Sunday, February 17, 2013

Russian strategic bombers ‘spotted’ near Guam amid US defense cuts threats

Two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers were intercepted near the key US Pacific military base in Guam, the Washington Free Beacon website claimed. The news comes ahead of the possible sequestration of the US military budget.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, several 'Russian Bears' – the NATO classification of the Tu-95 – provocatively approached the US stronghold on February 12, the same day that President Barack Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address.
US Air Force F-15 jets based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam were scrambled to repel the intruders, Pacific Air Force in Hawaii spokesperson Captain Kim Bender confirmed.
Captain Bender said that the bombers were intercepted north of Guam, and did not provide further details “for operational security reasons.” Because the Russian bombers stayed above international waters and made no attempts to approach the base, “No further actions occurred,” she said.
The Washington Free Beacon article claimed that the visit was unprecedented, though in August 2007 two Russian Tu-95 bombers made a flight to Guam as part of military drills, a fact later confirmed by the Russian Air Force.
The report cited former State Department security official Mark Groombridge, who said that “The Russians are clearly sending a signal that they consider the Pacific an area of vital national strategic interest and that they still have at least some power projection capabilities to counterbalance against any possible increase in US military assets in the region.”
Tu-95s are armed with various types of X-55 cruise missiles with enough range (2,500 kilometers) to fire their 200-kiloton thermonuclear warheads from a safe distance beyond the reach of theGuam base’s radar.
But as the 'doomsday' of automatic military budget cuts looms in the US – less than two weeks away, on March 1 – the US military-industrial complex likely welcomes such reports.
If  the US Congress reamins unable to reach a compromise over the federal budget and the sequester is put into action, the US Department of Defense will be forced to slash military training programs and Air Force flying hours, and fire hundreds of civilian personnel or force them to take unpaid leave. 
The cuts are still unlikely to shift the US from its pedestal as the biggest security spender in the world – which could soon reach a yearly total of $1 trillion.
But US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has warned that if Republicans and Democrats fail to reach a budget compromise, the “collateral damage of political gridlock” will have a devastating effect on the US Military.
Commenting on the report, Washington hawk John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN and international security undersecretary of the US State Department, declared that “Obama’s ideological obsession” with dismantling America’s nuclear deterrent made the provocative flights by Russian strategic bombers possible.
“Our national security is in danger of slipping off the national agenda even as the threats grow,” Bolton said.
Half a year ago in August 2012, the Washington Free Beacon alarmed US authorities with its report that a Russian nuclear sub patrolling the Gulf of Mexico went undetected for more than a month. The report was never confirmed, and the Russian Air Force has likewise not confirmed that Tu-95s approached Guam lately.

"Hubris": New Documentary Reexamines the Iraq War "Hoax"

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An MSNBC film, hosted by Rachel Maddow and based on Michael Isikoff and David Corn's book, finds new evidence that Bush scammed the nation into war.

A decade ago, on March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq that would lead to a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 service members wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. The tab for the war topped $3 trillion. Bush did succeed in removing Saddam Hussein, but it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true. Three years after the war began, Michael Isikoff, then an investigative reporter for Newsweek (he's since moved to NBC News), and I published Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War [1], a behind-the-scenes account of how Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants deployed false claims, iffy intelligence, and unsupported hyperbole to win popular backing for the invasion.

Our book—hailed by the New York Times as "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations"—was the first cut at an important topic: how a president had swindled the nation into war with a deliberate effort to hype the threat. The book is now the basis for an MSNBC documentary [2] of the same name that marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. Hosted by Rachel Maddow [3], the film premieres Monday night in her usual time slot (9PM ET/PT). But the documentary goes beyond what Isikoff and I covered in Hubris, presenting new scoops and showing that the complete story of the selling of that war has yet to be told.

One chilling moment in the film comes in an interview with retired General Anthony Zinni, a former commander in chief of US Central Command. In August 2002, the Bush-Cheney administration opened its propaganda campaign for war with a Cheney speech at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. The veep made a stark declaration: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." No doubt, he proclaimed, Saddam was arming himself with WMD in preparation for attacking the United States.

