.

Act III begins with befuddled confusion and gnawing disappointment, humiliating appeals to the elected official to correct “mistakes,” and pleading with the officeholder to return to his or her true self.

Act IV is the thunder and lightning scene. Liberals strut across the stage in faux moral outrage, delivering empty threats of vengeance.

And then there is Act V. This act is the most pathetic. It is as much farce as tragedy. Liberals—frightened back into submission by the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party or the call to be practical—begin the drama all over again.

We are now in Act IV, the one where the liberal class postures like the cowardly policemen in “The Pirates of Penzance.” Liberals promise battle. They talk of glory and honor. They vow not to abandon their core liberal values. They rouse themselves, like the terrified policemen who have no intention of fighting the pirates, with the bugle call of “Tarantara!”

This scene is the most painful to watch. It is a window into how hollow, vacuous and powerless liberals and liberal institutions including labor, the liberal church, the press, the arts, universities and the Democratic Party have become.

They fight for nothing. They stand for nothing. And at a moment when we desperately need citizens and institutions willing to stand up against corporate forces for the core liberal values, values that make a democracy possible, we get the ridiculous chatter and noise of the liberal class.

The moral outrage of the liberal class, a specialty of MSNBC, groups such as Progressives for Obama and MoveOn.org, is built around the absurd language of personal narrative, as if Barack Obama ever wanted to or could defy the interests of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase or General Electric.

The liberal class refuses to directly confront the dead hand of corporate power that is rapidly transforming America into a brutal feudal state.

To name this power, to admit that it has a death grip on our political process, our systems of information, our artistic and religious expression, our education, and has successfully emasculated popular movements, including labor, is to admit that the only weapons we have left are acts of civil disobedience.

And civil disobedience is difficult, uncomfortable and lonely. It requires us to step outside the formal systems of power and trust in acts that are marginal, often unrecognized and have no hope of immediate success.

The liberal class’ solution to the bleak political landscape is the conference. This, along with letters and cries of outrage circulated on the Internet, is its preferred form of expression.

Conferences, whether organized by Left Forum, Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun or figures such as Ted Glick are where liberals go to feel good about themselves again.

Glick, for example, is touting a plan to lure progressives, including members of the Democratic Party, into something he calls a “third force.”

These conferences are not fundamentally about change. They are designed to elevate self-appointed liberal apologists who seek to become advisers and courtiers within the Democratic Party.

The conferences produce resolutions no one reads. They build networks no one uses. But with each conference liberals get to do what they do best—applaud their own moral probity.

They make passionate appeals to work within systems, such as electoral politics, that have been gamed by the corporate state. And the result is to spur well-meaning people toward useless and ultimately self-defeating activity.

The Obscene Wealth of America's Top 1%

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If you make less than $114,000 a year (90% of us), you've been financially damaged by the flow of income to the richest 1% of Americans over the past 30 years.

Based on Internal Revenue Service figures, if middle- and upper-middle class families had maintained the same share of American productivity that they held in 1980, they would be making an average of $12,500 more per year.

If you make less than $160,000 a year (95% of us), your household value has decreased, percentage-wise, over the last 25 years. According to noted researcher Edward Wolff, only the top 5% of American families increased their percentage of the country's total household net worth from 1983 to 2007.

U.S. GDP has quintupled since 1980, and we all contributed to that success. It's not unreasonable to say that upper-middle class families should have maintained the same size of their slice of pie.

But if earnings since 1980 were based on this measure of productiveness, the richest 1% of Americans would be making $1 trillion less per year.

A trillion dollars a year. That's more than we spend on the entire military.

A trillion dollars a year. That's seven times more than the budget deficits of all 50 states combined. Many states have been forced to cut police forces and teachers to balance their budgets.

A trillion dollars a year. Yet Congress just voted to continue the Bush tax cuts.

The richest 1% ($400,000 or more) didn't work harder than the rest of us. They profited from stock market gains, shrewdly designed financial instruments, and tax cuts.

Capitalism Is Close to Exhaustion

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Western civilization is increasingly unsatisfying, saddled with a system of incentives that are essential for accumulating wealth, but that undermine our capacity to enjoy it. Capitalism may be close to exhausting its potential to create a better life ― at least in the world’s rich countries.

By “better,” I mean better ethically, not materially. Material gains may continue, though evidence shows that they no longer make people happier. My discontent is with the quality of a civilization in which the production and consumption of unnecessary goods has become most people’s main occupation.

What happens to a system when scarcity has been turned to plenty? Does it just go on producing more of the same, stimulating jaded appetites with new gadgets, thrills, and excitements? How much longer can this continue? Do we spend the next century wallowing in triviality?

For most of the last century, the alternative to capitalism was socialism. But socialism, in its classical form, failed ― as it had to.

Public production is inferior to private production for any number of reasons, not least because it destroys choice and variety. And, since the collapse of communism, there has been no coherent alternative to capitalism. Beyond capitalism, it seems, stretches a vista of yet more capitalism.

