Friday, January 4, 2013

Fiscal Axe Aimed At Social Security

Struggle can still stop austerity cuts


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As we write, the new year has begun. Congress has not yet voted on a new budget, but the “fiscal cliff” negotiations have reportedly led to agreement on raising income taxes of those making $400,000 and over by a few percent and raising the tax on their capital gains from a paltry 15 percent to 20 percent.
Even capitalist liberals, however, are admitting that the Obama administration did not get much from the Republican right wing and the billionaires behind them. Tax rates on the wealthy will still be much, much lower in the U.S. than in the other developed capitalist countries.
Raising taxes on the rich by a few percentage points is supposed to be the “sweetener” for what is to come next: the slashing of social programs relied on by the working class, including even funds like Social Security and Medicare that people pay into all their working lives. So far the politicians have agreed to delay imposing these cuts for a couple of months, but there can be no doubt of their intent.
While the final outcome of the much-proclaimed negotiations between the administration and Congress is yet to come, one thing should be crystal clear. The budget deficit blamed for the “cliff” is 100 percent a sham.
Last summer a study by the Tax Justice Network of the U.S. revealed that the billionaires of the world have stashed between $21 trillion and $32 trillion (when calculated in U.S. dollars) in hideaway bank accounts around the world, from Switzerland to Bermuda to the Cayman Islands. That averages out to $7,000 to $8,600 for every person living on the planet, more than most people around the world earn in a year.
This ocean of cash, produced by the global working class, is more than enough to remove the so-called deficit of every nation on the planet and to fund every social program desperately needed by the workers in this deepening capitalist economic crisis.
Of course, the U.S. government has borrowed and spent trillions of dollars on the bloody wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. At the same time, tax rates for the rich were slashed, while taxes for the workers have remained virtually the same.
When corporate and banking speculation triggered a financial collapse five years ago, the peoples’ treasuries of many countries, from Iceland to Greece to Portugal to the U.S. and more, were drained to fill the banks’ coffers.
Now these same banks and their political minions, rather than spend some of the money they have appropriated from hundreds of millions of workers around the world, are brazenly terrorizing workers to squeeze even more wealth by slashing our much-needed social programs like retirement, health and unemployment benefits, college aid programs and much more. Around the globe this is known as the infamous “austerity” program.
Why are they doing this? For the last 20 years advances in technology and vast new armies of low-wage workers have meant billions and billions in profits for the global corporations. At the same time the globalization of the job market has empowered them to slash the wages of workers in the U.S. as well as throw millions out of our jobs and our homes.
So they have hoarded this vast wealth, kept safe by their well-heeled millionaire servants in Congress — 47 percent of Congress are millionaires. (Center for Responsive Politics)
Why aren’t they investing much of it in new production? Because now that they have created this vast global system, it has become clear that they cannot sell all the goods and services the workers can produce — at least, not at prices that would produce the rate of profit the capitalist system demands. So they see the workers as a “burden” and are out to slash every hard-won gain, from pensions and health care and education to the right to unionize.
They must be made to know that these attacks on the workers will create even more resistance. The Occupy movement, with its focus on the immense wealth of the 1%, is already a testament to the rising tide of anger and organized resistance to the capitalist crisis. Mass worker demonstrations at state capitals in Wisconsin and Michigan have shown that a fightback spirit is rising. European workers have already begun continental campaigns of huge demonstrations and general strikes.
In the end, these issues will not be settled in the halls of the legislatures. They will be settled in the streets.

Fiscal Cliff Over, Now the Attack on the People Begins

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Last night, Congress passed a watered down fiscal cliff package that will raise taxes on everyone, but the worst is yet to come, and this “deficit cutting” measure contains some surprises.

Economist Jack Rasmus highlights Obama’s comments after passage which signal what we can expect:

“I am very open to compromise . . . Medicare is the biggest contribution to the deficit.” In fact, Medicare does not contribute to the deficit because it is funded by a separate tax, but Obama has signaled – expect cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.Obama has been laying the ground work to cut social insurances since 2010.

