Thursday, September 20, 2012

World War III Is Coming Soon & Here's Why

We Vote, They Rule: The Case For Voter Rebellion


Democratic and Republican politicians keep each other in business. That matters much more than the usual dead end debates about whether there is a dime’s or even a dollar’s worth of difference between the two ruling parties of this corporate regime. Of course there are differences, and the divergent points in public policy are very much what we would expect from a party that hopes for a better regulated form of capitalism on the “left,” and a party that hopes for a more dictatorial rule of the rich on the right. Only in the bizarrely reduced worldview of “our two-party system” would the borders of one country define the borders of political thought and practice.
Beyond our borders, millions of people freely and regularly vote for socialists and communists of various kinds and parties, and those citizens are not trembling under jackboots or facing summary execution in the soundproof basements of police states. If we insist on principle that the regime in Sweden is a political twin separated at birth from the regime in North Korea, then we will not be above calling President Obama a socialist and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont a Bolshevik. Those rhetorical steamrolling tricks can be left to the far right, however, if we identify in any way with the democratic left. Let us generously define this democratic left to include left-leaning members of the Democratic Party, as well as the growing number of people who are opposed to this bipartisan corporate regime. We need a public conversation about the present conditions and future prospects of the democratic left in the United States. This is why the question of a change in our whole economic and political system cannot be ruled out of order. That kind of censorship is not a promising premise for any political conversation.
There is not a single word of hope or political idealism that has not been dragged through the mud and blood of history, including democracy and socialism, and even “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet the distinction between democratic socialism and single-party forms of state totalitarianism is not a mere sectarian point of pride, but a real and necessary dividing line between radically opposed traditions on the political left. If we try tracing this conflict back to the great intellects of the 19th century, we might say that Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill were never properly introduced and never conducted a civilized conversation—neither those two thinkers nor their followers ever since. In theory and in practice, whole branches of the left have effectively disowned either class struggle or civil liberties.
That division is not simply theoretical, but founded upon all too human historical struggles between classes and regimes. The guillotine in the public square already threw a long shadow over liberty, equality and fraternity in the course of the French Revolution; even as slavery recreated the class divisions of Europe within the American Revolution; even as the bloody basement of the Lubyanka undermined the foundation of the Russian Revolution; and even as the drone wars now conducted by the apostle of hope and change have extended the meaning of empire in the 21st century. Historically, we cannot always decide in what critical period a bourgeois republic becomes a bastion of war and empire, any more than we might notice when a simmering kettle begins to boil. This late in history, however, we may have to become revolutionaries to accomplish the essentially conservative task of defending a secular and democratic republic. Even the more radical task of creating a truly social democracy is also another way of returning to the roots of the republican tradition, in the sense of making a more grounded claim upon our life in common.
Anyone who reads Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” will linger in sadness and wonder over many passages, but for my present purpose this sentence sums up the practical program of totalitarianism: “The Leader’s absolute monopoly of power and authority is most conspicuous in the relationship between him and his chief of police, who in a totalitarian country occupies the most powerful public position.” Arendt noted that such a position of power is not the same thing as being able to seize power, since Stalin’s last chief of police, Lavrenti Beria, survived Stalin just long enough to become one more victim of state security. Beria, as Arendt wrote, “must have known that he would forfeit his life because for a matter of days he had dared to play off the power of the police against the power of the party.”
Later in the same work, Arendt wrote: “The first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man,” namely, the person with any real claim to equality under the law. One way to do so, Arendt added, is by “placing the concentration camp outside the normal penal system, and by selecting its inmates outside the normal judicial procedure in which a definite crime entails a predictable penalty.” In that respect, the extrajudicial prisons and executions conducted by our current regime are stark illuminations of dark times.
A great deal of the social life of comfortable members of the Democratic Party is spent in a kind of political primate grooming, picking the nits of distinction between their chosen candidates—while insisting on the absolute Grand Canyon between the party of enlightenment, the Democrats, and the party of benighted reaction, the Republicans. An unwritten manual of good manners prevents such discussions from venturing into any clear and present consideration of honest socialism, much less of the necessity for breaking away from an anti-democratic economic and electoral system. Nostalgia for the high tide of labor struggles and for the glory days of the old New Deal is often encountered around certain middle-class dinner tables, and even in the offstage, off-the-record comments of some Democratic career politicians. Indeed, it is possible to find members of the Communist Party who find dialectical and “scientific” reasons why they must vote for the Democrat in every big election. In their heart of hearts, they keep a private shrine for Marx, while in public they campaign for Obama. The spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hovers dimly in the air, evoked at such seances to comfort the grieving survivors and to resolve all contradictions.
Since I have sounded a note of satire it is only fair to add that the partisan left in this country has often splintered into sectarian fiefdoms. All the same, my subject here is not the sectarian left, but the real and present prospects of the democratic left. No one expects the Green and Socialist parties to sweep into the highest offices in the next election. But if we vote with courage and conscience only when we are assured that a majority will vote along with us, then what can we possibly mean by either courage or conscience? If a good cause is worth a fair fight, then we are obliged to act now in creating the future majority. In this sense, every great social movement and revolution throughout human history has been “premature” until the very eve of every great evolutionary leap in social life.
Who honestly denies the intelligence and special talents of smooth operators such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? Anyone convinced by the perennial “pragmatic” arguments made for the least destructive capitalist politician on the ballot will also be convinced that capitalism will be measured in the final scales of history according to some fine balance of costs and benefits, if not of outright good and evil. Something has gone far wrong with a definition of political pragmatism that forces citizens to choose only among candidates approved and financed by the ruling class. Collectively and historically, the sum of such “pragmatic” votes must be counted among the reasons that have brought this country to the brink of outright oligarchic rule. This phony pragmatism reinforces the actual dictatorship of big banks and corporations.
The environmental disasters generated by our energy and industrial system were barely alluded to in the recent Democratic convention, and Obama did not dare mention nuclear power under the fallout of Fukushima. Climate change got a formal mention, if only to keep ecologically minded Democrats within the party fold. Both corporate parties are unable to embrace ecological sanity, however, since happy talk about technological innovation within the limits of business as usual is the real ground of bipartisan consensus. Pragmatism was evident at both conventions only in the crass and obvious sense that it works to keep career politicians in public office, while the more important anti-social contract with the corporations is never called into question nor brought to a public vote.
The latest conventions of the two Titanic parties—no more than ruling class faction fights over which captains will steer the ship of state to the next disaster—are already history. Now we can get back to the politics of peace, economic democracy and ecological sanity with less distraction. This week I watched Bill Moyers interview Dr. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, respectively the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Green Party. Both candidates made a good case for voter rebellion against the corporate duopoly of Democrats and Republicans. Stein was best at underlining the key points of the “Green New Deal,” the program to rebuild our economy on a sane and sustainable ecological foundation. No one else running for high office is as sharply eloquent as Stein when making the case for a truly comprehensive health care system.
Honkala was best at making the urgent case for public intervention against a rigged electoral system, and spoke about her own community work over the years with the homeless and with people struggling against home evictions. Honkala’s hunger for justice was fired up in the freezing confines of a car after she and her child had been evicted from their home in the middle of a Minneapolis winter. When she moved to Philadelphia, she continued her community activism, and in 1991 she founded the Kensington Welfare Rights Union to feed and house the poor of Philadelphia. I know the neighborhood of Kensington in North Philly well, since that was the site of one of the earliest needle exchange programs initiated by members of ACT UP Philadelphia in the same year.
Honkala has been charged by critics with public grandstanding, as though corporate politicians with all the mannerisms of Mussolini do not grandstand in American public life. There is a double standard at work here, in the most regressively class-conscious sense, since people in power are undeniably affronted by Honkala’s unapologetic determination to cut a figure in public life. Career politicians (and the kind of journalists who place “access” to power above digging for truth) made nearly the same charges of grandstanding against members of ACT UP chapters across the country in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Not content with ruling the heights of a corporate command economy, these politicians also feel entitled to own public airwaves and attention. In the many years I lived in Philadelphia before moving to Los Angeles, I attended any number of public meetings and protests with Honkala. And yet we never met in person, not even in police wagons on the way to jail, until I introduced myself to her when she spoke at a Green Party event in Los Angeles last month.
When Moyers asked about the possible “spoiler effect” of the Green Party in a presidential election, and made the usual misinformed references to Ralph Nader, Honkala responded by saying, “You can’t spoil what’s rotten.” When lives hang in the balance, Honkala explained, an ambulance will run through red lights. Honkala argued that we live in a time of emergency, and I agree. Electorally, the Green Party will not stop campaigning merely because the corporate parties put stop signs along the electoral route to democracy. When Moyers asked why Greens were not working to reform the Democratic Party, Stein explained that the first Obama campaign for the White House had already busted the illusions of hope and change. Stein was thereby extending an open invitation for decent and disillusioned Democrats to cross party lines. That makes sense to me. The political enemy is not the decent and despairing voter looking for some way forward across the electoral minefield, but instead the dictatorship of big banks and corporations.
Moyers should also be urged to interview Stewart Alexander and Alejandro Mendoza, respectively the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Socialist Party, the historic party of (small d) democratic socialism in this country. Since I previously interviewed Alexander about the Socialist Party presidential campaign for Truthdig, I am also drawing due attention to the Green Party campaign. For full disclosure, I am glad to put on the public record once again that I am a member of both the Socialist and Green parties.
