Thursday, January 29, 2015

Big Business “Regulators” and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): Opening the Floodgates to Corporate Plunder

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A new leak concerning the talks around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) indicates that the floodgates could be opened even further for corporate influence. The leak has been analysed by the corporate watchdogs CEO and LobbyControl and shows that corporate influence on EU and US policies might dramatically increase via the chapter on so-called ‘regulatory cooperation’.
The leak of the EU draft negotiating proposal dated January 23rd makes unmistakably clear that the EU is seeking a very ambitious chapter that strengthens the role of business in future regulatory legislation possibly via a new institution, the Regulatory Cooperation Body (RCB). Its role would be to coordinate the process of regulatory coherence between the US and the EU and would effectively limit policy space and sideline the public and civil organisations.
Existing and future EU regulation would have to go through a series of investigations, dialogues and negotiations in this Council. This would move decisions on regulations into a technocratic sphere, away from democratic scrutiny. Also, there would be compulsory impact assessments for proposed regulation, which will be checked for their potential impact on trade. This would be ideal for big business lobbies: creating a firm brake on any new progressive regulation in the very first stage of decision-making.
Kenneth Haar of CEO says:
“The proposal fulfills the ambitions of some of the biggest business lobby groups. It will provide them with a big tool box they can use to roll back regulation adopted in the public interest.”
A December 2014 version of the draft indicates that there were even ambitions to include the municipal level in the list of those who are to report on planned regulations that affect trade. Even though this has been taken out of the proposal now, it clearly shows that there are desires on the EU-side to subjugate social and environmental legislation at all levels to international trade.
Max Bank of LobbyControl says:
“Trade Comissioner Malmström has to step back on regulatory cooperation in TTIP. Like Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), it strengthens big business and threatens democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.”
‘Regulatory co-operation’ is a ploy to open the door to massive influence by big business over future laws. The EC argues that its proposal for regulatory co-operation in TTIP is nothing more than a rational dialogue, for example to avoid duplication of laws on both sides of the Atlantic, and that it would not restrict the ability of regulators and legislators to pursue public interest objectives.
However, there has always been a gap between the EC’s documents for public consumption and the actual texts from the negotiations that have emerged via leaks. And the recent leaks of new proposals from December 2014 and January 2015 not only confirm the validity of the criticism but show that the EC’s true negotiating position is even worse than critics imagined.
In late 2012, BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce had several meetings with the EU Commission to push their agenda. Regulatory cooperation is promoted as a solution to the problem that agreeing on harmonised standards or mutual recognition of standards can prove difficult in the short term. Consequently, on issues such as food standards, chemicals and financial regulation, because negotiators might not be able to strike a deal on common rules between the US and EU while the trade negotiations are under way, regulatory co-operation can provide a space for business groups and regulators to reach results to their liking after TTIP is agreed, in the long term and without much public scrutiny.
BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce presented the EC with a series of proposals in 2012, which would enable them – in their words – to “co-write regulation”.
Despite claims by the EC that there is no secrecy concerning the negotiations, the notes of European Commission meetings with business lobbyists released to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) under the EU’s freedom of information law some time back were heavily censored. The documents showed that the EC invited industry to submit wish lists for ‘regulatory barriers’ they would like removed during the negotiations. The documents showed clearly that removing differences in EU and US regulations is the key issue in the talks: in other words, a race to the bottom in setting the lowest barriers possible. It is therefore no surprise that the strong similarities between the EC’s proposals and those of the industry lobbyists sparked a backlash against the onerous privileges being awarded to business groups
When the EC talks about the involvement of interest groups in regulatory issues, it uses the neutral term ‘stakeholder’. The overwhelming majority of lobbyists in Brussels represent business: ‘involving stakeholders’ is another expression for opening yet one more avenue for corporate lobbyists to influence policymaking. Past experiences of involvement of ‘stakeholders’ in ‘regulatory co-operation’ between the EU and the US have demonstrated that these procedures are easily open to big business and often closed to other interest groups.
The agenda of regulatory co-operation is first and foremost about promoting trade – not about securing consumer rights, public health, or any other public policy objective.
And, as if to underline the stitch-up of the European public between officials and big business, the only way the public has access to what is really being negotiated is through leaked documents.
(Much of the text for the above was sourced from the Corporate Europe Observatory website. A more detailed explanation of the issues surrounding regulatory cooperation are discussed here.)

Freedom, Where Are You? Not in America or Europe

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When the former Goldman Sachs executive who runs the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that he was going to print 720 billion euros annually with which to purchase bad debts from the politically connected big banks, the euro sank and the stock market and Swiss franc shot up. As in the US, quantitative easing (QE) serves to enrich the already rich. It has no other purpose.