The “deal” only cut the deficit by $620 billion of the bi-partisan goal of $4 trillion so there are a lot of budget cuts ahead and they will not come from the military or national security state, they will come from the necessities of the people. Even if the U.S. had gone over the cliff cuts to the military were minimal, DoDcuts scheduled to take effect in 2013 were only $24 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, much less than the oft-mentioned $500 billion reported in the media. The $500 billion are cuts over ten years, mostly backloaded to the out years. Thus these are cuts the military would likely never see.

The reason that the deal cut the deficit so little is because Obama backed off his campaign promise to raise taxes on the top 2%, and instead only repealed the Bush tax cuts on the top 1.5%, those earning over $400,000.  As a result, rather than raising $1.2 trillion in revenue, the deal only raised $600 billion and part of that came from working people as payroll taxes were re-instated.  The result will be more cuts on the rest of us – so later this year the bi-partisan cut to corporate tax rates can be passed.

The “deal” was not all about cuts, as Matt Stoller writes, the deficit cutters were very generous to Goldman Sachs: “Goldman got $1.6 billion in tax free financing for its new massive headquarters through Liberty Bonds.”  Another gift to big finance and multinationals: a provision was included that allows U.S. multinationals to not pay taxes on income earned abroad at a cost $1.5 billion to the budget.

And, the people will need their circuses as austerity hits so NASCAR got $43 million in tax breaks over two years to build race tracks and associated facilities. Hollywood studios received $150million in tax breaks for 2010 and 2011.

People facing foreclosure and living in underwater houses lost the small foreclosure relief programs that existed and tax laws were set to treat any write-down on a mortgage as income (i.e. if a mortgage was written down by $100,000 the tax payer had to pay taxes on $100,000 income) but the cliff deal delayed that tax change for one year.

Taking care of ill family members at home was dealt a set-back with a provision in the Affordable Care Act designed to let millions of elderly and disabled people get help at home rather than be placed in institutional care being repealed.

There was good news for Green energy in the deal. Roughly a dozen provisions would extend credits and incentives for plug-in electric vehicles, energy-efficient appliances, biodiesel and renewable diesel, and other alternative energy initiatives.

Budget debates are how government sets its priorities and the fiscal cliff package shows were h government’s priorities are: low taxes on the wealthy and corporations, giveaways to business and take-aways from the American people.  People can expect much worse in the months to come unless they get organized and mobilize against austerity in a big way.  Elected officials will need to be scared by the public in a big way to stop the bi-partisan assault on the people.

The Coming Drone Attack On America

Drones on domestic surveillance duties are already deployed by police and corporations. In time, they will likely be weaponized
 