Zinni was sitting on the stage during the speech, and in the documentary he recalls his reaction:

It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn't believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program. And that's when I began to believe they're getting serious about this. They wanna go into Iraq.
That Zinni quote should almost end the debate on whether the Bush-Cheney administration purposefully guided the nation into war with misinformation and disinformation.

But there's more. So much more. The film highlights a Pentagon document declassified two years ago. This memo [4] notes that in November 2001—shortly after the 9/11 attacks—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with General Tommy Franks to review plans for the "decapitation" of the Iraqi government. The two men reviewed how a war against Saddam could be triggered; that list included a "dispute over WMD inspections." It's evidence that the administration was seeking a pretense for war.

The yellowcake uranium supposedly bought by Saddam in Niger, the aluminum tubes supposedly used to process uranium into weapons-grade material, the supposed connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden—the documentary features intelligence analysts and experts who at the time were saying and warning that the intelligence on these topics was wrong or uncertain. Yet administration officials kept using lousy and inconclusive intelligence to push the case for war.

Through the months-long run-up to the invasion, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, would become the administration's No. 1 pitchman for the war with a high-profile speech at the UN, which contained numerous false statements about Iraq and WMD. But, the documentary notes, he was hiding from the public his deep skepticism. In the film, Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff at the time, recalls the day Congress passed a resolution authorizing Bush to attack Iraq:

Powell walked into my office and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he walked over to the window and he said, "I wonder what'll happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing?" And he turned around and walked back in his office. And I—I wrote that down on my calendar—as close for—to verbatim as I could, because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
Wilkerson also notes that Powell had no idea about the veracity of the intelligence he cited during that UN speech: "Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied, we did participate in a hoax."

A hoax. That's what it was. Yet Bush and Cheney went on to win reelection, and many of their accomplices in this swindle never were fully held accountable. In the years after the WMD scam became apparent, there certainly was a rise in public skepticism and media scrutiny of government claims. Still, could something like this happen again? Maddow remarks, "If what we went through 10 years ago did not change us as a nation—if we do not understand what happened and adapt to resist it—then history says we are doomed to repeat it."

Links: [1]




Civil Disobedience: The Only “Weapon” We Have Remaining?

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Mario Cuomo, commenting on the political process, once observed, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Though candidates for public office frequently campaign on a platform of change, when elected, promises remain unfulfilled and what they inevitably deliver is more of the same. Beholden to the special interests and the Super PACS, they govern solely in the interest of the wealthy and the privileged, and remain blatantly unresponsive to the general will, the needs of the majority of the people, and to the dictates of law and morality. Consequently, respected social commentators such as Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Cornell West and others have argued that our system of government is broken. Perhaps as a perceptive and realistic appraisal of the current political situation in this nation or as an expression of frustration with the lack of progress achieved after many years of activism they have concluded that if change is to occur, if justice and morality are to prevail, activists can no longer be content supporting one political party or another or with picking up a sign and participating in a demonstration. Rather activists must ratchet up the frequency and scope of nonviolent direct action – civil disobedience. Chris Hedges proclaims, "Civil disobedience is the only weapon we have left to save not only the ecosystem that sustains life but the nation itself. Corporate forces, unregulated, unfettered corporate forces exploit everything; human beings, the natural world, until exhaustion or collapse." 

Is the situation in this nation so dire that civil disobedience is the only recourse remaining, the final option? Can we expect civil disobedience to accomplish what voting, demonstrating, etc., could not? Most importantly, perhaps, should civil disobedience prove ineffective as well, must activists admit that further struggle for justice is futile and the prospect of non violent change unlikely? To answer these questions, it will be necessary to consider in some detail the nature of civil disobedience and the conditions required for it to be effective.