The well-heeled financial institutions that bought up the troubled sovereign debt of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain at low prices will now sell the bonds to the ECB for high prices. And despite depression level unemployment in most of Europe and austerity imposed on citizens, the stock market rose in anticipation that much of the 60 billion new euros that will be created each month will find its way into equity prices. Liquidity fuels the stock market.

Where else can the money to go? Some will go into Swiss francs and some into gold while gold is still available, but for the most part the ECB is running the printing press in order to boost the wealth of the stock-owning One Percent. The Federal Reserve and the ECB have taken the West back to the days when a handful of aristocrats owned everything.

The stock markets are bubbles blown by central bank money creation. On the basis of traditional reasoning there is no sound reason to be in equities, and sound investors have avoided them.

But there is no return anywhere else, and as the central banks are run by the rich for the rich, sound reasoning has proved to be a mistake for the past six years. This shows that corruption can prevail for an indeterminable period over fundamentals.

As I demonstrated in my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, first Goldman Sachs deceived lenders into over-lending to the Greek government. Then Goldman Sachs former executives took over Greece’s financial affairs and forced austerity upon the population in order to prevent losses to the foreign lenders.

This established a new principle in Europe, one that the IMF has relentlessly applied to Latin American and Third World debtors. The principle is that when foreign lenders make mistakes and over-lend to foreign governments, loading them up with debt, the bankers’ mistakes are rectified by robbing the poor populations. Pensions, social services, and public employment are cut, valuable resources are sold off to foreigners for pennies on the dollar, and the government is forced to support US foreign policy. John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Mandescribes the process perfectly. If you haven’t read Perkins book, you have little idea how corrupt and vicious the United States is. Indeed, Perkins shows that over-lending is intentional in order to set up the country for looting.

This is what Goldman Sachs did to Greece, intentionally or unintentionally.

It took the Greeks a long time to realize it. Apparently, 36.5 percent of the population was awoken by rising poverty, unemployment, and suicide rates. That figure, a little over one-third of the vote, was enough to put Syriza in power in the just concluded Greek election, throwing out the corrupt New Democracy party that has consistently sold out the Greek people to the foreign banks. Nevertheless, 27.7 percent of the Greeks, if the vote reporting is correct, voted for the party that has sacrificed the Greek people to the banksters. Even in Greece, a country accustomed to outpourings of people into the streets, a significant percentage of the population is sufficiently brainwashed to vote against their own interests.

Can Syriza do anything? It remains to be seen, but probably not. If the political party had received 55% or 65% or 75% of the vote, yes. But the largest vote at 36.5% does not show a unified country aware of its plight and its looting at the hands of rich banksters. The vote shows that a significant percentage of the Greek population supports foreign looting of Greece.

Moreover, Syriza is up against the heavies: the German and Netherlands banks who hold Greece’s loans and the governments that back the banks, the European Union which is using the sovereign debt crisis to destroy the sovereignty of the individual countries that comprise the European Union, Washington which backs EU sovereign power over the individual countries as it is easier to control one government than a couple of dozen.

Already the Western financial presstitutes are warning Syriza not to endanger its membership in the common currency by diverting from the austerity model imposed from abroad on Greek citizens with the complicity of New Democracy.

Apparently, there is a lack of formal means of exiting the EU and the euro, but nevertheless Greece can be threatened with being thrown out. Greece should welcome being thrown out.

Exiting the EU and the euro is the best thing that can happen to Greece. A country without its own currency is not a sovereign country. It is a vassal state of another power. A country without its own currency cannot finance its own needs. Although the UK is a member of the EU, the UK kept its own currency and is not subject to control by the ECB. A country without its own money is powerless. It is a non-entity.

If the US did not have its own dollar, the US would be of no consequence whatsoever on the world scene.

The EU and the euro were deception and trickery. Countries lost their sovereignty. So much for Western “self-rule,” “freedom,” “democracy,” all slogans without content. In the entire West there is nothing but the looting of people by the One Percent who control the governments.

In America, the looting does not rely on indebtedness, because the US dollar is the reserve currency and the US can print all the money needed in order to pay its bills and redeem its debt. In America the looting of labor has been through jobs offshoring.

American corporations discovered, and if they did not they were informed by Wall Street to move offshore or be taken over, that they could raise profits by moving their manufacturing operations abroad. The lower labor cost resulted in higher profits, higher share prices, huge managerial bonuses based on “performance,” and shareholder capital gains. Offshoring greatly increased the inequality in income and wealth in the US. Capital succeeded in looting labor.

The displaced well-paid manufacturing workers, if they were able to find replacement jobs, worked part-time minimum wage jobs at Walmart and Home Depot.

Economists, if they are entitled to the designation, such as Michael Porter and Matthew Slaughter, promised Americans that the fictional “New Economy” would produce better, higher-paying, and cleaner jobs for Americans than the “dirty fingernail” jobs that we were fortunate our corporations were moving offshore.

