Archive | Featured

85 Billionaires and the Better Half

Posted on 04 March 2014 by John Johnson

by Michael Parenti

An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. (Photo: Flickr / United Nations / Creative Commons)The world’s 85 richest individuals possess as much wealth as the 3.5 billion souls who compose the poorer half of the world’s population, or so it was announced in a report by Oxfam International. The assertion sounds implausible to me.  I think the 85 richest individuals, who together are worth many hundreds of billions of dollars, must have far more wealth than the poorest half of our global population.

How could these two cohorts, the 85 richest and 3.5 billion poorest, have the same amount of wealth? The great majority of the 3.5 billion have no net wealth at all. Hundreds of millions of them have jobs that hardly pay enough to feed their families. Millions of them rely on supplements from private charity and public assistance when they can. Hundreds of millions are undernourished, suffer food insecurity, or go hungry each month, including many among the very poorest in the United States.

“The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. So poverty is spreading even as wealth accumulates. It is not enough to bemoan this enormous inequality, we must also explain why it is happening.”

Most of the 3.5 billion earn an average of $2.50 a day. The poorest 40 percent of the world population accounts for just 5 percent of all global income. About 80 percent of all humanity live on less than $10 a day. And the poorest 50 percent  maintain only 7.2 percent of the world’s private consumption. How exactly could they have accumulated an amount of surplus wealth comparable to the 85 filthy richest?

Hundreds of millions live in debt even in “affluent” countries like the United States. They face health care debts, credit card debts, college tuition debts, and so on. Many, probably most who own homes—and don’t live in shacks or under bridges or in old vans—are still straddled with mortgages. This means their net family wealth is negative, minus-zero. They have no  propertied wealth; they live in debt.

Millions among the poorest 50 percent in the world may have cars but most of them also have car payments. They are driving in debt.  In countries like Indonesia, for the millions without private vehicles, there are the overloaded, battered buses, poorly maintained vehicles that specialize in breakdowns and ravine plunges. Among the lowest rungs of the 50 percent are the many who pick thru garbage dumps and send their kids off to work in grim, soul-destroying sweatshops.

The 85 richest in the world probably include the four members of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart, among the top ten superrich in the USA) who together are worth over $100 billion. Rich families like the DuPonts have controlling interests in giant corporations like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands. They own about forty manorial estates and private museums in Delaware alone and have set up 31 tax-exempt foundations. The superrich in America and in many other countries find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter much of their wealth in secret accounts. We don’t really know how very rich the very rich really are.

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population—whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest  individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.—can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down?  Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities, especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc? We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are.

Millions of children who number in the lower 50 percent never see the inside of a school. Instead they labor in mills, mines and on farms, under conditions of peonage.  Nearly a billion people are unable to read or write. The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. So poverty is spreading even as wealth accumulates. It is not enough to bemoan this enormous inequality, we must also explain why it is happening.

But for now, let me repeat: the world’s richest 85 individuals do not have the same amount of accumulated wealth as the world’s poorest 50 percent. They have vastly more. The multitude on the lower rungs—even taken as a totality—have next to nothing.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Michael Parenti

Michael Parenti’s recent books include: God and His Demons (Prometheus), Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); Democracy for the Few, 9th ed. (Wadsworth); The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For further information, visit his website: www.michaelparenti.org.

Comments (0)

Tags:

America The Most Inhumane

Posted on 03 January 2014 by John Johnson

America Is the Most Inhumane Developed Country on the Planet — Are We Going to Let It Stay That Way?

This week marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What would it be like if people in the U.S. knew they had these rights?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/corgarashu

December 14, 2013  |

This week marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It was drafted by a commission of the United Nations that was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Convention became effective in 1951, the United States finally ratified it in 1988 and it was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

What would it be like if people in the United States knew they had these rights and demanded to have them realized? We believe it would be a very different world – the economy would be a more equitable with full employment, healthcare for all, no people without housing and more humane on every front. Instead, this week an annual report of Credit Suisse ranked the US as the most unequal of all advanced countries.

As a general guide for understanding human rights there are five principles that should be applied to every policy:  universality, equity, transparency, accountability and participation. In a nutshell, universality means that policies apply to all people. Equity means that people have what they need in order to be at the same level as others. Participation means that people have input into the policies that affect their lives.

Harriet Tubman once said, “I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Similarly, we have human rights and our rights are being violated every day, yet many are not aware of this.

Economic Inequality and Austerity

Wealth inequality has worsened under the Obama Presidency. This is remarkable because historically after an economic collapse, the wealth divide closes during the recovery phase. According to the 2013 report, “In the U.S., the bottom 90% of the population own only 24.6% of all the privately held wealth, whereas in most of the developed world, the bottom 90% own around 40%; so, the degree of wealth-concentration in the U.S. is extraordinary…”

There hasn’t been any recovery for the bottom 90%. Public policies have continued to funnel wealth to the top while cutting the social infrastructure. Ellen Brown explains that the Federal Reserve Act prevents the Quantitative Easing (QE), the $85 billion created each month, from being used to invest in businesses and create jobs. She describes the Act as being “drafted by bankers to create a banker’s bank that would serve their interests. It is their own private club, and its legal structure keeps all non-members out.” So, instead of assisting Main Street, the QE has gone to Wall Street and has been used for financial trading that places our entire economy at risk of collapse. Activists will begin a yearlong campaign to change the Fed on Dec. 23rd at all 12 Federal Reserve Buildings.  Taxpayers need to take back the power to create money in a transparent way; the government should be spending debt free money on urgent necessities and providing people with the money they need to survive and create full employment.