As for the pretense that NBC News chief anchor Brian Williams (to take only one well-known example) is more politically “objective” than I am, that is a fiction of the corporate mass media. That is an industrially produced item of ideological faith, and I do not share the faith. If we choose to revisit the debates about ideology—or even the illusions about “The End of Ideology” proclaimed in the previous century—we would do best to begin from the more realistic premise that position is perspective. I do not need to watch MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and still less Chris Matthews to convince me that the Republican Party is to the right of the Democratic Party. Maddow is, of course, wittier than Matthews, and she is at her best when (with staff research) she is able to point out all the rabid bats and squirrels dwelling in the branches of that sick old oak tree, the Republican Party.
But when I found Alessandra Stanley policing the official boundaries of objective journalism in The New York Times of Aug. 31, I felt like Alice passing through the looking glass and falling down the rabbit hole. Stanley’s article, titled “MSNBC, Arch Counterprogramming to Fox,” was an ideological mash note to Williams. In Stanley’s view, Williams is an exemplary gentleman of old school objective journalism. Stanley noted that Williams “has conspicuously avoided the most fractious MSNBC discussion panels. Those anchors who do make dutiful appearances, like David Gregory and Tom Brokaw, are badly needed but don’t stay long or join the fray—like piano players in a brothel, they don’t go upstairs.”
No, on the contrary, we know that some of the best piano players in brothels did and do go upstairs, including Brahms and Joplin. Those musicians found sources of music beyond polite society, and likewise any independent journalist should describe the political whorehouse of Congress without the pieties and prejudices of a New York Times reporter. Stanley praised anchors and reporters who “stay neutral” and “keep their opinions to themselves.” Stanley’s final summary line of the riskier forums on MSNBC came down to this kiss: “No wonder Brian Williams stays away.”
Oh, but Williams does not stay away from letting the public know that he loves (quite generally) dogs, soldiers and astronauts. Williams also loves the alpha dogs of the corporate parties, and his behavior when interviewing members of the ruling class is impeccable. No question ventures beyond the limits of bipartisan etiquette, and certainly not in the direction of voter rebellion. Does anyone remember Peter Jennings, the ABC anchor who was a high school dropout and got his start on Canadian radio? Jennings was by no means a radical, but his background put his questions and comments slightly aslant the culture and political pieties of the United States. I mention Jennings because he would sometimes ask the startlingly naive question, and at least in my memory he was among the more unscripted anchors of the big networks. He died of lung cancer in 2005, and ever since the network anchors have been cast in the same leaden mold, and dropped in the depths of the best flat screen TVs money can buy.
Presently, many “progressives” have fallen under the spell of Elizabeth Warren. She has the charm and common sense and even the worldliness of an excellent school librarian I knew long ago. If the choice is between Warren and Sen. Scott Brown, I would choose Warren. But in fact I do not choose the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, since that would be a truly wasted vote. Given the menacing objective problems in this country, the partisan program of the Democrats is by no means a “pragmatic” response to reality. Not even close—not in the realm of war and peace, nor in the realms of education, health care and the economy. Certainly not in the realm of the natural world, which we still treat like a 19th century gold mine or else like a public toilet.
Warren gave a populist speech at the Democratic convention, but the Democratic Party is not even close to being a populist party. She added a spoonful of sugar to the usual dose of corporate strychnine, but whatever remains of the left wing of that party is certainly starved for small favors. She also stuck all too neatly to her own script of warmed over New Deal populism, while campaigning on behalf of a party that advanced a program of corporate and financial deregulation under the Democratic Leadership Council and the Clintonistas. Obama deviates in no important way from the party line of the Clintons, except in the factional sense that he played the game of triangulation better than Bill and Hillary. In regular four-year cycles, some new oratorical star rises to dazzle voters starved for hope and change. Obama was also among those rising stars, and now joins the firmament of burned out managerial politicians.
If the Democrats were a party committed to the real reform of capitalism, then party leaders such as Obama would be taking the advice of economist Paul Krugman, who is a regular columnist on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times. Krugman reliably proposes a stimulus program along Keynesian lines, and the Democratic Party reliably treats him as a court jester. This is one more reason why voters inclined toward common sense social democracy should be looking beyond a party far more committed to drone wars than to labor unions.
The Socialist Party has a great deal to learn from the grounded electoral campaigns of the Green Party. I have always advocated open dialogue between Greens and Socialists, and even coalition electoral campaigns in places where this might be possible. But both parties must also keep their own programs and partisan independence. The first rule for real dialogue between Reds and Greens is simple and clear: no secret diplomacy. Of course any political party will have prudential reasons for holding sensitive negotiations in relative peace around small tables, but in every point of true public policy a future alliance of Greens and Socialists must be founded upon public communication and public charters.
This country is still under the fatal spell of red scares. Famously and absurdly, even Obama is charged with the high crime of “socialism” by the usual demagogues. This background of rabid political provincialism is one reason the Green Party decided to retool the New Deal of the 1930s under the rubric of a Green New Deal. And in fact the Green Party is, if we consider its economic program, a party of European style social democracy.
The Socialist Party, on the contrary, is a party of democratic and revolutionary socialism. Democratic because we do not abstain from elections, while being well aware that the public life of any true republic neither begins nor ends on election days. Revolutionary because we do not merely claim that workers should negotiate with management, but that working people should seize public control of the economy and manage our own affairs. The ruling class under such conditions will dwindle as its hidden bank accounts are frozen and its corporate privileges are revoked, though of course it will also be free to earn an honest living.
Democracy in the realm of the economy remains the unfinished business of the Enlightenment. When we speak of a global economy we are truly speaking of a common household, including the metabolism of the human species with surrounding nature. In this sense, all economic choices will have ecological consequences. A class conscious and civil libertarian movement for democratic socialism will pay due respect to national cultures, but the perspective of revolutionary socialism goes beyond all national borders.
The United States is not an honest ambassador for democracy abroad when our Congress long ago became the front office of the ruling class. We should not be surprised that an anti-democratic system on the national scale of the United States will also be drawn into imperial adventures well beyond our borders. Both the Green and Socialist parties are resolutely anti-militarist, not least because the funds and resources exhausted in war and counterinsurgency are better spent to create real security in jobs, schools, homes and health.
A trailblazer of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, noted in a letter to a friend in the wake of the Civil War that he feared the growing power of corporations over the republic. One very telling feature of current “progressive” ideology is to hark back to the era of distinctly Progressive and Populist parties and movements in the United States dating to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Certainly all social movements of all periods in our national history deserve to be revisited, but in one respect the contemporary “progressive” promotion of the past has a distinctly reactionary dimension. Namely, under cover of economic populism, the distinct history of explicitly socialist parties and movements is slighted or reduced to footnotes. Yet the labor history of the United States cannot be told honestly without a fair account of the revolutionary syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World, or the influence of socialists and communists in labor strikes and in the AFL-CIO. Even the electoral history of this country is incomplete without noting the socialists who gained public office in town halls and city councils. Today Sanders is the only member of Congress who owns up to being a democratic socialist, though elected as an Independentindependent. He was interviewed on an earlier segment of the same Moyers show that featured the Green Party candidates, and he always makes a reasonable case for a kind of Scandinavian welfare state.
On Election Day, a vote for either Obama or Romney is a vote for Wall Street criminals to go unpunished, and for working people to go under the wheels. Only a voter rebellion will put fear and trembling in the hearts of career politicians. Political liberty includes our right to fight fair and square against the Democratic and Republican parties, against a system that puts profits before people, and against corporations that are burning down the planet. The militarism of the United States is not an accidental side effect of this corporate regime, but the necessary consequence of the collision of corporate spheres of influence beyond all national borders.
This country needs both an economic and political revolution, by all peaceful and democratic methods possible. But let’s be honest about the many forms of established violence, including the class struggle of the very rich against both the working class and the increasingly proletarianized and impoverished middle class. That class struggle is coded into electoral laws that are designed to lock out any insurgent party from presidential debates, ballots and fair elections. That class struggle also breaks out well beyond the bounds of constitutional law every time police lock public protest into “free speech zones,” and terrorize legitimate public assemblies with brutal sweeps and mass arrests.
The unrestricted mobility of capital over the whole globe inevitably creates international corporate cartels, and regular boom and bust cycles whose greatest cost is always paid by workers and the poor. Next year will mark the centennial of the first edition of “The Accumulation of Capital,” Rosa Luxemburg’s great work on labor, finance and empire. As she wrote of global capitalism in 1913, “Its predominant methods are colonial policy, an international loan system—a policy of spheres of interest—and war. Force, fraud, oppression, looting are openly displayed without any attempt at concealment, and it requires an effort to discover within this tangle of political violence and contests of power the stern laws of the economic process.”
Today we can say that the wizards of high finance take more care to hide their worst gambling habits, but when the truth comes to light they still enjoy full impunity and remain entrenched in Wall Street casinos with lordly disregard of the proles below. The only practical policy for the defense of democracy is an independent, class conscious and civil libertarian struggle against the corporate state. Without widespread rebellion among voters on Election Day, and without social movements of resistance every other day of our lives, we will never regain the spirit of revolution expressed in these simple words: We, the People. That is the lost treasure of our republic, and until we dare to dive among the reefs to find it again we can be sure that the only golden rule among the ruling class will remain the pursuit of power and profit. By all means, occupy the elections. But occupy our workplaces and neighborhoods and public places as well. Otherwise we vote and they rule.