Years later, as I have proven conclusively, there is no sign of these “New Economy” jobs. What we have instead is a sharp decline in the labor force participation rate as the unemployed cannot find jobs. The replacement jobs for the manufacturing jobs are mainly part-time domestic service jobs.

People have to hold 2 or 3 of these jobs to make ends meet. These part time jobs offer no medical or pension benefits.

Now that this fact, once controversial believe it or not, has proven completely true, the same bought-and-paid-for spokespersons for robbing labor and destroying unions claim, without a shred of evidence, that the offshored jobs are coming home.

According to these propagandists, we now have what is called “reshoring.” A “reshoring” propagandist claims that the growth of “reshoring” over the past four years is 1,775 percent, an 18 times increase. http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/2015/A.T.Kearny-No-Data-Supporting-Reshoring-0112151.html [1]

There is no sign whatsoever of these alleged “reshoring” jobs in the monthly BLS payroll jobs statistics.

What reshoring is all about is propaganda to counteract the belated realization that “free trade” agreements and job offshoring were not beneficial to the American economy or its work force, but were beneficial only to the super-rich.

Like people throughout history, the American people are being turned into serfs and slaves because the fools believe the lies that are fed to them. They sit in front of Fox News, CNN, and whatever. They read the New York Times. If you want to learn how badly Americans have been served by the so-called media, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesand Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States.

The media helps the government, and the private interests that profit from their control of government, control the brainwashed public. We have to invade Afghanistan because a faction there fighting for political control of the country is protecting Osama bin Laden, whom the US accuses without any proof of embarrassing the mighty US with the 9/11 attack. We have to invade Iraq because Saddam has “weapons of mass destruction” that he surely has despite the reports to the contrary by the weapons inspectors. We have to overthrow Gaddafi because of a slate of lies that have best been forgotten. We have to overthrow Assad because he used chemical weapons even though all evidence is to the contrary. Russia is responsible for Ukraine problems, not because the US overthrew the elected democratic government but because Russia accepted a 97.6% vote of Crimeans to rejoin Russia where the province had resided for hundreds of years before a Ukrainian Soviet leader, Khrushchev, stuck Crimea into Ukraine, at the time a part of the Soviet Union along with Russia.

War, War, War, that is all Washington wants. It enriches the military/security complex, the largest component of the US GNP and the largest contributor, along with Wall Street and the Israel Lobby, to US political campaigns.

Anyone or any organization that offers truth to the lies is demonized. Last week the new chief of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, Andrew Lack, listed the Russian TV Internet service Russia Today as the equivalent of Boko Haram and the Islamic State terrorist groups. This absurd accusation is a prelude to closing down RT in the US just as Washington’s puppet UK government closed down Iran’s Press TV. http://rt.com/usa/225819-rt-isis-point-view-competition/ [2]

In other words, Anglo-Americans are not permitted any different news than what is served to them by “their” governments.

That is the state of “freedom” in the West today. 
[1] http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/2015/A.T.Kearny-No-Data-Supporting-Reshoring-0112151.html : http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/2015/A.T.Kearny-No-Data-Supporting-Reshoring-0112151.html
[2] http://rt.com/usa/225819-rt-isis-point-view-competition/: http://rt.com/usa/225819-rt-isis-point-view-competition/