There have always been huge moral questions about capitalism, which could be put to one side because capitalism was so successful at generating wealth. Now, when we already have all the wealth we need, we are right to wonder whether the costs of capitalism are worth incurring.

1/21/11

Pretending to Exist

Pretending to Exist

I've found as the fruit flies. I can testify. Enough of the build-up already. Enlighten us.

Well to tell you the truth, I'm not sure. Is that it? This is where we come in. I really can't pretend to exist.

The Text Starts Here

Anti-China Propaganda

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You'd think the U.S. was already at war with China, given the immense amount of anti-China rhetoric spouting from the government and media. But selling wars takes time. The average American hasn't bought in to this false advertising yet.

So the big lie will be repeated until its roots are deeply sunk into the American psyche: China, says the U.S. government, is a threat that needs to be "dealt with.”

This propaganda assault is multi-faceted, taking aim from all directions. Any China-related issue, military, economic, and social, is open for attack. For example, the head of the U.S. Department of Defense, Robert Gates, recently visited Asia and focused much of his trip talking about China as a "military threat.”

What is this threat? Gates answers that China has shown a "rapid buildup of military capability,” proven by its production of a "stealth fighter.” The U.S. media had a field day with this news, intending to sow terror in the psyche of the American public.

A quick glance at the numbers reveals that MGates and the unquestioning U.S. media are unabashed hypocrites: China is nowhere near the U.S. when it comes to military expenditures: the U.S., under Obama, will spend $725 billion in 2011(!), while China will spend $80 billion.

When it comes to overseas military bases, China has zero; the U.S. has at least 737!

While Gates was traveling throughout Asia on his Chinese provocation tour, Hillary Clinton joined the attack, targeting China's human rights record in a lengthy, inflammatory speech, which included this slight:

"... when China lives up to its obligations of respecting and protecting universal human rights, it will not only benefit more than one billion people, it will also benefit the long-term peace, stability and prosperity of China."

Yes, China is a violator of human rights, but in voicing her criticism Mrs. Clinton managed to raise the bar of hypocrisy to new heights.

Has Clinton forgotten that Guantanamo Bay remains open, filled with tortured people who are charged with no crimes?

Has she forgotten that Bagram Air base in Afghanistan continues to deny the International Red Cross access to its "black site" detention center, since they would discover the torture chambers described by ex-detainees?

Before Clinton's speech became yesterday’s news, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner provided anti-China reinforcements, this time blasting China's economy and "China's unwillingness to allow its currency to rise in value is hampering U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace and harming the Chinese economy.

Utter hypocrisy. No single government has caused more damage to the global economy than the United States, whose corporations sparked the global downturn by saturating the world with trillions of dollars in fraudulent housing mortgages sold as top-rated investments.

This policy was encouraged by the U.S. government, which gave the corporations cheap money with little oversight, a strategy that continues to this day with the Federal Reserve printing dollars non-stop that U.S. corporations are using to speculate on foreign currencies and drive the prices up of oil and other raw materials worldwide.

The above-mentioned Obama administration officials have no problem peddling their anti-China bias to the U.S. media, which stumble over themselves to provide assistance whenever possible.

The real problem that the U.S. government has with China is two-fold: China's growth is pushing aside U.S. influence/power all over the world, which has negative influence on the profits of U.S. corporations, which are losing contracts to Chinese companies.

In response, the U.S. is provoking China in the media and militarily, encircling China by arming U.S. allies in the region, especially India, Japan and South Korea.

Hillary Clinton responded to this allegation by denying it, while the Obama administration immediately contradicted her by its actions.

"The United States is not bent on containing China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday, but the Obama administration is cultivating other allies across Asia to help it manage Beijing’s increasingly bold projection of military and economic power."

This policy of encirclement and provocation can easily lead to war. As Obama continues to tighten the noose while China struggles to squirm its neck free, the odds grow that military "incidents" may happen, especially as the U.S. throws additional military force in waters just off China's coast in the South China Sea.

The Obama administration joins the right wing in trying to blame both the recession and the startling U.S. inequality in wealth on China.

The real culprits are the corporate friendly politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties, which have both spent decades cutting taxes for the rich and corporations, while encouraging the wealthy to flee the U.S. and its living wage jobs for the third world, where slave wages equal larger profits.

America's Sham Democracy

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Democracy is a word that is used too recklessly in western culture. Despite the prevalent belief that the meaning of democracy is universally understood, it remains an elusive idea that is not easily implemented.

As a political philosophy, democracy is more closely associated with the socialist governments of Latin America, with Venezuela and Bolivia, than with the United States.

Webster’s Online Dictionary provides seven short definitions for democracy. The fourth definition is the one that comes closest to my own understanding of the term: “Government by the people; a form of government in which supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the people.”

If one accepts Webster’s definition as a starting point for dialog about democracy, there are two main points that must figure prominently in the discussion.