Since early 2010, the Obama administration with Congress has pursued austerity with the federal budget, which is the opposite of what is needed in order to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment. Working closely with deficit hawks such as Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and the Peterson Foundation, whose mission is to end social insurances, necessary programs such as unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicare and Head Start have been cut.

Pascal Robert writes that this year alone, the Sequester forced “$9.9 billion in cuts to Medicare, $840 million in cuts to special education programs, and $400 million in cuts to Head Start, in addition to the nearly $2 billion slashed from housing aid.” He calls this “Obama’s war on the poor.” Economist Robert Reich calls the new budget “dumb” because itdoesn’t close tax loopholes for wealthy, restore food stamps to poor, or extend unemployment benefits for jobless.” He calls for investment in repairing our failing infrastructure which would solve critical safety concerns and create jobs.

The economic trends look bad for most of us. College students are graduating with higher levels of debt each year into an employment environment in which they are forced to delay their desired career path and work for poverty wages. While the official unemployment rate for college graduates has dropped, that doesn’t consider the 1.7 million who have stopped looking for work.

The combination of poverty wages, the foreclosure crisis and the buying up of distressed homes by investors has caused the percentage of renters to rise dramatically to 35% of households, the highest in ten years. And more than half of renters are paying over 30% of their incomes on rent alone. It is a landlord’s market and some renters are wondering if it is time to revolt.

And there is no end in sight to this economic situation. The Guardian writes that the State Policy Network, funded by the Koch brothers and Kraft, is gearing up to push legislation in a number of states that will undermine public employee pay and pensions, further privatize education, oppose Medicaid and even try to stop efforts to mitigate climate change. They are even pushing to get rid of income tax in certain areas, a move that will appeal to some but will force more cuts to important social programs.

The simultaneous transfer of wealth to the top and austerity measures for the rest looks like certain social suicide, but it seems that those in power are sick with greed and cannot help themselves. Chris Hedges describes the problem to Paul Jay of The Real News this week in an interview called The Pathology of the Rich, saying “They will extract more and more and more, because they have no self-imposed limits, without understanding the economic, political, and social consequences of what they’re doing.”

Trade Agreements and the Federal Budget

The wealth divide is created by policy choices made by those in power. We can see how they rig the economy for their wealthy donors and big business interests, at the expense of local businesses, entrepreneurs, workers and the poor. Right now this economic rigging is playing out in the secret negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

We are witnessing the acceleration of a global neoliberal economic agenda through the TPP and the Atlantic version, TAFTA. In Europe a document was leaked that described the strategy of lying to the people of Europe of the “management of stakeholders, social media and transparency” to give a false appearance of listening to them and silencing them. At the same time their TAFTA communications strategy will promise jobs and economic growth – when we know from past corporate trade agreements those are false promises.  The approach in Europe is taken from the playbook of the Obama administration in the United States: mislead the public, hide the truth and keep the contents secret.

Stan Sorscher writes that these trade agreements are about more than trade. They are “political, social, cultural and moral documents, which set political and social standards for countries and communities.” They create a legal system that overrules the ability to pass laws that protect the public and environment if that protection interferes with corporate profits.

Fortunately, because of public protests and exposure that the US is pushing polices that violate international norms, the TPP negotiations this week in Singapore broke down. Wikileaks revealed that the US remains inflexible pushing extreme pro-corporate policies as other negotiating countries try to represent the interests of their people.

The World Trade Organization concluded its meetings this week in Bali. Hundreds of people from civil society groups protested both inside and outside of the meetings. An agreement was reached but still has to go to each country for ratification before it takes effect. The reaction of civil society showed great concern about the contents of the agreement in particular because of the expansion of corporate rights and the threats to food sovereignty. They write, “No country should have to beg for the right to guarantee the right to food.”

In the US, a coalition of civil society groups also responded to the budget passed this week in Congress with their own People-Peace-Planet Budget announced on December 10, Human Rights Day, which contained up to a 50% reduction in military spending and investment in domestic needs. They said “One of every two Americans in now in poverty or low income. We’re not just hungry for food. We’re hungry for jobs, homes, for schools, for the basic necessities of life. We are hungry for justice!” A small delegation brought the budget to Congress and presented it to the offices of Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray unannounced. Dennis Trainor, Jr. of the Resistance Report covered their response.

A few hours later, Democrats and Republicans, the bipartisan corporate parties in Congress (the only parties allowed in our faux democracy), reached a budget deal that will restore full military spending while allowing food stamp and unemployment cuts to move forward. The agreement has been described as “awesomely destructive” because it continues austerity, does not extend unemployment or restore cuts to food stamp. It cuts pensions, cuts Medicaid and taxes Medicare but restores military spending. It is a job-killing, economy-weakening budget. “This deal asks essentially nothing of the richest Americans while placing terrible burdens on the unemployed as well as new federal employees, and continuing the fiscal policy drag on our still-unfinished recovery,” said Lawrence Mishel, executive director of the Economic Policy Institute.