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Sink the Middle Class

Six years into his presidency, President Obama is now taking heat from a surprising place: congressional Democrats, who are lining up against his plan to force the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress without any debate whatsoever.
If approved, the TPP, or as I like to call it, the Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement - SHAFTA - would create a whole new set of rules regulating the economies of 12 countries on four different continents bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, because the TPP is being negotiated almost entirely in secret, we don't know a lot about it.
What we do know about it, though, comes almost entirely from leaks, and those leaks paint a pretty scary picture.
Thanks to groups like WikiLeaks, we now know the TPP would give big pharmaceutical companies virtual monopoly patent power, let corporations sue countries in international courts over regulations that those corporations don't like, and gut environmental and financial rules.
Given facts like this, you'd think that President Obama would want Congress to actually take the time and debate whether or not the TPP is a good idea for the US public.
But that's apparently not the case.
To push the US onto the TPP as soon as possible, he's asked Congress to give him "fast-tracking" powers that would prevent lawmakers from making any amendments to the TPP.
Instead, the treaty would be sent right to the floor where it would only have to pass a simple majority vote.
Sounds pretty, anti-democratic, right?
Well it is, and that's why Congressional Democrats are now speaking out against President Obama's request for fast-tracking powers.
But the fight against TPP is about more than just whether our elected representatives should get a say in the trade policy of our republic - it's about whether the middle class will survive through the next generation.
As economist Adam Smith pointed out in his classic book The Wealth of Nations, manufacturing is what really creates the wealth of nations. That's because manufacturing creates things of real value, like cars, that can be sold to create wealth. This, in turn, helps create a middle class made up of working people who make the things that fuel the economy.
Every single great power in modern world history has understood this. That's why they protected their domestic industries with strong tariffs that made goods produced by domestic factories cheaper than those made abroad.
The founding fathers understood the importance of manufacturing as well. One of the first things George Washington did when he took office was ask Alexander Hamilton to come up with a plan to boost US manufacturing.
The result was Hamilton's famous "Report on Manufactures," which proposed using tariffs and subsidies to grow the industry of our young republic.
While controversial at the time, Hamilton's report eventually became the playbook for 200 years of trade policy that made the United States the greatest industrial powerhouse the world has ever seen.
And then everything changed.
Starting the 1990s, Washington began embracing a new school of thought about how to grow the wealth of nations. This new school of thought, pushed by Wall Street and corporate America, said that so-called "free-trade" deals were the best and fastest way to riches.
All free-trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA really did, though, was take the most important part of our economy - manufacturing - and send it overseas. According to Public Citizen, NAFTA alone led to a net loss of over 1 million jobs.
As a result of all this, manufacturing now makes up just around 12 percent of our GDP, a far cry from the 1950s, when it made up almost 30 percent of our GDP.
This is about as bad as it gets.
Without a strong manufacturing base, no great power can survive as a great power. It will instead become dependent on foreign goods and the financial world to create wealth out of thin air - a recipe for economic disaster after economic disaster.
And without strong manufacturing jobs that actually create things, the middle class will wither and die, just as it has started to do here in the US over the past few decades.
This is why the current debate over the TPP and fast-tracking is such a big deal.
Two decades of free-trade deals have eviscerated the middle class and bloodied the "American dream."
If President Obama goes ahead and signs us onto another free-trade deal, especially one as destructive as the TPP, that will be like tying a cement block to the feet of a drowning man.
It will spell the end of the US middle class, and, for that matter, the vision of the United States that Alexander Hamilton first put forward more than 200 years ago.
So call your members of Congress today and tell them to "just say no" to the SHAFTA/TPP and President Obama's request for fast-tracking powers.