Civil Disobedience (CD) 

Though not all acts of refusal and noncooperation will fit nicely into one of the following categories, for purposes of explication I will identify two types of civil disobedience, and then focus upon the one most relevant to social activism. What I term "Private CD" are acts of personal, non public, non compliance with law or policy one determines to be unjust and/or immoral. Acts of Private CD may be motivated by a perceived legal and/or moral obligation to act rightly, to live in accordance with one's principles and the dictates of one's conscience. Henry Thoreau writes, "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." Dr. Martin Luther King sees civil disobedience not as a choice, but an obligation. He writes, ". . . non cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good." Though indicative, perhaps, of one's moral character and integrity, since Private CD are acts of personal defiance known only to the civil disobedient, it has little, if any, social value as a means to implement change in the state. 

Civil disobedience as social activism, what I will term "Public CD," are acts of public non compliance with a law or policy intended to focus attention and raise awareness regarding a social/political injustice for the purpose of creating "tension," perhaps even outrage, and a public outcry and demand for change. Dr. King explains, 

Non-violent direct action (Public CD) seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. (Italics mine)[1] 

The Necessary Criteria for Effective Public CD 

Unjust/immoral law or policy can be the consequence of either a willful criminal act or of a yet unnoticed mistake, oversight, or misinterpretation of law by legislators and/or policy makers. For Public CD to be an effective tool for remedying injustice, several necessary criteria must be satisfied. First, effective Public CD requires that both the occurrence of the act and the civil disobedient’s legal and moral reason/justification for her actions are made public. This requires, of course, an independent, competent, responsible, and in this day and age, courageous media/press that will accurately report the event, rigorously investigate, and make public whether the civil disobedient’s allegations regarding the injustice/immorality of the law/policy have merit. Second, effective Public CD requires a citizenry concerned with issues of justice and morality. That once made aware, they would likewise be outraged and motivated to speak out and demand that the crime, misinterpretation, mistake, or oversight be rectified. Third, effective Public CD requires that principled political leaders put justice and morality before personal, corporate, and national interest, recognize and take responsibility for their oversight or mistake, and initiate appropriate changes in law and/or policy. For those unprincipled political leaders whose actions are criminal, effective Public CD requires that they yield to the public outcry and to the demands for justice by those they represent. 

Before Recommending Civil Disobedience 

The law is clear regarding the legality of policies such as indefinite detention without charge or trial in places like Guantanamo and Baghram, extraordinary rendition, warrantless wiretaps, torture, preventive war, occupation, Disposition Matrix (kill lists), targeted assassinations, drone attacks, etc. Consequently, these acts and policies are not misinterpretations of law, nor are they oversights or mistakes. Rather they are willful violations of treaties, Conventions, international, domestic, and moral law intended to enhance the profit, power, and interests of the ruling elite and their corporate benefactors. I know for some, civil disobedience, getting arrested, has become an activist's badge of honor, a rite of passage. However, we live in an era in which the President has claimed authority under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to imprison and assassinate without due process, with no transparency or accountability, even American citizens he deems a threat (however interpreted), in which a paramilitary police force is empowered to violently suppress protest and dissent, and in which acts of civil disobedience are designated as terrorism and civil disobedients as terrorists.[2] Consequently, before advising activists to place themselves at risk of long term incarceration, personal injury, even death, it would be prudent and responsible to determine whether Public CD's necessary criteria for effecting change can be met given the social and political environment in which we live. 

The Press/Media Coverage Criterion: Tragically for our “democracy,” responsible mainstream reporting and investigative journalism has compliantly succumbed to the pressure and influence of manipulative politicians and corporate power brokers. As was evident during the buildup to the Iraq War, the corporate-controlled media/press not only ignored questions of legality and failed to investigate the need and justification for war, but happily and enthusiastically embraced its role as cheerleader. By failing to credibly investigate and report the findings of those who adamantly disagreed with Bush/Cheney’s claim regarding weapons of mass destruction[3] in Iraq, by cooperating with efforts to quiet, discredit, and even endanger the lives of activists and/or of those who spoke truth to power, and by under- and/or misreporting the occurrence and magnitude of demonstrations and acts of Public CD opposing the war, the mainstream media/press became a co-conspirator, part of the problem rather than of the solution. As illustrative of this unholy alliance, consider what has become known as the CIA Leak Case. 