Fighting For Our Human Rights

Many in civil society are beginning to understand that human rights are not being respected. Our rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and illustrated in this graphic, such as the right to healthcare and other basic necessities, privacy and unrestricted travel, are being violated. It is up to us to organize and mobilize to demand that these rights are honored.

In fact, one of those rights according to international covenants is the right to resist, which US founders called Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Petition Government for Redress of Grievances. Maciej Bartkowki and Annyssa Bellal write that the international community must support nonviolent civil resistance so that “a ‘people polity’ may represent a decisive force for a final push away from traditional state-driven discourse and practice … towards people-oriented, popular sovereignty based on the rights and responsibility to uphold them.”

On December 10, we participated in a meeting at the office of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) in New York City. NESRI facilitates organizing by groups around the country that use a human rights framework. The first step is for activists and their communities to understand that they have certain rights. The dominant culture in the United States tells us that we have rights to abstract concepts such as freedom but not to the tangible basic necessities of education, housing, health care, jobs and more. And the second step is to identify where these rights are being violated and organize to restore and protect them.

When the human rights framework is applied to any issue, the solution becomes evident.  For example on healthcare, it would not  treated as a commodity that is a profit center for wealthy investors, but a public good provided as a public service to all. For employment, it would mean a full employment economy where workers were paid a livable, not a poverty, wage. These are two examples of many.

One area where there is an aggressive fight for human rights is the campaign for $15 an hour minimum wage.  We examined the breadth of this class war conflict in a recent weekly review: the 1,500 Walmart protests and the 100 cities where low-wage workers walked out being two recent examples. People are realizing this is not just a struggle for a fair wage but for a different kind of country that respects human rights. And people realize that our tax dollars are subsidizing the unethical practices of Walmart, McDonalds, Starbucks and others who pay poverty wages while taxpayers subsidize their employees’ food, healthcare, housing and CEO income.

In SeaTac, the town where the Seattle-Takoma airport is located, people voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.  This is an incredible victory. Not only do workers get $15 an hour (about $31,000 annual wage) but they get paid sick days.  Of course, the people who profiteer from low-wage workers do not want to give up their virtual slave labor. Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association have challenged the new law in court. This is often part of the battle for fairness.

In another victory Schneider Logistics, a company that runs warehouses for Walmart has agreed to pay $4.7 million to as many as 568 workers after they sued over stolen wages, i.e. failing to pay overtime and deducting wages from their paychecks among other things.  Walmart, well known for forcing contractors and suppliers to reduce their prices, tried to escape public blame by saying the workers did not work directly for them. This does not pass the straight face test because we know this is part of the Walmartization of the economy.

In another remarkable story , Flor Molina, who came to the United States so she could feed her family in Mexico, was promised a job because of her sewing skills. When she got here she found out that she had become a slave, locked into a room with other slaves in Los Angeles and forced to work.  After 40 days she escaped and found a group, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). The group helped her to deal with the abuse she suffered and she is now a pioneering member of CAST’s Survivor’s Caucus, a group of women from 13 countries who escaped slavery in the United States. They work to craft policies that meet the needs of trafficking victims on issues like health care and visa protections. “Now that I’m a grandmother, I want a world free of slavery,” Molina says. “Now that I survived, I want to change something.”

Others who stand up and fight back need our support. We urge everyone to boycott Dominos Pizza because of their mistreatment of workers. In one case, Dominos workers who complained about being paid less than the minimum wage were fired. Wage theft is very common. In New York, one survey found 84% of workers reported forms of wage theft. The Dominos in Washington Heights on 181st street practices a type of wage theft. Let @Dominos know that you will not buy their products until this injustice is corrected. Solidarity is critical to defeating these human rights abuses.

Starbucks, which is in the top ten companies with poverty wages, has a contractor that provides them with their paper coffee cups. The union is fighting for a fair contract but the owner is trying to force them to accept cuts to the salaries and benefits, including losing a paid lunch hour. Recently the workers took their fight public with the help of the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU), a small grassroots network of baristas and shift supervisors. They organized an international Week of Action in 15 major cities to call attention to the injustices they’re facing. They want Starbucks to step in and join their call.  Tweet @Starbucks and tell them – respect their workers, support the workers at their Paciv Stockton paper cup company.

Another major area of human rights is the right to education. The Universal Declaration says “Everyone has a right to education” and that “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” These rights are being violated in the United State as austerity and corporatization undermine education.

People are standing up to fight for their right to education – this includes students, parents and teachers.  We especially need to support the efforts of students who stand up for their rights like the inspiring Algebra Project youth. This week, there was a day of actions across the country to take back public schools.

One more area where human rights are violated in the United States is housing.  Not only are economic policies making housing unaffordable, but people who can no longer afford housing are being widely criminalized, as are those who provide food to the hungry. This week in San Francisco, housing activists blocked a google bus to protest the evictions resulting from tech-driven gentrification that makes housing too expensive for many.