US Announces Plan To Ration Health Care Under Medicare

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The Obama administration has announced a major shift in the way Medicare will pay hospitals and doctors. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the initiative Monday following a closed-door meeting with representatives of the insurance industry, large employers and doctors’ professional organizations.
The shift moves the health care counterrevolution embodied in the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) into high gear. Over the next three years, payments to hospitals and doctors for a large percentage of health care provided under Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for the elderly, will be shifted from the traditional “fee-for-service” model to alternative methods in which health care providers are rewarded for cutting costs and rationing care.
The radical revamping of Medicare will slash costs borne by the government, insurance firms and hospital chains by denying Medicare patients what is presently considered to be normal access to medical procedures, drugs and hospital care. The realignment of Medicare more directly with the profit dictates of the market will become the model for the American health care system as a whole.
Burwell told the media following the meeting, “Today’s announcement is about improving the quality of care we receive when we are sick, while at the same time spending our health care dollars more wisely.” The official line about improving the quality of health care, repeated by Burwell, is a cynical lie.
Medicare provides health insurance for 50 million elderly and disabled Americans at an estimated government cost of $600 billion a year. It is the largest single buyer of health care services in the US. It has for decades been a prime target of corporate interests and politicians seeking to roll back the social reforms of the 1930s and 1960s, who have always encountered massive popular opposition.
The program, notwithstanding the limitations, distortions and cutbacks inevitable within the framework of for-profit medicine, has played a major role in reducing the poverty rate of retirees in the US and extending life expectancy. It has taken a Democratic president, overseeing a conspiracy of the corporations and the state against the people disguised as a “progressive reform,” to initiate in earnest the drive to gut Medicare. The calculated aim is to throw millions of retirees into poverty and slash medical costs by shortening their life spans.
According to the time-table announced Monday, by next year Medicare will make 30 percent of its direct payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers in accordance with “alternative payment models.” Half of Medicare’s direct payments to providers are to be made in line with such models by 2018.
These new models build on experiments begun under the ACA, particularly through the use of so-called “accountable care organizations,” or ACOs. Providers will be given a lump-sum payment for treating a patient throughout a specific episode of care, such as knee replacement surgery, instead of being reimbursed for the individual medical components of that care.
HHS has also set a goal of tying 85 percent of all payments under traditional Medicare to measures of “quality” or “value” by the end of 2016, when Obama leaves office, rising to 90 percent by the end of 2018. How will this operate in practice? Hospitals with high rates of patients readmitted within a month of being sent home will face financial penalties, while those spending less on supposedly unnecessary treatments and tests will be rewarded.
HHS is creating an agency with the Orwellian title “Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network” to enforce these changes. This panel presumably will be tasked with targeting “frivolous” procedures and screenings for elimination in the interest of restoring “value” to the health care system.
HHS Secretary Burwell is ideally suited for leading this attack on Medicare. She is a veteran of the Clinton administration and the Treasury Department. She served as an aid to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as president of the Walmart Foundation, and as a member of the Metlife insurance company board.
Serving under Obama as budget director from 2013 to 2014, when social spending was slashed by tens of billions, she was tapped by the president to succeed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last June following the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare’s HealthCare.gov web site. Obama praised her at the time as a “proven manager,” who, as budget director, had overseen a more than $400 billion decline in the federal deficit. She was confirmed as HHS secretary with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Under Obamacare’s individual mandate, individuals and families without insurance through their employers or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid are required to purchase coverage from private insurers on the ACA’s health care exchanges or face a tax penalty.
The Obamacare ACOs are modeled on those already in existence in the private sector. These are growing in popularity among large employers. Justine Handelman, vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which represents insurance companies, told Bloomberg, “Medicare is aligning with what is already working in the private sector to move away from fee-for-service. The private sector is further ahead than Medicare right now.”
Burwell has stated that phasing out fee-for-service payments will be a major priority of her tenure as HHS secretary. In addition to expanding ACO’s to Medicare, administration officials said Monday they plan to increase coordination of similar programs with state governments that insure millions of their poorest residents through the Medicaid program.
Seated next to Burwell at Monday’s meeting was Karen Ignagni, chief executive officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s main lobby group. “Health plans have been in the forefront of implementing payment reforms in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid Managed Care, and in the commercial marketplace,” Ignagni said in a statement. “We are excited to bring these experiences and innovations to this new collaboration.”
This glowing tribute from the CEO of AHIP is further confirmation of the thoroughly right-wing character of Obamacare, which has nothing in common with a true reform of the health care system in the interest of providing universal, quality care. From its inception some five years ago, Obamacare has been aimed at enriching the insurance industry and health industry at the expense of vitally needed health care services for the vast majority of Americans.
It has been designed from top to bottom in the closest consultation with corporate lobbyists and lawyers, with no input from working people.
The sacrifices now being demanded of Medicare recipients in the interest of “quality” and “value” will translate into the withholding of medical treatments and procedures that will undoubtedly result in suffering and untimely deaths for American seniors.
The gutting of Medicare is one prong of an assault on health care that affects the entire working class and considerable sections of the middle class. A second major area of attack under Obamacare is the dismantling of employer-provided health care for active workers and retirees, the system that for nearly 70 years secured health coverage for most US workers.
Obamacare is designed to encourage employers to ditch their health insurance programs and force their workers onto the ACA’s health care exchanges. There, workers are forced, as individuals, to deal with gigantic insurance companies that offer high-priced plans providing sub-standard benefits.
The rich and the super-rich will, of course, continue to receive the best care money can buy.
Opponents of the predominantly fee-for-service system in Medicare bemoan the fact that the $2.9 trillion-a-year US health care system does not result in a healthier population than in those countries that spend far less per capita. It goes unmentioned that the obscene profit-gouging of private insurers, drug companies and hospital groups are responsible for this state of affairs.
The only solution to the health care crisis lies in taking the profit out of medicine, putting an end to privately owned health care corporations, and guaranteeing free, high-quality health care for all through the establishment of a democratically run, publicly owned socialized health care system.

Death-Dealing Politics in the Age of Extreme Violence

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How a society treats its children is a powerful moral and political index of its commitment to the institutions, values and principles that inform the promises of a real democracy. When measured against such criteria, it is clear that the United States has not only failed, but it is on life support. According to a report released by the Southern Education Foundation, for the first time in history, half of US public school children live in poverty, and the United States has the fourth highest child poverty rate among developed countries. Moreover, 1.3 million homeless children are enrolled in US schools, and the United States incarcerates young people at a rate and in numbers that are shameful. (1) As Jana Kasperkevic points out:


Those numbers are representative of the growing problem of child poverty in the US. Overall, one in five US children lives in poverty. It has only recently been dropping, with 14.7 million US children living in poverty in 2013, down from 16.1 million in 2012. In 2012, out of 35 economically developed countries, only Romania had a higher child poverty rate than the US. (2)

With the social contract all but dead, children no longer count for much in a society that makes virtues out of self-interest and greed, and measures success almost entirely in terms of the accumulation of capital. Under the regime of a ruthless neoliberalism, children and their working-class families have become the new casualties of a system that brazenly disdains the rule of law, compassion and a concern for others. Systemic inequality has become one of the weapons now used not only against working families and the middle class, but also in the war on youth.


Paul Buchheit, in his piece "The Reality Tale of Two Education Systems," maps out how systemic inequality needlessly ruins the lives of millions of young people in the public school system. (3) He makes clear that public schools succeed when there are fewer children who suffer from the debilitating effects of poverty. He points to the success of schools that are adequately funded, the importance of adequate support for early childhood education and programs such as Head Start, all of which have been defunded by the new extremists and will be further defunded as long as the apostles of free-market fundamentalism are in power. Impoverished schools are now matched by educational polices and classroom practices, such as teaching for the test, that impose on students an authoritarian regimen of repressive discipline and conformity. A pedagogy of repression that attacks unions, discredits teachers and punishes children has become the new norm in the United States, and it is backed by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties. When it comes to educational policy, the logic of privatization and capital accumulation is the real force at work in destroying public schools, and it's done ironically under the name of reform.