Shocking Statistic About Poverty In America

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More than two-thirds of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck, according to a survey released on Wednesday by the American Payroll Association. The survey of 30,600 people found that 68 percent said it would be somewhat difficult or very difficult if their paychecks were delayed for a week. These results show Americans are still struggling with the recession's effects, the association said.
"This study clearly shows that Americans are finding it hard to save," said Dan Maddux, executive director of the San Antonio-based association of payroll managers.
In 2006, 65 percent of respondents reported living paycheck to paycheck, a figure that shot up to 72 percent in 2010 in the wake of the recession.
The survey was released during a week when a video of Republican Mitt Romney sparked a national conversation about the 47 percent of Americans who, Romney told donors, don't pay income taxes and are dependent on government.
Tracy Martinez knows the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck.
The San Antonio woman has a college degree. She and her husband both work, but Martinez still holds her breath that she won't have any emergencies come up, especially in the days right before payday.
"It seems like all the money goes away so quickly," she said. "It's kind of scary."
Wendy Kowalik, president of the San Antonio financial planning firm Predico Partners, called the study "disturbing, but not surprising."
Saving money is becoming more difficult, if not impossible, for more U.S. workers, Kowalik said.
"All of us in the industry are seeing it more often, that more and more clients are unable to save for the future," she said.
The main reason Kowalik's clients live paycheck to paycheck is that they have come to see luxuries as essential expenses, she said.
"Cable used to be a luxury. Now it's expected," she said. "People have an expectation that they should have a mobile phone, you should be able to have the Internet. People are going to have to change their outlook and put things into perspective."
The American Payroll Association, a trade group for more than 20,000 people who prepare checks, said it conducted the online survey between May and Sept. 7. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.