These are just a few examples. We can look to almost every issue and find the violation of human rights. And, we can also see that if the five principles of human rights were applied, the policies would be very different and we would see a country that met the necessities of people and protected the planet from ecological destruction.

Time for Outrage

In 2010 Stephane Hessel (here’s a website inspired by his work) who fought in the French Resistance and was the youngest member of the staff of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wrote a short book “Time for Outrage” (Indignez-vous!).  He was 95 when he died in 2013. His book is credited with being one of the catalysts of the Indignado movement, the forerunner of the Occupy Movement. It has sold millions of copies and been translated into 17 languages.

Hessel begins by piercing the false rhetoric of the type we hear from the bi-partisans in Washington and neoliberals around the world:

“We are told, shamelessly, that the state cannot bear the cost of certain civil measures any longer. But how can we lack the funds when our nations enjoy greater wealth than any time since Liberation, when Europe lay in ruins? How else to explain this but for the corrupt power of money … which is now greater, more insolent, and more selfish than ever.

“The wealthy have installed their slaves in the highest spheres of state. The banks are privately owned. They are concerned solely with profits. They have no interest in the common good. The gap between rich and poor is the widest it’s ever been, the pursuit of riches and the spirit of competition are encouraged and celebrated.”

Hessel final chapter calls for a “Peaceful Insurrection” and concludes by putting forward a charge for all of us today, one we should take seriously as we work for a better world built on the foundation of universally recognized human rights. In his final paragraphs he writes:

“How can I conclude this call for indignation?

“By reiterating that on the sixtieth anniversary of the Program of the National Council of the Resistance – March 8, 2004 – we, veterans of the Resistance who fought for Free France between 1940 and 1945, said the following: ‘Yes, Nazism was defeated, thanks to our brothers and sisters of the Resistance who sacrificed their lives, and thanks to the nations united in their opposition to fascist barbarity. But the threat persists; we are not entirely rid of it. And against injustice, our anger remains intact.

“Indeed, the threat persists. We therefore maintain our call for ‘a rebellion – peaceful and resolute – against the instruments of mass media that offer our young people a worldview defined by the temptations of mass consumption, a historical amnesia, and relentless competition of all against all.

“To the men and women who will make the twenty-first century, we say with affection:

“TO CREATE IS TO RESIST

TO RESIST IS TO CREATE”

Every day, rights guaranteed by US laws as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated against the people of the United States and around the world.  Let us recognize that these rights are our inalienable rights and that only we can ensure that we have them. They will not be given to us; we must take them and be indignant in our constant demand that they be respected.

Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here.

This article is produced by PopularResistance.org in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is based on PopularResistance.org’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD are participants inPopularResistance.org;they co-direct  It’s Our Economy  and co-host  Clearing the FOG . Their twitters are @KBZeese and MFlowers8.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are participants in PopularResistance.org. They also co-direct It’s Our Economy and are co-hosts of Clearing the FOG, shown on UStream TV and heard on radio. They tweet at @KBZeese and MFlowers8.

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , ,

US Drone Attack on Religious School Spurs Outrage in Pakistan

Posted on 03 December 2013 by John Johnson

‘Now no place is safe’: Missile strike outside of tribal region likely to cause renewed protest across Pakistan

- Common Dreams staff

People gather at a seminary destroyed in a US drone strike in Hangu, Pakistan (Basit Gilani/EPA)For the first time in over five years, a U.S. drone attack has occured outside Pakistan’s remote tribal regions, hitting one of the more populated provinces and stoking widespread anger over the continued U.S. drone war in the country.

“Now no place is safe. The drones are now firing missiles outside the tribal areas.” Shaukat Yousufzai, Pakistan provincial health minister

The missile strike hit an Islamic seminary in the area and  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-drone-hits-islamic-seminary-in-pakistan/2013/11/21/c8cd26d6-5285-11e3-9ee6-2580086d8254_story.html according to local intelligence officials killed four adult students and two teachers.

The targets were likely members of the militant Haqqani network, but the building that was struck by the drone is reported as a popular and crowded facility for both Afghan refugees and religious students.

As the Associated Press notes: “Maulvi Noorullah, a teacher at the seminary, said there were nearly 100 students present when the attack occurred. Sixteen students were in the room next to the one that was targeted, but they all survived, he said.”

And The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-drone-hits-islamic-seminary-in-pakistan/2013/11/21/c8cd26d6-5285-11e3-9ee6-2580086d8254_story.html reports:

U.S. officials had no immediate comment Thursday on the missile attack on the seminary. But the incident is likely to further complicate relations between the United States and some Pakistani leaders.

Although the United States has carried out dozens of drone strikes in tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials said Thursday’s attack was the first inside a Pakistani province in more than five years. It comes at a time of already heightened tension between the United States and officials and residents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Shireen Mazari, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Movement for Justice party, which is headed by the popular politician and former cricket star Imran Khan—who has been a loud voice in the movement calling for an end to U.S. attacks—said the latest strike was “a declaration of war against the people of Pakistan.”

“The time has come for the Pakistan government to demonstrate through actions that there is zero tolerance for drone attacks,” Mazari said.