For instance, Ken Saltman, Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol and many others have written eloquently about how both the Bush and Obama administrations have turned schools into testing and sorting factories that have little to do with learning and a great deal to do with enforcing a pedagogy of repression among students, on the one hand, and redefining schools as lucrative markets for profits, on the other. Children and the public spheres they inhabit, along with the federal programs that provide them with crucial social provisions, have become targets in the war against democracy and the public institutions that support it. Educational reform is now an extension and manifestation of a new and intensive assault being waged by the financial elite and billionaires in order to decimate all elements of the public good in order to generate new financial investments and huge profits for private investors.

One disturbing example of the sordid, ideological logic informing the crushing educational and economic policies promoted by the ethically bankrupt leaders of the US House and Senate, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), was stated clearly when they claimed in a CBS News interview with Scott Pelley on January 22, 2015, that they were against funding President Obama's free community college program because it would increase the deficit. The appeal to austerity as a rationale to punish children, eviscerate the social state and redistribute wealth upward to rich elites has become an oft-repeated defense that serves to legitimate economic injustice and the transformation of "a world in which political economy has become a criminal economy." (4) It gets worse.

Austerity, as Guy Standing observes, also constitutes a form of "social cleansing" and "social zoning" in its passing of measures such as the closing of public libraries and schools, shutting down of affordable housing, defunding of public transportation, elimination of arts programs and elimination of sports programs for working-class kids. (5) One example of how austerity works to punish children is obvious in the recent call by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas to make up for his crippling massive tax cuts by "cutting classroom funding for Kansas schools by $127 million and push[ing] pension fund payments off into the future." (6) Rather than acknowledge that his massive tax cuts are crippling his state's finances, he implements brutal policies that further undermine the public school system, punishing students and teachers alike. What such policies make clear is that the neoliberal support for austerity policies barely conceals a ruthless logic and a hidden structure of oppressive politics that is at the heart of the new authoritarianism.

Some liberals such as Paul Krugman argue that the current batch of right-wingers and Republican extremists are indifferent to reason, facts and evidence, and should rightly be viewed as reactionaries "threatened by any expansion of government." (7) This is only partly true. First, the new extremists at various levels of political power - local, state and federal - have no trouble expanding and using the power of government to benefit the powerful and financially privileged. Second, they are not simply dumb or morally vacant, though many of them appear rather thoughtless. Instead, they are pawns of corporate power and have sold themselves out to the highest bidders. Their power is dependent on doing the bidding of the billionaires such as the Koch brothers, oil companies, banks, corporations and other financial behemoths. They are not stupid; they are corrupt and this suggests less a lack of intelligence than the workings of a systemic form of predatory capitalism, which fosters iniquitous class-based relations of power that do great harm to both the US public and democracy itself. The new extremists that now control the US government are the new warriors of authoritarianism, proudly implementing the ideologies, values and policies of a failed state now in the hands of the financial ruling classes.

Painful truths about political corruption, economic injustices and the rise of the corporate state, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, and the shocking state of children in the United States are buried in the appeal to enforce savage austerity measures. Hence, it is not surprising that there is no mention among Boehner, Mitchell and their cronies about how economics and militarism now drive politics. Boehner and Mitchell are silent about how the new extremists created the deficit through tax breaks for corporations, deregulation, letting lobbyists write banking bills, the cost of two wasteful wars, pouring money into building more prisons than schools, and maintaining a nuclear arsenal and wasteful military-industrial complex at a huge cost to the American people, especially low-income youth and poor children of color. But myth making or outright lying about the politics of neoliberalism is not confined to right-wing Republicans. President Obama's self-serving claims about the economic recovery repeatedly overlook the fact that the only people who have benefited from the recovery are the Wall Street banks, the too-big-to-fail financial and corporate institutions, and the other 1% of the reigning plutocracy. As Rob Urie points out in CounterPunch, "Today, with over half of public school children now living in poverty, forty-seven million people receiving food assistance and millions of adults either unemployed or underemployed, the term 'recovery' is conspicuously unrelated to economic well-being." Even worse, the alleged all-encompassing notion of economic recovery suggests that those Americans who have been left out of this recovery are victims of a personal failure rather than a social failure, and represent as a whole, as Urie argues, "failed 'economies of the self.'" Moreover, such policies and practices do more than blame and impose a precarious and harsh existence on young people, poor people of color, working-class people and others; they also pose a direct threat to the planet itself.