Anti-U.S. Protests Spread Worldwide


In more than 20 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, hundreds of thousands of people have held mass demonstrations against the United States and other Western countries. The protests in the Libyan city of Benghazi resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel on Sept. 11. Stevens was well known in eastern Libya where the rebellion against the former government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi began in February 2011. The attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi — the very city in which imperialist states initiated their regime-change program for Libya — illustrate the political dilemma the White House finds itself in throughout the region.
It has not been clearly stated who was behind the attacks on the consulate, and whether they were planned or spontaneous, or a combination of both. Yet the response of President Barack Obama was to immediately announce the deployment of 50 Marines to Libya. In addition, the president announced that warships would be dispatched off the coast of Libya and both Predator and Reaper drones will be flying over the North African country, ostensibly in search of those responsible for the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack and other purported threats against U.S. personnel or interests.
There have been conflicting assessments even within U.S. ruling circles over the character of the attack on the consulate and the killing of its personnel. Some within Congress, including former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, publicly stated that the destruction of the diplomatic buildings in Benghazi was part of a well-organized plan.
Others within the administration have been ambivalent for obviously political reasons. If there was a longstanding perceived threat, then why weren’t precautionary measures taken by the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency or other U.S. personnel operating in Libya?
The U.S.-backed General National Congress President of Libya, Mohamed Yusef al-Magariaf, said of the Sept. 11 attack, “The way these perpetrators acted and moved, and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.” Magariaf reported that the GNC regime had arrested 50 people in connection with the investigation. (CBS News, “Face the Nation,” Sept. 16)
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice commented during the same TV program, “Based on the best information we have to date … it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution.”
Who to put the blame on?
Neither the U.S. administration nor the GNC government in Libya could address the underlying reasons behind these widespread demonstrations, which have been both peaceful and violent. Washington and its installed puppet regime in Libya have created mass unemployment, poverty and social dislocation as a result of the large-scale bombing, naval blockade and overthrow of one of the most prosperous and stable governments in Africa under the leadership of Gadhafi.
Washington Post blogger Glenn Kessler pointed out on Sept.17, “It is in Magariaf’s interest to emphasize that this tragedy does not reflect anti-American feelings by the Libyan people.” He added, “It was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival.”
The demonstration in Libya against the U.S. diplomatic installation was quite similar to protests in other countries throughout the region and internationally. All of these actions could not have been organized by people from outside their respective states. The anger expressed by Muslims throughout the planet is a clear reflection of the animosity generated by the foreign policy dictates of Wall Street and its agents in Western governments.
ABC News reported that Glen Doherty, one of the former Navy Seals who was killed along with Ambassador Stevens, was at the consulate on a separate mission related to tracking down the availability of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles. (Washington Post, Sept. 17)
In the aftermath of the killing of the diplomatic personnel, the Obama administration is continuing on the same political trajectory. These diplomatic missions are carried out on behalf of the economic, military and political interests of the U.S. ruling class.
U.S. policy toward the nations of Africa, the Middle East and Asia is becoming more aggressive due to the worsening economic crisis of capitalism and the failure of the Pentagon and CIA to control events within these geopolitical regions. With the deployment of additional military personnel to Libya, these imperialist troops will become targets for the groups identified not only by the U.S. as its enemies, but by ordinary Libyans who will surely oppose the ever more aggressive occupation of their country.
Global discontent with U.S. imperialism
Mass protests also took place in the North African state of Egypt, which last year was the scene of an uprising that led to the toppling of long-time Washington ally President Hosni Mubarak.
Even with the election of President Mohamed Morsi in June, the U.S. administration is still attempting to control Egyptian domestic and foreign policy. At the time of the demonstrations in Cairo outside the U.S. Embassy, Morsi was in Brussels, Belgium, attempting to negotiate a deal with the European Union for economic assistance for his new government.
Egypt has also been in talks with the International Monetary Fund to reschedule a portion of its foreign debt. The U.S.-allied Gulf state of Qatar also has reportedly agreed to invest $18 billion in the economy of Egypt.
All these measures cannot deflect attention away from the social aspirations of the Egyptian masses and other working people and youth throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The historically unequal relations between the oppressed nations and the imperialist states are intensifying and propelling the masses into motion against those elements in opposition to their class and national interests.
Protesters in all the countries denounced U.S. imperialism and Zionism. They ripped down U.S. flags from embassy buildings and burned them along with the flag of Israel.
In Sudan, demonstrators could not get at the U.S. Embassy and therefore attacked a German outpost, where windows were broken and fires set. In Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, Palestine and other states, people demonstrated in large numbers, demanding that the U.S. government stop its hostility toward Islam and countries with predominantly Muslim populations.
In other countries such as Afghanistan and Indonesia, thousands protested the U.S. and its diplomatic presence in their countries. Demonstrators and even some members of these governments called for severing relations with Washington.
Rallies were also held in Britain, Australia, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan on Sept. 17. In Lebanon, Hezbollah mobilized hundreds of thousands of its supporters for a demonstration through South Beirut where chants of “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” rang out.
These demonstrations and other manifestations of anti-U.S. sentiment will most likely continue in light of the escalating imperialist aggression around the world. Workers and the oppressed inside the U.S. must express their solidarity with Muslim people internationally.
In the U.S. and Europe, Muslims are profiled, persecuted, falsely prosecuted and imprisoned on trumped-up charges. These acts of institutional discrimination against Muslims are designed to demonize the religion of Islam in order to justify repressive measures domestically as well as the continuation of imperialist wars abroad.

One Year After Occupy Began: Class War On Wall Street


A huge, militant demonstration took place in Manhattan’s financial district on Sept. 17, the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. More than 150 people were arrested in actions that began at 7 a.m. that day. For several days prior to the rally, the major capitalist media predicted that the events of the day would be minor, and that the Occupy movement was “fading.” These predictions and proclamations were proven to be incorrect.
The demonstration was highly organized and effective. Four different assembly points throughout lower Manhattan were announced. At 7 a.m., several thousand protesters assembled, mostly youth, and after a few speeches poured into the streets.
One of the four contingents, dubbed the “99% Assembly,” met across the street from Zuccotti Park. The activists proceeded to march down Pine Street, near the back entrance of the New York Stock Exchange. The crowd of more than 1,000 surged into the street, and as the police panicked, glitter bombs exploded, raining confetti and glitter on the crowd.
Placards and signs denouncing capitalism were everywhere. The police violently cleared the street, trying to keep the world financial center running as usual. They failed in their efforts, as chaos and protest erupted.
Raising signs with slogans like “Capitalism is destroying the planet” and “Where is my f—-ing future?” youth withstood police batons and other crowd-control measures. Multiple intersections were blocked off as youth linked arms. When the police charged with clubs, the youth fled and soon blocked other intersections. This pattern was repeated over and over again.
Some intentionally remained in the street in order to get peacefully arrested. Many clergy, including the Rev. Stephen H. Phelps, of Harlem’s Riverside Church, were among them. Others fled, causing New York Police Department officers to chaotically chase them.
Sit-ins took place inside symbolically selected bank lobbies. Police were forced to drag youth out of the banks one by one. The issues of the military-industrial complex, police brutality, hydraulic fracturing, unemployment, education cuts and union rights were raised, as Wall Street became a class war zone for the entire morning.
Justin Wooten, a student at Montclair State University, was violently arrested by the NYPD. He screamed out, “You’re a bunch of terrorists!” at the NYPD as they dragged him away.
Lisa Grab, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, filed a criminal complaint against a police officer after he brutally choked her during the morning’s chaotic events.