“Now no place is safe. The drones are now firing missiles outside the tribal areas,” Shaukat Yousufzai, health minister for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government,  http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2013-11-20/suspected-us-drone-strike-kills-6-in-pakistan told The Associated Press.

“It is Hangu today. Tomorrow it can be Karachi, Lahore or any other place,” Yousufzai told Pakistan’s Dunya TV.

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Business of America Is War

Posted on 06 November 2013 by John Johnson

By William J. Astore

No wonder our leaders tell us not to worry our little heads about our wars — just support those troops, go shopping, and keep waving that flag.

There is a new normal in America: our government may shut down, but our wars continue.  Congress may not be able to pass a budget, but the U.S. military can still launch commando raids in Libya and Somalia, the Afghan War can still be  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175754/” \t “_blank” prosecuted, Italy can be  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175755/” \t “_blank” garrisoned by American troops (putting the “empire” back in Rome), Africa can be used as an  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175743″ \t “_blank” imperial playground (as in the late nineteenth century “ HYPERLINK “http://www.amazon.com/dp/0380719991/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″ \t “_blank” scramble for Africa,” but with the U.S. and China doing the scrambling this time around), and the military-industrial complex can still  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175493″ \t “_blank” dominate the world’s arms trade.
In the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, it’s business as usual, if your definition of “business” is the power and profits you get from constantly preparing for and prosecuting wars around the world.  “War is a racket,” General Smedley Butler  HYPERLINK “http://contraryperspective.com/2013/05/30/war-is-a-racket/” \t “_blank” famously declared in 1935, and even now it’s hard to disagree with a man who had two Congressional Medals of Honor to his credit and was intimately familiar with American imperialism.

War Is Politics, Right?

Once upon a time, as a serving officer in the U.S. Air Force, I was taught that Carl von Clausewitz had defined war as a continuation of politics by other means.  This definition is, in fact, a simplification of his classic and complex book, On War, written after his experiences fighting Napoleon in the early nineteenth century.

The idea of war as a continuation of politics is both moderately interesting and dangerously misleading: interesting because it connects war to political processes and suggests that they should be fought for political goals; misleading because it suggests that war is essentially rational and so controllable.  The fault here is not Clausewitz’s, but the American military’s for  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175208/” \t “_blank” misreading and oversimplifying him.
Perhaps another “Carl”  might lend a hand when it comes to helping Americans understand what war is really all about.  I’m referring to Karl Marx, who admired Clausewitz, notably for his idea that combat is to war what a cash payment is to commerce.  However seldom combat (or such payments) may happen, they are the culmination and so the ultimate arbiters of the process.

War, in other words, is settled by killing, a bloody transaction that echoes the exploitative exchanges of capitalism.  Marx found this idea to be both suggestive and pregnant with meaning. So should we all.
Following Marx, Americans ought to think about war not just as an extreme exercise of politics, but also as a continuation of exploitative commerce by other means.  Combat as commerce: there’s more in that than simple alliteration.

In the history of war, such commercial transactions took many forms, whether as territory conquered, spoils carted away, raw materials appropriated, or market share gained.  Consider American wars.  The War of 1812 is sometimes portrayed as a minor dust-up with Britain, involving the temporary occupation and burning of our capital, but it really was about crushing Indians on the frontier and grabbing their land.  The Mexican-American War was another land grab, this time for the benefit of slaveholders.  The Spanish-American War was a land grab for those seeking an American empire overseas, while World War I was for making the world “safe for democracy” — and for American business interests globally.
Even World War II, a war necessary to stop Hitler and Imperial Japan, witnessed the emergence of the U.S. as the arsenal of democracy, the world’s dominant power, and the new imperial stand-in for a bankrupt British Empire.

Korea?  Vietnam?  Lots of profit for the military-industrial complex and plenty of power for the Pentagon establishment.  Iraq, the Middle East, current adventures in Africa?  Oil, markets, natural resources, global dominance.
In societal calamities like war, there will always be winners and losers.  But the clearest winners are often companies like Boeing and Dow Chemical, which provided B-52 bombers and Agent Orange, respectively, to the U.S. military in Vietnam.  Such “arms merchants” — an older, more honest term than today’s “defense contractor” — don’t have to pursue the hard sell, not when war and preparations for it have become so permanently, inseparably intertwined with the American economy, foreign policy, and our nation’s identity as a rugged land of “warriors” and “heroes” (more on that in a moment).
War as Disaster Capitalism
Consider one more definition of war: not as politics or even as commerce, but as societal catastrophe.  Thinking this way, we can apply Naomi Klein’s concepts of the ” HYPERLINK “http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine” \t “_blank” shock doctrine” and “disaster capitalism” to it.  When such disasters occur, there are always those who seek to turn a profit.
Most Americans are, however, discouraged from thinking about war this way thanks to the power of what we call “patriotism” or, at an extreme, “superpatriotism”  when it applies to us, and the significantly more negative “nationalism”  or “ultra-nationalism” when it appears in other countries.  During wars, we’re told to “ HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175357/” \t “_blank” support our troops,” to wave the flag, to put country first, to respect the patriotic ideal of selfless service and redemptive sacrifice (even if all but 1% of us are never expected to serve or sacrifice).