The assault on public education and low-income and poor youth of color is but one measure of the growing threat of authoritarianism in US society. Needless to say, there is more to the violence of the authoritarian state driven by financial capital than its ongoing attempts to destroy the lives and future of the majority of young people. While it is largely recognized that the United States is wedded to mass incarceration and destroying its public schools and other elements of the public good, what is often ignored is the degree to which it has become a class and racially based punishing state. Under the existing regime of market fundamentalism there has been a weakening of social values and a hardening of the culture that makes it easier to live in a world in which demonization replaces compassion, a self-righteous coldness eviscerates the radical imagination and the bonds of trust are replaced by bonds of fear.

Under such circumstances, racism has become not simply more visible, but more violent and repulsive in its attempts to kill young black men, turn back voting rights laws and empower the police to become an occupying army in many cities, willful of the fact that they can act with impunity. Militaristic violence is the new face of racism, the specter that haunts poor youth of color who are considered disposable in a society in which the flight from responsibility on the part of the financial elite is only matched by the rate in which their wealth increases yearly. As the bonds of sociality and social obligations dissolve, every human relation is measured against the yardstick of profit. Retribution and punishment now replace any vestige of restorative justice just as low-income and poor, urban youth of color are offered jail rather than a quality education and decent jobs. There is no discourse of empathy, morality and justice under the regime of neoliberal authoritarianism. Consequently, older discourses that provided a vision have not only been rendered useless, but as Hannah Arendt once argued, the very nature of the political in the modern period has been dethroned. (8)

The machinery of governance and the commanding institutions of the United States are now controlled by corporate political zombies who savor and reproduce death-dealing institutions that extend from paramilitarized local police forces to schools modeled after prisons. These are the new extremists who claim they hate big government but love big corporations, who deride the poor and slash health provisions but claim they are the new face of compassionate politics, and who turn corruption into a virtue, and honesty into a political liability. These are the extremists who support state torture, glorify militarism and are responsible for the death of millions. In a different historical period, they would have fit in well with the likes of Chile's Pinochet, apartheid South Africa, the military dictatorships in Greece and other ruthless authoritarian regimes. These people are truly the walking dead who inhabit what can only be called a world in which ethical and social responsibility has been replaced by a moral coma, a culture of fear and a politics of misery that produces a regime of violence, huge inequities in wealth and power, and a disdain for helping others, including young people. What is new about the emerging authoritarianism is that it takes ideology seriously and is marked by both a rampant and depoliticizing culture of consumerism and celebrity culture, and the rise of an expansive punishing and surveillance state. As the language of the market replaces social categories, it hides power relations while isolating people in orbits of privatization. And it is this increasing culture of atomization, privatization and reification that further erases the connected forms of social justice needed to produce a new sense of politics and collective struggle.

The consolidation of class power by the financial elite has passed into a new historical moment in US history. What most of the American public are experiencing in this new interregnum, especially those regarded as disposable, is a level of oppression, violence, poverty and loss of social provisions that seems unparalleled, especially given the grip that big money has on all the commanding institutions of American life. To claim that the United States has become an oligarchy, as a recent Princeton University study has done, is more of a subterfuge than an insight. Oligarchy sounds tame next to a savage form of free-market capitalism that operates in a field of lawlessness, extreme violence and wild justice in which a failed sociality reigns and social death and individual misery are the norm. Anything that impedes market relations is suspect and deserving of state violence. The current regime of neoliberalism acts with impunity given its ruthlessness, its moral blindness and its willingness to destroy the planet to preserve its hoarding of power and wealth. Unbridled power is indifferent to the problems of long-term unemployment, homelessness and increasing levels of poverty, and the desperate state of American youth. Moreover, the increasing manifestations of state violence mark a radical shift away from even the slightest vestige of democracy to the more prevalent use of state terrorism. The recent killings of young black people speak less to the violence of militarized local police forces then it does to the violence of a racist authoritarian state.

The ongoing appeal to fear, insecurity and uncertainty by the financial elite and its corporate controlled cultural apparatuses defines the contemporary cultural zeitgeist, and its offshoot is a rise in violence and the increasing use of punitive practices in a growing number of public spheres. The war on terror has been morphed into a form of domestic terrorism aimed not only at whistleblowers, but all of those populations, from poor people of color to immigrants, who are now considered disposable. The violence of the financial state now renders entire populations disposable, that is, subject to what Richard Sennett terms the "specter of uselessness that denies gainful employment and self-respect." Sennett calls this a "new wrinkle in neoliberal capitalism." It is also a new form of terrorism. (9)

Domestic terrorism, disposability and the criminalization of the behavior of the 99% has become the default position for all social problems. The extremists in power refuse to address social problems, regardless of how serious they are. Instead, the behaviors exhibited by people victimized and injured by such problems are criminalized. People who can't pay minor traffic fines or small debts are now put in jail; poor people of color who violate a dress code in public schools are arrested and put in police cars; the homeless are punished for sleeping in parks, and so it goes. Everyone outside of the corporate, financial and political elite is a potential enemy in the United States, and this includes not only those who are considered excess, but also those who question authority and refuse to bend to the will of the financial and politically corrupt ruling powers.