How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy


All power corrupts but some must govern. -- John le Carré

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.
Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it refers to the cherished hope of liberty embodied in the history of a courageous people.
The campaigns don’t favor the voters with the gratitude and respect owed to their standing as valuable citizens participant in the making of such a thing as a common good. They stay on message with their parsing of democracy as the ancient Greek name for the American Express card, picturing the great, good American place as a Florida resort hotel wherein all present receive the privileges and comforts owed to their status as valued customers, invited to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping, to select wisely from the campaign advertisements, texting A for Yes, B for No.
The sales pitch bends down to the electorate as if to a crowd of restless children, deems the body politic incapable of generous impulse, selfless motive, or creative thought, delivers the insult with a headwaiter’s condescending smile. How then expect the people to trust a government that invests no trust in them? Why the surprise that over the last 30 years the voting public has been giving ever-louder voice to its contempt for any and all politicians, no matter what their color, creed, prior arrest record, or sexual affiliation? The congressional disapproval rating (78% earlier this year) correlates with the estimates of low attendance among young voters (down 20% from 2008) at the November polls.
Democracy as an ATM
If democracy means anything at all (if it isn’t what the late Gore Vidal called “the national nonsense-word”), it is the holding of one’s fellow citizens in thoughtful regard, not because they are beautiful or rich or famous, but because they are one’s fellow citizens. Republican democracy is a shared work of the imagination among people of myriad talents, interests, voices, and generations that proceeds on the premise that the labor never ends, entails a ceaseless making and remaking of its laws and customs, i.e., a sentient organism as opposed to an ATM, the government an us, not a them.
Contrary to the contemporary view of politics as a rat’s nest of paltry swindling, Niccolò Machiavelli, the fifteenth-century courtier and political theorist, rates it as the most worthy of human endeavors when supported by a citizenry possessed of the will to act rather than the wish to be cared for. Without the “affection of peoples for self-government…cities have never increased either in dominion or wealth.”
Thomas Paine in the opening chapter of Common Sense finds “the strength of government and the happiness of the governed” in the freedom of the common people to “mutually and naturally support each other.” He envisions a bringing together of representatives from every quarter of society -- carpenters and shipwrights as well as lawyers and saloonkeepers -- and his thinking about the mongrel splendors of democracy echoes that of Plato in The Republic: “Like a coat embroidered with every kind of ornament, this city, embroidered with every kind of character, would seem to be the most beautiful.”
Published in January 1776, Paine’s pamphlet ran through printings of 500,000 copies in a few months and served as the founding document of the American Revolution, its line of reasoning implicit in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The wealthy and well-educated gentlemen who gathered 11 years later in Philadelphia to frame the Constitution shared Paine’s distrust of monarchy but not his faith in the abilities of the common people, whom they were inclined to look upon as the clear and present danger seen by the delegate Gouverneur Morris as an ignorant rabble and a “riotous mob.”
From Aristotle the founders borrowed the theorem that all government, no matter what its name or form, incorporates the means by which the privileged few arrange the distribution of law and property for the less-fortunate many. Recognizing in themselves the sort of people to whom James Madison assigned “the most wisdom to discern, and the most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society,” they undertook to draft a constitution that employed an aristocratic means to achieve a democratic end.
Accepting of the fact that whereas a democratic society puts a premium on equality, a capitalist economy does not, the contrivance was designed to nurture both the private and the public good, accommodate the motions of the heart as well as the movement of the market, the institutions of government meant to support the liberties of the people, not the ambitions of the state. By combining the elements of an organism with those of a mechanism, the Constitution offered as warranty for the meeting of its objectives the character of the men charged with its conduct and deportment, i.e., the enlightened tinkering of what both Jefferson and Hamilton conceived as a class of patrician landlords presumably relieved of the necessity to cheat and steal and lie.
Good intentions, like mother’s milk, are a perishable commodity. As wealth accumulates, men decay, and sooner or later an aristocracy that once might have aspired to an ideal of wisdom and virtue goes rancid in the sun, becomes an oligarchy distinguished by a character that Aristotle likened to that of “the prosperous fool” -- its members so besotted by their faith in money that “they therefore imagine there is nothing that it cannot buy.”
Postponing the Feast of Fools
The making of America’s politics over the last 236 years can be said to consist of the attempt to ward off, or at least postpone, the feast of fools. Some historians note that what the framers of the Constitution hoped to establish in 1787 (“a republic,” according to Benjamin Franklin, “if you can keep it”) didn’t survive the War of 1812.  Others suggest that the republic was gutted by the spoils system introduced by Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.  None of the informed sources doubt that it perished during the prolonged heyday of the late-nineteenth-century Gilded Age.
Mark Twain coined the phrase to represent his further observation that a society consisting of the sum of its vanity and greed is not a society at all but a state of war. In the event that anybody missed Twain’s meaning, President Grover Cleveland in 1887 set forth the rules of engagement while explaining his veto of a bill offering financial aid to the poor: “The lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.”
Twenty years later, Arthur T. Hadley, the president of Yale, provided an academic gloss: “The fundamental division of powers in the Constitution of the United States is between voters on the one hand and property owners on the other. The forces of democracy on the one side... and the forces of property on the other side.” 
In the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression, the forces of democracy pushed forward civil-service reform in the 1880s, the populist rising in the 1890s, the progressive movement in the 1910s, President Teddy Roosevelt’s preservation of the nation’s wilderness and his harassment of the Wall Street trusts -- but it was the stock-market collapse in 1929 that equipped the strength of the country’s democratic convictions with the power of the law. What Paine had meant by the community of common interest found voice and form in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, in the fighting of World War II by a citizen army willing and able to perform what Machiavelli would have recognized as acts of public conscience.
During the middle years of the twentieth century, America at times showed itself deserving of what Albert Camus named as a place “where the single word liberty makes hearts beat faster,” the emotion present and accounted for in the passage of the Social Security Act, in the mounting of the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements, in the promise of LBJ’s Great Society. But that was long ago and in another country, and instead of making hearts beat faster, the word liberty in America’s currently reactionary scheme of things slows the pulse and chills the blood.
Ronald Reagan’s new Morning in America brought with it in the early 1980s the second coming of a gilded age more swinish than the first, and as the country continues to divide ever more obviously into a nation of the rich and a nation of the poor, the fictions of unity and democratic intent lose their capacity to command belief. If by the time Bill Clinton had settled comfortably into the White House it was no longer possible to pretend that everybody was as equal as everybody else, it was clear that all things bright and beautiful were to be associated with the word private, terminal squalor and toxic waste with the word public.
The shaping of the will of Congress and the choosing of the American president has become a privilege reserved to the country’s equestrian classes, a.k.a. the 20% of the population that holds 93% of the wealth, the happy few who run the corporations and the banks, own and operate the news and entertainment media, compose the laws and govern the universities, control the philanthropic foundations, the policy institutes, the casinos, and the sports arenas. Their anxious and spendthrift company bears the mark of oligarchy ridden with the disease diagnosed by the ancient Greeks as pleonexia, the appetite for more of everything -- more McMansions, more defense contracts, more beachfront, more tax subsidy, more prosperous fools. Aristotle mentions a faction of especially reactionary oligarchs in ancient Athens who took a vow of selfishness not unlike the anti-tax pledge administered by Grover Norquist to Republican stalwarts in modern Washington: “I will be an enemy to the people and will devise all the harm against them which I can.”
A Government That Sets Itself Above the Law