Democracy is a concept that relates strictly to human beings and that working people, who constitute upwards of 95% of the citizenry, are disempowered and unrepresented.

Judging from these criteria it is apparent that the U.S. is neither a representative democracy nor a democratic republic.

For instance, the people have no say in whether or not the nation goes to war. Nor do they have a voice in deciding economic policy. If they did, we would not have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We would not be bankrupting the treasury to bail out a criminal banking industry, or to finance the privatization of the public domain.

We would not bankroll a bloated military or the imperial wars it wages for the financial gain of defense contractors and corporate investors.

Like other developed nations, we would have universal health care and publicly-subsidized higher education. Our tax dollars would provide social services rather than corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich. There would be egalitarianism rather than neo-feudalism. People would matter more than profits.

Not only are our freedoms restricted; they are more illusory than real. We are permitted to choose between political candidates pre-selected for us by the elite.

We have the freedom to choose where we will eat or shop or what kind of car we will drive. We have the freedom to migrate from one job to another, but we have no say in how the work is performed, how much it pays, or how the final product of our labor is marketed.

We do not get to decide whether it will be bartered or sold. No matter where you go the workplace is a hierarchical dictatorship.

The business owner does not care what you think. You are a replaceable cog in an heartless machine that is designed to profit the owner by exploiting the worker. This is the indisputable legacy of capitalism.

The U.S. political system is controlled by capital. Elections preserve the status quo rather than permit reform or complete political and social reorganization. It is corporate money, not people, that chooses who can compete for office and who will ultimately win.

Americans are literally voting in the absence of choice. Most legislators sell themselves to the highest bidder. The electoral system perpetuates the illusion of democracy while actually promoting its opposite: plutocracy.

Class Struggle Erupts in the US

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The attack on the working class is about to be intensified. Obama’s right-wing policies resulted in an electoral debacle for the Democratic Party in the November elections.

Tens of millions of young people and working class voters who cast ballots for Obama in 2008 staying away from the polls. The response of the administration has been to shift further to the right and, in the name of bipartisanship, pursue its pro-corporate policy even more brazenly.

Hardly had the votes been counted when Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, layoffs and pay cuts for government workers, and new taxes on consumer goods and employee health insurance—coupled with a drastic cut in corporate taxes and income taxes for the rich.

Obama then shepherded through the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress a tax package that extended Bush-era income tax cuts for the richest Americans and drastically reduced the tax rate on the estates of multimillionaires.

The White House has further signaled its readiness to carry through the corporate agenda by installing former Clinton administration commerce secretary and JPMorgan Chase executive William Daley as his new chief of staff.

The breakdown of the capitalist system is bringing to the surface ever more clearly the fundamental class divisions within society.

Nowhere is the gulf between the ruling elite and the masses of working people more stark than in the US. There is barely a pretense of concern by the Obama administration, Congress, the corporate establishment or the media over the suffering of the unemployed and the destruction of future prospects for an entire generation of working class and many middle-class youth.

The Obama administration testifies to the bankruptcy of all claims that reforms can be extracted by putting pressure on the Democratic Party.

As for the unions, throughout the crisis they have functioned more openly than ever as adjuncts of the corporations and government, redoubling their efforts to suppress the resistance of working people to the attacks on their living standards.

The undisguised insolence and indifference of the financial aristocracy is itself a harbinger of the immense social struggles that are coming.

Feeling Economically Depressed? Let's Have a World War!

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John Maynard Keynes, the sweetheart of the liberal left, made it crystal clear that the use of inflation is a much better economic tool for lowering workers real wages and consumption than direct wage cuts by employers.

He explained that angry workers could be a threat to individual Capitalists, whereas employing workers in government-funded industries and projects that did not produce consumer goods would cause generalized inflation, but make it hard for workers to know whom to blame for the diminished value of their wages, their declining standard of living and lower consumption.

Government transferring labor and material into war production, while rationing consumer goods for working people, was greatly facilitated in the 1930's by nationalist propaganda finally justifying the US entry into WWII and requisite patriotic sacrifices.

What a magnificent booty was gained from America's participation in that fight for democracy and freedom overseas! And the Depression ended!

The usual manner of correcting serious economic depressions is through wide-spread unemployment that lowers wages, causes bankruptcies of the less competitive companies, and facilitates the take over of devalued plant and equipment by larger corporations.

This reorganization of Capitalist production on the basis of cheaper labor and cheaper materials all around, allows the surviving, enlarged and more "efficient" Capitalists to renew production.

This means rates of profit, productivity and growth in employment are even greater than before the downward dive in the "business cycle." Prior to "the war effort," this usual process was underway but had not gotten the economy going again.

However, the riches plundered in times of war - the take over and reorganization of conquered nations' entire material wealth, equipment, cheap labor, factories, and infrastructure - are vastly more profitable than is the process of domestic bankruptcies and economic rebuilding at home. Keynes knew this.