We’re discouraged from reflecting on the uncomfortable fact that, as “our” troops sacrifice and suffer, others in society are profiting big time.  Such thoughts are considered unseemly and unpatriotic.  Pay no attention to the war profiteers, who pass as perfectly respectable companies.  After all, any price is worth paying (or profits worth offering up) to contain the enemy — not so long ago, the red menace, but in the twenty-first century, the murderous terrorist.

Forever war is forever profitable.  Think of the  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175339/william_hartung_lockheed_martin%27s_shadow_government” \t “_blank” Lockheed Martins of the world.  In their commerce with the Pentagon, as well as the militaries of other nations, they ultimately seek cash payment for their weapons and a world in which such weaponry will be eternally needed.  In the pursuit of security or victory, political leaders willingly pay their price.
Call it a Clausewitzian/Marxian feedback loop or the dialectic of Carl and Karl.  It also represents the eternal marriage of combat and commerce.  If it doesn’t catch all of what war is about, it should at least remind us of the degree to which war as disaster capitalism is driven by profit and power.
For a synthesis, we need only turn from Carl or Karl to Cal — President Calvin Coolidge, that is.  “The business of America is business,” he declared in the Roaring Twenties.  Almost a century later, the business of America is war, even if today’s presidents are too polite to mention that the business is booming.

America’s War Heroes as Commodities
Many young people today are, in fact, looking for a release from consumerism.  In seeking new identities, quite a few turn to the military.  And it provides.  Recruits are hailed as  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174957″ \t “_blank” warriors and warfighters, as  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175276″ \t “_blank” heroes, and not just within the military either, but by  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175423/andrew_bacevich_ballpark_liturgy” \t “_blank” society at large.
Yet in joining the military and being celebrated for that act, our troops paradoxically become yet another commodity, another consumable of the state.  Indeed, they become consumed by war and its violence.  Their compensation?  To be packaged and marketed as the heroes of our militarized moment. Steven Gardiner, a cultural anthropologist and U.S. Army veteran, has written eloquently about what he calls the “ HYPERLINK “http://www.libraryofsocialscience.com/ideologies/docs/Gardiner-HeroicMasochism.pdf” \t “_blank” heroic masochism” of militarized settings and their allure for America’s youth.  Put succinctly, in seeking to escape a consumerism that has lost its meaning and find a release from dead-end jobs, many volunteers are transformed into celebrants of violence, seekers and givers of pain, a harsh reality Americans ignore as long as that violence is acted out overseas against our enemies and local populations.
Such “heroic” identities, tied so closely to violence in war, often prove poorly suited to peacetime settings.  Frustration and demoralization devolve into  HYPERLINK “http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175663/” \t “_blank” domestic violence and  HYPERLINK “http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/14/16510852-military-suicide-rate-hit-record-high-in-2012?lite” \t “_blank” suicide.  In an American society with ever fewer meaningful peacetime jobs, exhibiting greater and greater polarization of wealth and opportunity, the decisions of some veterans to turn to or return to mind-numbing drugs of various sorts and soul-stirring violence is tragically predictable.  That it stems from their exploitative commodification as so many heroic inflictors of violence in our name is a reality most Americans are content to forget.

You May Not Be Interested in War, but War Is Interested in You
As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky pithily observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”  If war is combat and commerce, calamity and commodity, it cannot be left to our political leaders alone — and certainly not to our generals.  When it comes to war, however far from it we may seem to be, we’re all in our own ways customers and consumers.  Some pay a high price.  Many pay a little.  A few gain a lot.  Keep an eye on those few and you’ll end up with a keener appreciation of what war is actually all about.

No wonder our leaders tell us not to worry our little heads about our wars — just support those troops, go shopping, and keep waving that flag.  If patriotism is famously the last refuge of the scoundrel, it’s also the first recourse of those seeking to mobilize customers for the latest bloodletting exercise in combat as commerce.
Just remember: in the grand bargain that is war, it’s their product and their profit.  And that’s no bargain for America, or for that matter for the world.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), now teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. His books and articles focus primarily on military history and include  Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism (Potomac Press, 2005). He may be reached at  HYPERLINK “mailto:wastore@pct.edu” wastore@pct.edu.

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s Still Class Warfare

Posted on 09 October 2013 by John Johnson

Pretend All You Like, It’s Still Class Warfare

by DAVID MACARAY

It’s an old joke, but it bears repeating: An Oxford professor meets a former student on the street. He asks what he’s been up to lately. The student tells him he’s working on a doctoral thesis about the survival of the class system in the United States. The professor expresses surprise. “I didn’t think there was a class system in the United States,” he says. “Nobody does,” the student replies. “That’s how it survives.”

The growing chasm between the so-called middle-class and the rich, coupled with the on-going, systematic assault on organized labor, isn’t simply the result of some unfortunate decisions. Rather, it’s evidence of a well-oiled drive, led by Wall Street and its minions, to separate and segregate the working class from the rest of the economy. It’s class warfare, plain and simple, fought the way our “real” wars are now fought—heavily muscled and sanitized.