The hostile intent has been conscientiously sustained over the last 30 years, no matter which party is in control of Congress or the White House, and no matter what the issue immediately at hand -- the environment or the debt, defense spending or campaign-finance reform. The concentrations of wealth and power express their fear and suspicion of the American people with a concerted effort to restrict their liberties, letting fall into disrepair nearly all of the infrastructure -- roads, water systems, schools, power plants, bridges, hospitals -- that provides the country with the foundation of its common enterprise.
The domestic legislative measures accord with the formulation of a national-security state backed by the guarantee of never-ending foreign war that arms the government with police powers more repressive than those available to the agents of the eighteenth-century British crown. The Justice Department reserves the right to tap anybody’s phone, open anybody’s mail, decide who is, and who is not, an un-American. The various government security agencies now publish 50,000 intelligence reports a year, monitoring the world’s Web traffic and sifting the footage from surveillance cameras as numerous as the stars in the Milky Way. President Barack Obama elaborates President George W. Bush’s notions of preemptive strike by claiming the further privilege to order the killing of any American citizen overseas who is believed to be a terrorist or a friend of terrorists, to act the part of jury, judge, and executioner whenever and however it suits his exalted fancy.
Troubled op-ed columnists sometimes refer to the embarrassing paradox implicit in the waging of secret and undeclared war under the banners of a free, open, and democratic society. They don’t proceed to the further observation that the nation’s foreign policy is cut from the same criminal cloth as its domestic economic policy. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the predatory business dealing that engendered the Wall Street collapse in 2008 both enjoyed the full faith and backing of a government that sets itself above the law.
The upper servants of the oligarchy, among them most of the members of Congress and the majority of the news media’s talking heads, receive their economic freedoms by way of compensation for the loss of their political liberties. The right to freely purchase in exchange for the right to freely speak. If they wish to hold a public office or command attention as upholders of the truth, they can’t afford to fool around with any new, possibly subversive ideas.
Paine had in mind a representative assembly that asked as many questions as possible from as many different sorts of people as possible. The ensuing debate was expected to be loud, forthright, and informative. James Fenimore Cooper seconded the motion in 1838, arguing that the strength of the American democracy rests on the capacity of its citizens to speak and think without cant. “By candor we are not to understand trifling and uncalled-for expositions of truth… but a sentiment that proves the conviction of the necessity of speaking truth, when speaking at all; a contempt for all designing evasions of our real opinions. In all the general concerns, the public has a right to be treated with candor. Without this manly and truly republican quality... the institutions are converted into a stupendous fraud.”
Oligarchy prefers trifling evasions to real opinions. The preference accounts for the current absence of honest or intelligible debate on Capitol Hill. The members of Congress embody the characteristics of only one turn of mind -- that of the obliging publicist. They leave it to staff assistants to write the legislation and the speeches, spend 50% of their time soliciting campaign funds. When standing in a hotel ballroom or when seated in a television studio, it is the duty of the tribunes of the people to insist that the drug traffic be stopped, the budget balanced, the schools improved, paradise regained. Off camera, they bootleg the distribution of the nation’s wealth to the gentry at whose feet they dance for coins.
A Media Enabling and Codependent
As with the Congress, so also with the major news media that serve at the pleasure of a commercial oligarchy that pays them, and pays them handsomely, for their pretense of speaking truth to power. On network television, the giving voice to what Cooper would have regarded as real opinions doesn’t set up a tasteful lead-in to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V or the U.S. Marine Corps. The prominent figures in our contemporary Washington press corps regard themselves as government functionaries, enabling and codependent. Their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock market touts as “securitizing the junk.”
The time allowed on Face the Nation or Meet the Press facilitates the transmission of sound-bite spin and the swallowing of welcome lies. Explain to us, my general, why the United States must continue the war in Afghanistan, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why the oil companies and the banks produce the paper that Congress doesn’t read but passes into law, and we will show the reasons to be sound. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be scornful or suspicious. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your stupidity and greed in plain sight, in the rose bushes of inside-the-beltway gossip.
The cable-news networks meanwhile package dissent as tabloid entertainment, a commodity so clearly labeled as pasteurized ideology that it is rendered harmless and threatens nobody with the awful prospect of having to learn something they didn’t already know. Comedians on the order of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher respond with jokes offered as consolation prizes for the acceptance of things as they are and the loss of hope in things as they might become. As soporifics, not, God forbid, as incitements to revolution or the setting up of guillotines in Yankee Stadium and the Staples Center.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney hold each other responsible for stirring up class warfare between the 1% and the 99%; each of them can be counted upon to mourn the passing of America’s once-upon-a-time egalitarian state of grace. They deliver the message to fund-raising dinners that charge up to $40,000 for the poached salmon, but the only thing worth noting in the ballroom or the hospitality tent is the absence among the invited bank accounts (prospective donor, showcase celebrity, attending journalist) of anybody intimately acquainted with -- seriously angry about, other than rhetorically interested in -- the fact of being poor.
When intended to draw blood instead of laughs, speaking truth to power doesn’t lead to a secure retirement on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard. Paine was the most famous political thinker of his day, his books in the late eighteenth century selling more copies than the Bible, but after the Americans had won their War of Independence, his notions of democracy were deemed unsuitable to the work of dividing up the spoils. The proprietors of their newfound estate claimed the privilege of apportioning its freedoms, and they remembered that Paine opposed the holding of slaves and the denial to women of the same sort of rights awarded to men. A man too much given to plain speaking, on too familiar terms with the lower orders of society, and therefore not to be trusted.
His opinions having become both suspect and irrelevant in Philadelphia, Paine sailed in 1787 for Europe, where he was soon charged with seditious treason in Britain (for publishing part two of The Rights of Man), imprisoned and sentenced to death in France (for his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI on the ground that it was an unprincipled act of murder). In 1794, Paine fell from grace as an American patriot as a consequence of his publishing The Age of Reason, the pamphlet in which he ridiculed the authority of an established church and remarked on “the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled.” The American congregation found him guilty of the crime of blasphemy, and on his return to America in 1802, he was met at the dock in Baltimore with newspaper headlines damning him as a “loathsome reptile,” a “lying, drunken, brutal infidel.” When he died in poverty in 1809, he was buried, as unceremoniously as a dog in a ditch, in unhallowed ground on his farm in New Rochelle.
Paine’s misfortunes speak to the difference between politics as a passing around of handsome platitudes and politics as a sowing of the bitter seeds of social change. The speaking of truth to power when the doing so threatens to lend to words the force of deeds is as rare as it is brave. The signers of the Declaration of Independence accepted the prospect of being hanged in the event that America lost the war.
Our own contemporary political discourse lacks force and meaning because it is a commodity engineered, like baby formula and Broadway musicals, to dispose of any and all unwonted risk. The forces of property occupying both the government and the news media don’t rate politics as a serious enterprise, certainly not as one worth the trouble to suppress.
It is the wisdom of the age -- shared by Democrat and Republican, by forlorn idealist and anxious realist -- that money rules the world, transcends the boundaries of sovereign states, serves as the light unto the nations, and waters the tree of liberty. What need of statesmen, much less politicians, when it isn’t really necessary to know their names or remember what they say? The future is a product to be bought, not a fortune to be told.
Happily, at least for the moment, the society is rich enough to afford the staging of the fiction of democracy as a means of quieting the suspicions of a potentially riotous mob with the telling of a fairy tale. The rising cost of the production -- the pointless nominating conventions decorated with 15,000 journalists as backdrop for the 150,000 balloons -- reflects the ever-increasing rarity of the demonstrable fact. The country is being asked to vote in November for television commercials because only in the fanciful time zone of a television commercial can the American democracy still be said to exist.