Joseph Wilson is the husband of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative who was unmasked in July 2003 by columnist Robert D. Novak, after Wilson criticized President Bush for stating that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bought nuclear weapons-grade uranium in the African nation of Niger. 

To punish Wilson for exposing Bush Administration lies in its rush to war with Iraq and as a deterrent to others who may be contemplating similar truth telling, Novak utilized his status as journalist to commit treason by revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent. In doing so, he not only compromised Plame’s mission, but recklessly endangered her life and the lives of other operatives and informants who may have worked with her. 

There are journalists, however, mostly from alternative news agencies and the foreign press – Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Greg Palast, and Peter Arnett immediately come to mind – who maintain their journalistic integrity and strive to report the news accurately and fairly. Such outliers however, are systematically denied access to public officials, barred from areas of protest or are themselves arrested as was the case during the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street activists from Zuccotti Park and elsewhere. 

The Citizenry Must Have a Conscience Criterion: As evidenced by the public's support for or indifference to these criminal acts prosecuted in their names, their disinclination to hold policy/law makers responsible for their crimes – to prosecute those who violate the law – and their willingness to vote against their self interest and the interest of this nation by (re)electing them to public office, indicates that many, perhaps even a majority of citizens, are unaware, or apathetic, or untroubled by injustice/immorality, or preoccupied with their consumerism driven lives, and/or easily mislead by those in power. When the President declares proudly that he intends to or has successfully assassinated, without due process, an individual or group in some remote corner of the world while neglecting to mention that civilians were “collaterally” injured/killed as well, not only does his approval rating not suffer, but it significantly increases as Americans celebrate his "accomplishments."[4]

The Political Leaders' Response Criterion: For at least the past 50 years, the ease and frequency with which our political leaders' violated international, domestic, and moral law, as well as their impudence and arrogance in rejecting or ignoring the will of the people is both apparent and appalling. President Lyndon Baines Johnson continued his war of lies and deceit in Vietnam despite protests, civil unrest, and riots that profoundly divided the nation. President Nixon regarded as "enemies" those who opposed his policies. While promising "peace with honor," he ordered the invasion of Cambodia, the bombing of Haiphong, and created an atmosphere of intolerance and paranoia culminating in the slaughter of student protestors at Kent State and Jackson State Universities. Former Vice President Dick Cheney viewed dissent and free speech not as American values and rights guaranteed under the Constitution, but rather as traitorous and as emboldening the "enemy." Demonstrating the intransigence that typified the George W. Bush Presidency, when asked by a journalist about the escalating protests and diminishing support for the Iraq War, Cheney defiantly responded "so what." President Barack Obama shed tears over the tragic deaths of children in Newtown, Connecticut, but remains unmoved by public pleas that he end his policies of targeted assassinations and drone warfare that have killed hundreds of innocent children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. 


A case can be made, perhaps, that in the past civil disobedience may have contributed to implementing change in this country – the civil rights movement, ending the war in Vietnam. It may as well have enjoyed a measure of success elsewhere in the world today – aspects of the Arab spring. But the social and political situation in this country has changed dramatically and the ability of the government to suppress information, influence thinking, and control the populace has never been greater. What Hedges and others overlook in advocating civil disobedience as the only weapon we have remaining is that these changes, this implementation of police state tactics of surveillance, intimidation, and control negatively impact upon the effectiveness of all the weapons in the activist’s arsenal whether it be petitioning, demonstrating, letter writing, parading with signs, etc., or Public CD. Even should the truly unlikely occur and civil disobedience become so widespread as not to be ignored, even should members of the police and military refuse to “enforce the law,” to use violence against the civil disobedients, change is not assured as the praetorian guard of the ruling and corporate elite, the private contractors/mercenaries, will quickly fill the void and use whatever means necessary to restore “order.” 