Because there’s no opposition (not the Congress, or the Church, or organized labor, or citizen groups), the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The rich and powerful are actively seizing all they can get, and they’re doing it boldly, audaciously, in broad daylight, in front of our eyes, making it reminiscent of those frontier land-grabs where they took everything they wanted, knowing no one could stop them.

So what can we do about it? Vote for progressives and hope for the best? Write to our congressmen? Write to the president?

Actually, we can write the president. Not that anything meaningful will result from it, but it’s easy to do. Anyone interested in getting an opinion heard, getting a gripe off their chest, presenting a personal manifesto, or simply hurling insults at the Oval Office can write to President Obama at this address:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

It might take a month or two, but unless you’ve issued a death threat or written a particularly vulgar letter, you’ll get a response. Of course, it won’t be President Obama who writes you. Indeed, it’s unlikely he’ll even read your letter. Rather, it will a nameless and faceless intern assigned to mail duty who writes back.

Six or seven weeks ago I wrote the president, grousing about how pitifully little he’s done for working people. Beginning with his abandonment of the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act, which would’ve made card-check the law of the land), and his appointment of his old Chicago crony, that anti-union shill Arne Duncan, as Secretary of Education, I lamented the fact that he has been a profound disappointment.

Because this was my first letter to the president, and because I had no idea how it would play out, I was more interested in testing the water than in overwhelming the man with a long list of grievances, or coming off as wildly aggressive. After all, isn’t that Ted Cruz’s job?

Accordingly, I avoided ideology. There was no mention of class distinctions, class warfare, class protests, dialectics, or the Democrats’ betrayal of the American worker. Instead, I politely expressed my surprise at his reluctance to use the bully pulpit to promote the virtues of organized labor, and very gingerly accused him of being either insincere or gutless when it came to supporting unions.

The following is his (his intern’s) response, filled with enough platitudes, weasel words, and assorted bullshit to give politicians a bad name. Had he (his intern) said, “Before you start bitching, fella, try dealing with a Congress whose sole goal is to see you fail,” I would’ve respected him. But instead, I got platitudes. And call me nitpicky, but I objected to his (his intern’s) use of the upper case in the word “Nation.”

Dear David:

Thank you for writing.  I have heard from many Americans about the concerns of working men and women, and I appreciate your perspective.

Since our Nation’s founding, we have relied on the firm resolve and commitment of working Americans.  These men and women are the backbone of our communities and power the engine of our economy.

Workers have not always possessed the same rights and benefits many enjoy today.  But throughout our history, hardworking individuals have joined together to exercise their right to a voice in the workplace.  Through these efforts, the labor movement has improved the lives of countless working Americans and their families by representing their views and advocating for better wages and safe, fair working conditions.  Over time, this work has helped lay the cornerstones of middle-class security—the 40-hour workweek and weekends, paid leave and pensions, the minimum wage and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare.  As we support the groundbreaking contributions of the American workers who have built our country and brightened our tomorrow, we must continue to protect the role and rights of workers in our national life, including their right to collective bargaining.

Every day, hard-working men and women across America prove that, even in difficult times, our Nation is still home to the most innovative, dynamic, and talented workers in the world.  Generations of working people have built our Nation—from our highways and skylines to the goods and services driving us in the 21st century.  My Administration remains committed to supporting their efforts in moving our economy forward.

Thank you, again, for writing.  I encourage you to read more about my Administration’s approach to this complex issue and other critical matters at www.WhiteHouse.gov.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

———————————————

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep.

———————————————

PHOTO: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23560963@N03/6228635356/

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , ,

Time To March on Washington … Again

Posted on 09 September 2013 by John Johnson

Fifty years after King’s historic march, the struggle for racial justice faces unprecedented challenges.

ChangeLinks_Featured_SeptOPT

They carried signs that demanded “Voting Rights,” “Jobs for All” and “Decent Housing.” They protested the vigilante killing of an unarmed black teenager in the South and his killer’s acquittal. They denounced racial profiling in the country’s largest city.

This isn’t 1963 but 2013, when so many of the issues that gave rise to the March on Washington fifty years ago remain unfulfilled or under siege today. That’s why, on August 24, a broad coalition of civil rights organizations, unions, progressive groups and Democratic Party leaders will rally at the Lincoln Memorial and proceed to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the march and dramatize the contemporary fight. (President Obama will participate in a separate event commemorating the official anniversary on August 28.) The Supreme Court’s decision gutting the Voting Rights Act in late June and the acquittal of George Zimmerman less than three weeks later make this year’s march “exponentially more urgent” with respect to pressuring Congress and arousing the conscience of the nation, says Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, a co-sponsor of the march.

“The main themes will be voting rights, state laws like ‘stand your ground’ or local laws like stop-and-frisk, and the whole question of jobs and union-busting,” says the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, who convened the march along with Martin Luther King III. “Fifty years after the original march for jobs and justice, we have a new version of the same issue.”

In 1963, current Congressman John Lewis—who nearly died marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama—was the youngest and most radical speaker at the March on Washington. When Lewis returns to the Lincoln Memorial to address the rally on August 24, he will be the only surviving speaker from that historic afternoon. “We have come a great distance since that day,” he said recently, “but many of the issues that gave rise to that march are still pressing needs in our society—violence, poverty, hunger, long-term unemployment, homelessness, voting rights and the need to protect human dignity.”