American Prison Labor Means Longer Unemployment Lines

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Two southeast companies that make U.S. military uniforms are shedding hundreds of jobs, as the government looks to federal inmates for the fatigues.
American Power Source makes military clothing in Fayette, Ala., but its government contract expires in October. Federal Prison Industries – which also operates under the name UNICOR will snag the work, and leave the task to inmates. FPI has the first right of refusal for U.S. Government contracts, under a 1930 federal law.
American Apparel, the Selma, Ala., based military clothing manufacturer closed one of its plants and continues to downsize others due to the loss of some of its contracts to FPI. According retired Air Force colonel and spokesman Kurt Wilson, the company laid off 255 employees and cut the hours of 190 employees this year alone. So private workers end up losing their jobs to prisoners.
"The way the law is – Federal Prison Industries gets first dibs and contracts up to a certain percentage before they have to compete against us," Wilson, the executive vice president of business development and government affairs, said. "The army combat uniform, for instance, is an item that they take off the top. As a result American tax payers pay more for it – but the bottom line is each soldier is paying more for their uniform."
American Apparel charges $29.44 per uniform, but the FPI uniform costs $34.18 – a 15 percent difference.
FPI has been around since the 1930s. It provides training, education and employment for inmates in federal custody. With more than 13,000 inmates, FPI operates in about 80 factories across the United States. The company is not allowed to sell its goods to the private sector -- and the law requires federal agencies to buy its products, even if they are not the cheapest.
"It has been going on for some time," Wilson said. "Unfortunately what comes to bear now is, as demand for uniforms begins to decrease, budgets decrease and the problem gets bigger for us. Therefore we have to lay people off."
FPI officials were unavailable for an interview, but the company does offer a number of statistics which dispute the criticism.
"It is important to note that FPI produces only 7 percent of the textile garments purchased by DLA. The other 93 percent are produced by other entities," Julie Rozier, an FPI spokeswoman said in a statement to Fox News.
"FPI's percentage has remained fairly consistent over the past decade, with slight declines. FPI is a program that directly protects society by reducing crime and preparing inmates for successful release back into society to become law-abiding citizens; FPI does not receive a congressional appropriation for its operations," the statement said.
Inmates working for UNICOR or FPI are 24 percent less likely to reoffend and 14 percent more likely to be employed long-term upon release, according to the government company's website. More than 40 percent of Unicor's supplies were purchased from small businesses in 2011.
The battle between the two has caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington.
Representative Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., is sponsoring a bill which would reign in the ability to take work from private companies.
"We all have seen those terrible statistics, forty-plus months of 8.1 percent unemployment. We know the actions the government has taken it doesn't look like this is going to get better any time soon," Huizenga said. "Here we are having a prison population coming in and taking jobs away from the private sector - why in the world we think this is OK. I can guarantee you if this were a Chinese product with Chinese prisoners making that - we would be outraged."
Huizenga went on to say the outrage amongst his constituents is palpable.
"It's just this outside entity called UNICOR or Federal Prison Industries coming in and saying sorry - that work is now ours. We are going to having prisoners doing this," he said. "Of course they are outraged, of course they are frustrated. They are angry, they're hurt frankly that their own federal government would come in and do this to them at a time when their watching their friends and neighbors struggle with $4 gasoline and they're trying to keep their mortgage in check."

Our Disgraceful Minimum Wage


In natural terms, our economy is a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, our present corporate and governmental leadership can't seem to grasp one of the basic laws of nature: You can't keep a mighty tree alive (much less have it thrive) by only spritzing the fine leaves at the tippy-top. The fate of the whole tree depends on nurturing the roots.
Sadly, we're led by a myopic crew of leaf-spritzers.
Elites in Washington, on Wall Street and in the corporate suites have taken exquisite care of themselves. Blithely oblivious to the dangerous shriveling of the roots, they've increased their take by offshoring our middle-class jobs, slashing American wages and benefits, busting the ability of unions to fight back, deregulating their nefarious corporate and financial operations, dodging their tax obligations, privatizing and gutting public services (from schools to food stamps), and turning our elections into auctions run by and for billionaires, thus robbing America itself of its unifying ethos: economic fairness and social justice.
One of the least excusable of today's injustices is that in this country of unsurpassed wealth, it's an abomination that the power elites are casually tolerating poverty pay as our wage floor. How deplorable that they can actually juxtapose the words "working" and "poor" without blinking, much less blushing.
Nearly 4 million Americans are being paid at or below the desiccated federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. For a single mother with two kids, that's $4,000 a year beneath the poverty level. Where are the ethics in a "work ethic" that rewards so many with paychecks that deliberately hold them in poverty?
Consider the kind of life $7.25 buys. At that rate, a full-time worker is taking in only $1,250 a month, before payroll taxes. Try stretching that over the basics of rent, utilities, groceries and gas. Need car repair? Lose your job? What if you get sick? Good luck.
Corporate politicos and front groups have draped a thick tapestry of myths and excuses over the miserly wage.
"The only people paid the minimum," goes one of their oldest dodges, "are teenagers working part-time summer jobs for extra cash." In fact, only 6.4 percent of these low-wage employees are teen part-timers. Contrary to the stereotype, the typical minimum-wage worker is an adult, white woman (including many single moms) whose family relies on her paycheck.
The right-wingosphere argues that lifting the wage floor would keep employers from hiring. Not true. The reason corporations aren't hiring is that consumers aren't purchasing their products, thanks to the economic realities of lost jobs, wage cuts and inflation that have shrunk the buying power of working families.
The one simple step that would immediately add juice to the consumer economy (which accounts for two-thirds of America's economic activity) is to do the one thing that boneheaded lawmakers adamantly refuse even to consider: Raise the spending power of millions of low-wage workers by hiking the legal minimum wage. Raising it to $10 an hour would elevate 30 million hardworking Americans now paid a poverty or near-poverty level income. While it would still be tough to raise a family on a $10-an-hour wage ($20,800 a year), it does move our country a lot closer to the principle that work ought to be fairly rewarded, restoring a measure of ethics to the work ethic.
Such a percolate-up solution would provide a huge and direct lift out of our present doldrums — a study last year by Chicago's Federal Reserve Bank found that every dollar increase in the minimum wage produces an immediate bump in the next year of $2,800 per recipient in consumer purchases of everything from kids' shoes to vehicles. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported in a 2009 study that even a boost to $9.50 an hour would result in $30 billion a year in new consumer spending.
Numerous in-depth studies show that hiking the wage does not cause either small businesses or giants like McDonald's to rush out and slash their workforce in order to offset the relatively small cost of paying employees a bit better. To the contrary, most studies show that overall job numbers go up.
The public is overwhelmingly behind the increase. This June, a Zogby Analytics survey of likely voters found seven out of 10 supporting a raise above $10 an hour (including 54 percent of Republicans). Notably, 71 percent of young people (18 to 23 years old) favored it. Likewise, last November's "American Values Survey" by the Public Religion Research Institute showed two-thirds of Americans in favor of a $10-per-hour minimum.
The super-rich are fast separating their good fortunes from the well-being of the many. It's not just America's economy they're skewing, but our values. They're destroying the place where egalitarianism, upward mobility and the middle class once had a welcoming home. That's the fight we're in — a historic fight to decide who we Americans really are.