Despite the bleak picture I paint, I am advocating neither non-action – apathy and indifference – nor violent revolution. Certainly, activists must continue to express their points of view, even though the corporate media will choose to ignore them. Activists must continue to demonstrate, petition their representatives, and make speeches condemning injustice even though the police will attempt to stifle their voices. Activists should continue to violate the law if accepting personal risks of severe reprisals from an NDAA-empowered presidency remains a personal moral obligation in response to immorality and injustice. Sometimes we must overcome frustration and do things not because we are certain of achieving the desired ends (and here I betray my deontological leanings), but because it is right. 

Despite the lack of progress and my skepticism regarding the effectiveness of Public CD, I am not without hope. I am convinced that there is yet another powerful and time-tested weapon in the arsenal of those who struggle against injustice. That weapon is education. As activists for social change, we must gain access to our schools and dialogue with students to counter the copious lies and misinformation promulgated by our political leaders and the corporate media. Activists must become teachers and teachers activists. We must make clear to young minds that there is objective truth regarding law, morality, and our nation's behavior in the world, and that the injustices and immoralities – the wars, occupations, torture, assassinations, exploitation, greed, inequality, etc. – are real and not merely the consequence of differences in interpretation, ideology, or perspective. We must inform students that despite what they've been told, such laws, policies, and behaviors are neither in our nation's interest nor legally or morally acceptable whether practiced by our "enemies" or by us and/or our allies. We must instill in them a sense of responsibility for the policies and actions of our political leaders, for how they govern, and for the effect such policies and laws have on human beings and the environment. We must motivate young people to become socially and politically engaged, to speak out, make demands upon their elected officials and not be satisfied with or mislead by deceptive rhetoric and further lies. I am realist enough to recognize the difficulty of what I propose and the hurdles to be negotiated and overcome. Surely, change will not come quickly nor will those who benefit from the status quo, from injustice, sit idly by and watch their power diminish. So we must be patient, courageous, imaginative, and resilient. History has taught us that violence begets violence and education creates an enlightened, aware, and motivated citizenry that is revolutionary. So I remain optimistic, motivated by my sense of right and by the somber realization that if we are beyond even this, if opening the minds of the youth to truth and justice is no longer possible, then this nation, perhaps even our species, is truly at the edge of extinction. 

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham City Jail, 

[2] Dave Gorczynski, a member of Occupy Easton (Pennsylvania), was arrested recently and charged with Attempted Bank Robbery and Terroristic Threatening, both felonies, and one misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. According to a spokesperson for Occupy Easton, Gorczynski “was at the bank protesting the theft of our tax dollars, our homes, and our economy by the criminal banksters.” The District attorney has subsequently dropped the attempted bank robbery charge but the Disorderly Conduct and Terrorist Threatening charge remain.

[3] Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, United Nations Weapons Inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, to name but a few.

[4] According to a February 2012 Washington Post-ABC poll, 83% of Americans support the Obama Administration’s use of unmanned drones.

Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a long-time activist for peace and justice, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace.