People often ask me, in terms of my argument about "ten steps" that mark the descent to a police state or closed society, at what stage we are. I am sorry to say that with the importation of what will be tens of thousands of drones, by both US military and by commercial interests, into US airspace, with a specific mandate to engage in surveillanceand with the capacity for weaponization – which is due to begin in earnest at the start of the new year – it means that the police state is now officially here.
In February of this year, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, with its provision to deploy fleets of drones domestically. Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that this followed a major lobbying effort, "a huge push by […] the defense sector" to promote the use of drones in American skies: 30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won't necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
Others will be as big as passenger planes. Business-friendly media stress their planned abundant use by corporations: police in Seattle have already deployed them.
An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS (pdf) news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step – one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy. (The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)
The air force document explains that the air force will be overseeing the deployment of its own military surveillance drones within the borders of the US; that it may keep video and other data it collects with these drones for 90 days without a warrant – and will then, retroactively, determine if the material can be retained – which does away for good with the fourth amendment in these cases. While the drones are not supposed to specifically "conduct non-consensual surveillance on on specifically identified US persons", according to the document, the wording allows for domestic military surveillance of non-"specifically identified" people (that is, a group of activists or protesters) and it comes with the important caveat, also seemingly wholly unconstitutional, that it may not target individuals "unless expressly approved by the secretary of Defense".
In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way, say, to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not "specifically identified", a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.
What happens to those images, that audio? "Distribution of domestic imagery" can go to various other government agencies without your consent, and that imagery can, in that case, be distributed to various government agencies; it may also include your most private moments and most personal activities. The authorized "collected information may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent". Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told CBS:
"In some records that were released by the air force recently … under their rules, they are allowed to fly drones in public areas and record information on domestic situations."
This document accompanies a major federal push for drone deployment this year in theUnited States, accompanied by federal policies to encourage law enforcement agencies to obtain and use them locally, as well as by federal support for their commercial deployment. That is to say: now HSBC, Chase, Halliburton etc can have their very own fleets of domestic surveillance drones. The FAA recently established a more efficient process for local police departments to get permits for their own squadrons of drones.
Given the Department of Homeland Security militarization of police departments, once the circle is completed with San Francisco or New York or Chicago local cops having their own drone fleet – and with Chase, HSBC and other banks having hired local police, as I reported here last week – the meshing of military, domestic law enforcement, and commercial interests is absolute. You don't need a messy, distressing declaration of martial law.
And drone fleets owned by private corporations means that a first amendment right of assembly is now over: if Occupy is massing outside of a bank, send the drone fleet to surveil, track and harass them. If citizens rally outside the local Capitol? Same thing. As one of my readers put it, the scary thing about this new arrangement is deniability: bad things done to citizens by drones can be denied by private interests – "Oh, that must have been an LAPD drone" – and LAPD can insist that it must have been a private industry drone. For where, of course, will be the accountability from citizens buzzed or worse by these things?
Domestic drone use is here, and the meshing has begun: local cops in Grand Forks, North Dakota called in a DHS Predator drone – the same make that has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in Pakistan – over a dispute involving a herd of cattle. The military rollout in process and planned, within the US, is massive: the Christian Science Monitor reports that a total of 110 military sites for drone activity are either built or will be built, in 39 states. That covers America.
We don't need a military takeover: with these capabilities on US soil and this air force white paper authorization for data collection, the military will be effectively in control of the private lives of American citizens. And these drones are not yet weaponized.
"I don't think it's crazy to worry about weaponized drones. There is a real consensus that has emerged against allowing weaponized drones domestically. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it," warns Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, noting that there is already political pressure in favor of weaponization:
"At the same time, it is inevitable that we will see [increased] pressure to allow weaponized drones. The way that it will unfold is probably this: somebody will want to put a relatively 'soft' nonlethal weapon on a drone for crowd control. And then things will ratchet up from there."
And the risk of that? The New America Foundation's report on drone use in Pakistan noted that the Guardian had confirmed 193 children's deaths from drone attacks in seven years. It noted that for the deaths of ten militants, 1,400 civilians with no involvement in terrorism also died. Not surprisingly, everyone in that region is traumatized: children scream when they hear drones. An NYU and Stanford Law School report notes that drones "terrorize citizens 24 hours a day".
If US drones may first be weaponized with crowd-control features, not lethal force features, but with no risk to military or to police departments or DHS, the playing field for freedom of assembly is changed forever. So is our private life, as the ACLU's Stanley explains:
"Our biggest concerns about the deployment of drones domestically is that they will be used to create pervasive surveillance networks. The danger would be that an ordinary individual once they step out of their house will be monitored by a drone everywhere they walk or drive. They may not be aware of it. They might monitored or tracked by some silent invisible drone everywhere they walk or drive."
"So what? Why should they worry?" I asked.
"Your comings and goings can be very revealing of who you are and what you are doing and reveal very intrusive things about you – what houses of worship you are going to, political meetings, particular doctors, your friends' and lovers' houses."
I mentioned the air force white paper. "Isn't the military not supposed to be spying on Americans?" I asked.
"Yes, the posse comitatus act passed in the 19th century forbids a military role in law enforcement among Americans."
What can we do if we want to oppose this? I wondered. According to Stanley, many states are passing legislation banning domestic drone use. Once again, in the fight to keep America a republic, grassroots activism is pitched in an unequal contest against a militarized federal government.

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