The Federal Reserve Is Systematically Destroying Social Security And The Retirement Plans


Last week the mainstream media hailed QE3 as the "quick fix" that the U.S. economy desperately needs, but the truth is that the policies that the Federal Reserve is pursuing are going to be absolutely devastating for our senior citizens.  By keeping interest rates at exceptionally low levels, the Federal Reserve is absolutely crushing savers and is systematically destroying Social Security.  Meanwhile, the inflation that QE3 will cause is going to be absolutely crippling for the millions upon millions of retired Americans that are on a fixed income.  Sadly, most elderly Americans have no idea what the Federal Reserve is doing to their financial futures.  Most Americans that are approaching retirement age have not adequately saved for retirement, and the Social Security system that they are depending on is going to completely and totally collapse in the coming years.  Right now, approximately 56 million Americans are collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to grow to a whopping 91 million.  By law, the Social Security trust fund must be invested in U.S. government securities.  But thanks to the low interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate on those securities just keeps dropping and dropping.  The trustees of the Social Security system had projected that the Social Security trust fund would be completely gone by 2033, but because of the Fed policy of keeping interest rates exceptionally low for the foreseeable future it is now being projected by some analysts that Social Security will be bankrupt by 2023.  Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The collapse of Social Security is inevitable, and the foolish policies of the Federal Reserve are going to make that collapse happen much more rapidly. The only way that the Social Security system is going to be able to stay solvent is for the Social Security trust fund to earn a healthy level of interest.
By law, all money deposited in the Social Security trust fund must be invested in U.S. government securities.  The following is from the official website of the Social Security Administration....
By law, income to the trust funds must be invested, on a daily basis, in securities guaranteed as to both principal and interest by the Federal government. All securities held by the trust funds are "special issues" of the United States Treasury. Such securities are available only to the trust funds.
In the past, the trust funds have held marketable Treasury securities, which are available to the general public. Unlike marketable securities, special issues can be redeemed at any time at face value. Marketable securities are subject to the forces of the open market and may suffer a loss, or enjoy a gain, if sold before maturity. Investment in special issues gives the trust funds the same flexibility as holding cash.
So in order for the Social Security Ponzi scheme to work, those investments in government securities need to produce healthy returns.
Unfortunately, the ultra-low interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve is making this impossible.
The average rate of interest earned by the Social Security trust fund has declined from 6.1 percent in January 2003 to 3.9 percent today, and it is going to continue to go even lower as long as the Fed continues to keep interest rates super low.
A recent article by Bruce Krasting detailed how this works.  Just check out the following example....
$135 billion of old bonds matured this year. This money was rolled over into new bonds with a yield of only 1.375%. The average yield on the maturing securities was 5.64%. The drop in yield on the new securities lowers SSA’s income by $5.7B annually. Over the fifteen year term of the investments, that comes to a lumpy $86 billion.
So what happens when the Social Security trust fund runs dry?
As Bruce Krasting also noted, all Social Security payments would immediately be cut by 25 percent.....
Anyone who is 55 or older should be worried about this. Based on current law, all SS benefit payments must be cut by (approximately) 25% when the TF is exhausted. This will affect 72 million people. The economic consequences will be severe.
In other words, it would be a complete and total nightmare.
Sadly, the truth is that the Social Security trust fund might not even make it into the next decade.  Most Social Security trust fund projections assume that there will be no recessions and that there will be a very healthy rate of growth for the U.S. economy over the next decade.
So what happens if we have another major recession or worse?
And most Americans know that something is up with Social Security.  According to a Gallup survey, 67 percent of all Americans believe that there will be a Social Security crisis within 10 years.
Part of the problem is that there are way too many people retiring and not nearly enough workers to support them.
Back in 1950, each retiree's Social Security benefit was paid for by 16 U.S. workers.  But now things are much different.  According to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are now only 1.75 full-time private sector workers for each person that is receiving Social Security benefits in the United States.
And remember, the number of Americans drawing on Social Security will increase by another 35 million by the year 2035.
Another factor that is rapidly becoming a major problem is the growth of the Social Security disability program.
Since 2008, 3.6 million more Americans have been added to the rolls of the Social Security disability insurance program.
Today, more than 8.7 million Americans are collecting Social Security disability payments.
So how does this compare to the past?
Back in August 1967, there were approximately 65 workers for each American that was collecting Social Security disability payments.
Today, there are only 16.2 workers for each American that is collecting Social Security disability payments.
The Social Security Ponzi scheme is rapidly approaching a crisis point.
Sadly, the Federal Reserve has made it incredibly difficult to save for your own retirement.
Millions upon millions of Baby Boomers that diligently saved money for retirement are finding that their savings accounts are paying out next to nothing thanks to the ultra-low interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve.
The following is one example of how the low interest rate policies of the Fed have completely devastated the retirement plans of many elderly Americans....
You can understand the impact of the invisible tax on the elderly by watching the decline of interest income from $50,000 invested in a five-year Treasury obligation. As recently as 2000, this would have yielded about 6.15 percent and an interest income of $3,075 a year. Now the same obligation is yielding 0.7 percent and an interest income of $350 a year. This is the lowest yield on this maturity of Treasury debt since the Federal Reserve started keeping an index of the yields in 1953.
But it's more than a low interest rate. It's an income decline of nearly 89 percent in just 12 years.
And after you account for inflation, those that put money into savings accounts today are actually losing money.
Of course most Americans have not saved up much money for retirement anyway.  According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 46 percent of all American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and 29 percent of all American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.
Overall, a study conducted by Boston College's Center for Retirement Research discovered that American workers are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.
So needless to say, we have a major problem.
Baby Boomers are just starting to retire and the Social Security system is still solvent at the moment, and yet the number of elderly Americans that are experiencing financial problems is already soaring.
For example, between 1991 and 2007 the number of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 that filed for bankruptcy rose by a staggering 178 percent.
Also, at this point one out of every six elderly Americans is already living below the federal poverty line.
So how bad are things going to be when Social Security collapses?
That is frightening to think about.
In the short-term, millions upon millions of retired Americans that are living on fixed incomes are going to be absolutely crushed by the inflation that QE3 is going to cause.
Just like we saw with QE1 and QE2, a lot of the money from QE3 is going to end up in agricultural commodities and oil.  That means that retirees (and all the rest of us) are going to end up paying more for food at the supermarket and gasoline at the pump.
But those on fixed incomes are not going to see a corresponding increase in their incomes.  That means that their standards of living will go down.
Things are tough for retirees right now, but they are going to get a lot tougher.
Right now, there are somewhere around 40 million senior citizens.  By 2050 that number is projected to increase to 89 million.
So how will our society cope with more than twice as many senior citizens?
Sadly, we will likely never get to find out.
The truth is that our system is almost certainly going to totally collapse long before then.
We are rapidly approaching a financial crisis unlike anything we have ever seen before in U.S. history, and the foolish policies of the Federal Reserve just keep making things even worse.