The Great Wealth Robbery

Two important events took place this week. One was President Obama’s call for a higher minimum wage, which got a lot of attention. The other was a new report which showed just how much of our nation’s wealth continues to be hijacked by the wealthiest among us.
That didn’t get much attention.
There’s a Great Robbery underway, although most of its perpetrators don’t see themselves as robbers. Instead they’re sustained by delusions that protect them from facing the consequences of their own actions.
Heads I Win …
An updated report from economist Emmanuel Saez details the loss of income suffered by 99 percent of Americans, and the parallel gains made by the wealthiest among us. Its most startling finding may be this: The top 1 percent has captured 121 percent of the increases in income since the worst of the financial crisis, while the rest of the country has continued to fall behind.
If you thought the rich recovered from the crisis just fine but everybody else got the short end of the stick, relax: You’re not crazy. And since the financial crisis was caused by members of the 1 percent – not all of them, of course, just the ones we spent so much to rescue – it’s understandable if the injustice still rankles you.
You rescued them. Now they’re drinking your milkshake.
Tails You Lose
But this wealth shift is not a new phenomenon. As Saez notes in his paper, “After decades of stability … the top decile share has increased dramatically over the last twenty-five years.” In fact, the top 10 percent’s share of our national income is higher than it’s been since 1917 - and maybe longer. (The figures don’t go back any farther than that.)
Although it began during the Reagan years, to a certain extent this wealth shift has been a bipartisan phenomenon. During the Clinton boom years (more of a bubble, actually; Dean Baker has the details) the top 1 percent saw their real income grow by 98.7 percent, while the other 99 saw a smaller increase of 20.3 percent. They lost more during the recession that followed – a little over 30 percent, as opposed to 6.5 percent for everyone else – but more than made up the difference again during the Bush years.
The same thing happened during the Great Recession: The top 1 percent lost more during the initial shock, but they’re rapidly making up the difference now. Government policy’s been designed to help them. (Meanwhile, underwater homeowners still don’t have the help they need.)
The disparities are even greater when you include capital gains. (Saez uses pre-tax income for his figures. Given the generous tax breaks for capital gains and the many loopholes used by the wealthy,the after-tax differences could be even greater.) There’s even economic injustice at the top. Gains for the one percent have far outstripped those of the top five and top ten percent.
As the old song says: Them that has, gets.
If you can remember the sixties you weren’t there … or can’t afford to remember
The minimum wage has been falling since 1968. As John Schmitt notes in his paper, “The Minimum Wage Is Too Damn Low,” “By all of the most commonly used benchmarks – inflation, average wages, and productivity – the minimum wage is now far below its historical level.”
It’s currently $7.25. What would it have been if it had been tied to a commonly-used benchmark? Schmitt ran the numbers:
Consumer Price Index (CPI-I): $10.52
Current CPI methodology (CPI-U-RS): $9.22
As a percentage of average production worker’s earnings: $10.01
And if it had been tied to productivity gains the minimum wage would be $21.72 today. But that cream was skimmed off at the top.
Magical Thinking
There’s a myth in this country that enormous wealth doesn’t come from anywhere or anyone, that it’s self-creating and self-sustaining, thriving on pure oxygen like an epiphyte or a garden fairy. In reality, highly concentrated wealth is caused by actions – human actions with human consequences.
Saez: “A number of factors may help explain this increase in inequality, not only underlying technological changes but also the retreat of institutions developed during the New Deal and World War II – such as progressive tax policies, powerful unions, corporate provision of health and retirement benefits, and changing social norms regarding pay inequality.”
Wealth inequity is created whenever an employer lowers his employees’ wages, replaces a full-time worker with several part-timers, busts a union, cuts corners on workplace safety, or pays a lobbyist to change the rules.
It’s created whenever a job is shipped overseas, and when investments are shifted from job-producing industries to the non-productive financial sector. It’s created when GE outsources its manufacturing operation and gets into the banking (read, “gambling with taxpayers’ money”) business. Or when AIG stops insuring risk and starts betting on it.
And the process isn’t slowing down. In fact, it seems to be accelerating.
As Saez says, “We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional and tax reforms should be developed to counter it.”
President Obama’s proposal is modest, and there’s no reason not to enact it immediately. For those who believe that businesses “can’t afford” to pay higher wages, some key facts:
Most low-wage workers work for large corporations, not Mom-and-Pop businesses.
A Data Brief from the National Employment Law Project finds that 66 percent of low-wage employees work for companies with more than 100 employees. A handful of very large corporations collectively employ nearly 8 million low-wage employees.
There’s no evidence minimum wage increases mean fewer jobs.
Opponents say a higher minimum wage means fewer jobs. But the official U.S. unemployment rate in 1968, when the real minimum wage was highest, was 3.6 percent. Today it’s 7.8 percent – and the unofficial numbers are even worse. At the state level,  the Fiscal Policy Institute recently concluded that “states with minimum wages above the federal level have had faster small business and retail job growth.”
Ninety-two percent of the 50 largest low‐wage employers in the country were profitable last year.
As the NELP notes, big corporations more than recovered from the recession: 75 percent are collecting more revenue, 63 percent are earning higher profits, and 73 percent have higher cash holdings than they did before the crisis.
Bringing It All Back Home
The real “job creators” aren’t the ultra-wealthy. If they could create jobs with all their added wealth, they would have done it already. The real job creators are working people with jobs.
They don’t invest their money in hedge funds or stash it in offshore accounts. They spend it: on food, transportation, their kids’ education, maybe a night at the movies … And then other people get jobs making those things possible.
We have a working model to follow: The USA in the 35 years after World War II. As Paul Krugman says, “To the extent that people say the economics is confusing or uncertain, that’s overwhelmingly because people want it to be.” We know how to do this.
Raising the minimum wage is a start. A maximum wage would help, too, by reducing CEOs’ incentives to emphasize quarterly gains over long-term growth and leaving more to be shared with employees.
We also need a national strategy for regaining the more reasonable distribution of income this country had in the 1950s. We need to ensure that the door of opportunity, which is closing every day for millions of young people, is opened again. And we need to ask the wealthiest to really pay their fair share – at something closer to the top tax rates of the 1950’s or 1960’s. (Elvis Presley’s manager “Colonel” Tom Parker once said “I consider it my patriotic duty to keep Elvis in the ninety percent tax bracket.”)
Most of all, we need to educate those around us so they understand what’s happening. That includes the well-intentioned well-to-do, who might do more to end the problem if they knew it existed.  After all, you can’t stop a robbery until you know it’s happening.