When it comes to voting rights, seven Southern states have passed or implemented new restrictions that disproportionately target people of color since the Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling. This follows a presidential election in which voter-suppression efforts took center stage and blacks waited twice as long as whites to vote, on average. On a more structural level, one out of thirteen African-Americans (2.2 million people) cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement laws—four times higher than the rest of the population.

When it comes to the criminal justice system, there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850, according to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. African-Americans comprise 13 percent of the population but made up 55 percent of shooting deaths in 2010. Under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, “people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

When it comes to the economy, the black unemployment rate (12.6 percent) is nearly double that of whites (6.6 percent), almost the same ratio as in 1963. The average household income for African-Americans ($32,068) lags well below that of white families ($54,620) and declined by 15 percent from 2000 to 2010.

These jarring statistics show a clear need for a twenty-first-century civil rights movement. “After the march, my hope is we will see more people going home being committed to doing work in their communities,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-
director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization in Washington co-sponsoring the march. The Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina, the sit-ins by the Dream Defenders in Florida and the spontaneous rallies in 100 cities following the George Zimmerman verdict are evidence of a new wave of civil rights activism. “We’re seeing the civil rights movement rise again,” says Browne Dianis. “People understand that we have to get back to organizing and movement-building.”

For many years, civil rights organizations like the NAACP focused on building institutional power through litigation, lobbying and voting. Though they accomplished a great deal—we now have a two-term African-American president, after all—there’s a growing realization within the civil rights community that the protests and civil disobedience that defined the movement of the 1960s are once again essential to draw more attention to contemporary problems. “I wish this activism had more outbursts than just in North Carolina and Florida,” says civil rights veteran Julian Bond. “You wish it was twenty times as great, but to see these things that are going on—it’s exciting. These tactics are tried and true. They’ve worked in the past, and they’ll work now.”

Yet while the civil rights coalition is more diverse than it was in 1963—now including supporters from women’s rights, environmental, pro-immigration and LGBT groups—the funds are scarce today, even as the needs are growing. The declining strength of organized labor, which has accelerated following the passage of anti-union laws in GOP-controlled states since 2010, has drained the coffers of the organizations most accustomed to mobilizing masses of people. “The movement is more financially
strapped than it has been in modern memory,” says Jealous.

Another daunting obstacle for the civil rights coalition is the right wing’s success in promoting the notion that historic remedies for centuries of discrimination, like the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, are no longer needed. “One of the great difficulties we have in helping people understand where we are on civil rights today is the desire of so many people to fix the civil rights movement in historical amber and visit it like a museum, without honoring that movement by being dynamically engaged in the principles that the movement stood for,” says Sherrilyn Ifill, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, another co-sponsor of the march.

At a recent congressional celebration of the 1963 march at the US Capitol, for example, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell reminisced about attending the march as a young civil rights activist, and House Speaker John Boehner introduced John Lewis. But when Senate majority leader Harry Reid denounced the flood of new voting restrictions in places like North Carolina and Texas following the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision and called for a congressional fix—to great applause—
McConnell and Boehner remained pointedly silent. “Boehner turned to McConnell with a questioning glance during the applause,” reported the Associated Press.

“You cannot, on the one hand, celebrate the march like John Boehner did, but then undermine what the march stood for, which is jobs and justice,” says Sharpton. “You can’t take a movement and say, ‘I celebrate the drama, but I don’t agree with the content.’”

At the same time, some progressive skeptics of the Obama administration believe the current civil rights leadership is too timid and cozy with those in power. Talk-show host Tavis Smiley predicts the new march will sidestep issues, like systemic poverty and the escalation of drone strikes, that King would have confronted were he alive today. “We’re going to get a lot of platitudes, a lot of great stories, a lot of endearing moments,” Smiley says. “But at the end of the day, we won’t even scratch the surface of the issues King was trying to get us to wrestle with.”

The radical politics of the 1960s civil rights movement, including those of its most mainstream leaders, is often glossed over in contemporary remembrances of pivotal anniversaries. Professor Cornel West, a caustic critic of this year’s commemoration, calls it the “Santa Clausification” of King. Many people also forget just how controversial the march was in 1963, both among the public and inside the civil rights community. Some thought it was too radical. President Kennedy asked the leaders to cancel the march. Lewis’s speech was censored to placate the archbishop of Washington. Bayard Rustin, the veteran socialist and civil rights activist who organized the event, was ostracized within the movement because of his homosexuality. Others thought it was too tame; Malcolm X dubbed it the “Farce on Washington.”

Despite all the criticism, the 1963 march remains a singularly important event in American history: the first time the country really understood what the civil rights movement stood for. The effect was greatest on the marchers themselves. “Many of the people at the march had never been to Washington before,” says Bond. “It was evidence to them that they had done something great and that great things would follow.”

Fifty years later, “there is, unfortunately, too much parallel between now and then,” says Jealous. “This is a moment for all of us to be rebaptized in the struggle.”

Ari Berman  wrote about North Carolina’s new voter-supression legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act.

 

Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation, covering national politics and the 2008 election, and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute.

 

Comments (0)

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here

Archives