The Minimum Wage, Guns, Healthcare, and the Meaning of a Decent Society

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Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 should be a no-brainer. Republicans say it will cause employers to shed jobs, but that’s baloney. Employers won’t outsource the jobs abroad or substitute machines for them because jobs at this low level of pay are all in the local personal service sector (retail, restaurant, hotel, and so on), where employers pass on any small wage hikes to customers as pennies more on their bills. States that have a minimum wage closer to $9 than the current federal minimum don’t have higher rates of unemployment than do states still at the federal minimum.
A mere $9 an hour translates into about $18,000 a year — still under the poverty line. When you add in the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps it’s possible to barely rise above poverty at this wage, but even the poverty line of about $23,000 understates the true cost of living in most areas of the country.
Besides, the proposed increase would put more money into the hands of families that desperately need it, allowing them to buy a bit more and thereby keep others working.
A decent society should do no less.
 Some conservatives say “decency” has nothing to do with it. Who has the right to decide what’s decent? We should let the “market” decide what people are paid.
 This is one of the oldest conservative canards in existence, based on the false claim that there’s something called a “market” that exists separate from society. But there’s no “market” in a state of nature, just survival of the fittest.
A society necessarily determines how the “market” is to be organized. Standards of morality and decency play a large role in those decisions.
We set minimum standards for worker safety and consumer protection. We decide young children shouldn’t be in the labor force.
We do our best to prevent certain things from being bought and sold — such as slaves, dangerous narcotics, babies, votes, sex with children, machine guns, nuclear material.
We decide citizens shouldn’t have to buy certain things that should instead be available to everyone free of charge (paid in effect by all of us through our taxes) – such as clean drinking water, K-12 schools, safe bridges, protection from violence, public parks.
Opinions may differ about what decency requires, and we hash it out in a democracy. We might decide certain minimum standards are too costly or inefficient, or can’t be enforced, or impose unwarranted constraints on our freedoms.
Different societies come up with different answers. Handguns are banned in most other advanced nations, for example. Workers have more protections than they do in the United States. Minimum wages are higher. Taxes on the wealthy are higher. Healthcare is more universally available.
Every society must necessarily decide for itself what decency requires. That’s the very meaning of a “society.”
Don’t fall for the mindless assertion that “markets” know best. Markets are human creations, requiring human beings to decide how they are structured and maintained.
The questions we face – whether to raise the minimum wage, restrict the availability of guns, expand healthcare coverage, and countless other decisions – inevitably require us to define what we mean by a decent society.

Inequality and American democracy

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama began by declaring that economic recovery was well underway. “Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis,” he said, “and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong.”
The latest data on social inequality in the United States, released late last month, provide greater clarity as to what precisely this statement signifies. For Obama and the political establishment as a whole, the main indices of “crisis” are the stock markets, and with them the wealth of the corporate and financial elite.
According to data brought together by University of California’s Emmanuel Saez, between 2009 and 2011—the first two years of the “recovery”—average real income per family grew by 1.7 percent. However, Saez notes, “Top 1 percent incomes grew by 11.2 percent while bottom 99 percent incomes shrunk by 0.4 percent. Hence, the top 1 percent captured 121 percent of the income gains in the first two years of the recovery.”
That is to say, the top one percent actually swallowed all of the total income growth during these two years, plus an additional 20 percent. What these figures demonstrate is a massive transfer of wealth, an infusion of funds into the financial markets at the expense of the majority of the population, the working class.
Saez adds, “In 2012, top 1 percent income will likely surge, due to booming stock-prices, as well as re-timing of income to avoid the higher 2013 top tax rates. Bottom 99 percent will likely grow much more modestly than top 1 percent incomes from 2011 to 2012. This suggests that the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.”
These trends in income share are not merely the product of abstract economic forces. They result from a definite and ruthless class policy pursued first by Bush and escalated under Obama. In response to the collapse of 2008, which was the outcome of financial speculation on an historically unprecedented scale, unlimited funds were made available to the banks by the government and Federal Reserve.
To finance the stock market boom, the Fed has purchased some $2 trillion worth of assets since 2008, essentially printing an equal amount of money to transfer into the financial system. Governments internationally have pursued a parallel policy. The results have been predictable: asset bubbles have been reflated, while the bad debts of the financial aristocracy have been transferred to central banks and government budgets.
The corollary to these measures has been a systematic and ongoing attack on the living standards of the vast majority of the population. In his State of the Union address, Obama trumpeted the supposed resurgence of manufacturing jobs—in fact, a tiny minority of those wiped out have been restored. He did not mention that whatever jobs have been created are on the basis of poverty level wages, spearheaded by the administration’s 2009 restructuring of the auto industry.
As a consequence, the number of “working poor” in the United States—those living in near poverty despite being employed—has increased sharply. In 2011, 47.5 million people lived in families earning less than 200 percent of the official poverty rate. This is nearly one third (33 percent) of all working families, up from 31 percent in 2010 and 28 percent in 2007.
These figures do not include the unemployed. Despite the official decline in the unemployment rate, due largely to millions of people leaving the labor force, the overall employment-population ratio remains near its post-crisis low.
Behind the thin rhetoric about reigniting a “thriving middle class,” Obama made clear that the administration’s policies in its second term will be subordinated entirely to the interests of big business, beginning with plans to slash hundreds of billions more from health care programs.
The inequality figures say much about the character of American society—a society dominated by a tiny aristocracy. The program of the political establishment as a whole is above all dedicated to ensuring the wealth of this social layer. It is the conflict between this aristocracy and the working class that forms the fundamental social division, not the various forms of identity politics that have become integral components of state ideology.
These social relations are central to understanding the crisis of American democracy. Without any significant opposition from the media or within the political establishment, the Obama administration has asserted the right to assassinate US citizens without any judicial review or due process.
Core democratic principles going back centuries are simply discarded. After initial media coverage of the administration white paper on the extra-judicial killing of US citizens, the issue has largely been dropped. Obama’s pick to head the CIA, John Brennan, the architect of the “kill lists,” is expected to be confirmed by the Senate later this month.
Under the banner of the “war on terror,” the past decade has seen a relentless expansion of executive power, from indefinite detention and military commissions, to domestic spying and the development of vast databases of communications.
Democratic forms of rule are not compatible with the enormous levels of inequality that pervade American society.
The defense of democracy and opposition to inequality are inextricably connected, and both depend on the development of an independent political movement of the working class in opposition to capitalism, the economic foundation upon which the modern aristocracy rests.