Even as more and more individuals are subject to punitive forms of punishment, financial terrorism and the suffocating tentacles of the market and surveillance state, they are led to believe that all problems come from within, and are simply a matter of character. All problems are now reduced to a matter of lifestyle and the demand that the impoverished and marginalized get up and make something of themselves. If one face of the new authoritarianism is the militarization of all aspects of society, the other side is the self-help, rabidly individualized and privatized culture that extends from Oprah Winfrey to the various screen cultures of the mainstream media. As Mark Fisher has noted, under neoliberalism's "'empire of the self' everyone is trapped in their own feelings, trapped within their own imaginations and unable to escape the tortured conditions of solipsism." (10) One distinct feature of the new authoritarianism is that it reproduces its own power and control over the US public not only through the imposition of harsh economic policies and the use of state repression, but also through powerful forms of affective management most prevalent in the wider culture.

The ideological and affective spaces produced under the new authoritarianism do not simply produce powerful myths or function as an ideological drug that legitimates the elimination of broader structural, economic and political forces; it is primarily a powerful educative force that works extremely well in depoliticizing large numbers of the US public. In part, it is central to a consumer culture marked by an endlessly repeating call to celebrate selfishness, waste and privatization. This is more than an addiction; it is a cultural and educative toxin peddled endlessly by celebrity culture, the advertising industry, mainstream media and the anti-public intellectuals who trade on other peoples' misery. Consumerism is the new religion in the United States and it promotes a swindle of fulfilment through its glitzy offering of the promise of a graveyard of rapidly disposable goods as the measure of the good life. Markets now define not only how people live but who they are. The prison house of consumption mostly succeeds at the expense of any viable notion of critical citizenship, social responsibility, and the skills and resources necessary to be an engaged individual and social agent. Of course, this is a perfect supplement to state terrorism because it replaces a therapeutic language for a political vocabulary giving rise to forms of historical and political amnesia that border on a new form of collective insanity, given the support the new extremists appear to have among the US public as they march forward with their death-dealing policies.

While it is clear that US society is in a free fall decline as all vestiges of social and economic equality disappear, public provisions evaporate and the machinery of politics is controlled by the financial elite, what is not so clear is why these economic and political crises are rarely matched by a crisis of ideas, calls for new modes of subjectivity, a new understanding of power, and the necessity for creating new modes of resistance and a revival of a militant politics capable of fighting for a radical democracy. The interplay between the creation of authoritarian values, desires and the production of new modes of identity must be understood within the new networks that combine culture, power and what might be called neoliberal forms of public pedagogy. At stake here is the need to make the educative nature of politics central to any form of resistance that acknowledges the need to create a critical formative culture in which individuals can reimagine what a radical democracy might look like and how it might be achieved. Politics matters when it changes the way people think, but it must do more. It must not only inform, but also energize people to take collective action within deeply committed bonds of solidarity. The crisis of democracy and the slide into authoritarianism points not only to an economic crisis but also a crisis of agency, subjectivity and desire. The left needs to find ways to make education central to politics in order to take seriously any attempt to develop new historical agents and modes of collective resistance.

Democracy is dead in the United States. A new society is being constructed that no longer believes in political concessions, given its addiction to greed, power and its savage willingness to use state violence to manage its problems. The strong winds of authoritarianism are wreaking havoc all over the United States and with the new extremists now in power it is only a matter of time before "dark times" descend upon the country. And when it does, lawlessness not compassion, violence not thoughtfulness, corruption not justice will redefine US history in ways that are similar to how the reactionary revolutions of the 1930s defined that horrendous, genocidal and militarized period in history.

Let's hope that a thousand movements of resistance will flower and join together in getting rid of this neoliberal poison and modern-day prison. Jacques Derrida once referred to hope as "an unrelenting fidelity - an entrusted trace, a renewed promise and an endless responsibility before 'the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead.'" (11) It is precisely at the intersection of justice, responsibility and the civic imagination that hope inspires and energizes, serving not only as a repository of memory and moral witnessing, but as a recognition of the forces that oppress, and a realistic assessment of what it means to overcome them. In dark times, hope speaks to the need to extend the horizons of justice by both struggling against the obscene stupidity and reckless use of power that informs neoliberal capitalism, and making education central to imagining a democratic future that is worth fighting for.

Footnotes:

1. Andre Damon, "More than Half of US Public School Students Living in Poverty," Global Research (January 19, 2015). Online:http://www.globalresearch.ca/more-than-half-of-us-public-school-students-living-in-poverty/5425563

2. Jana Kasperkevic, "More than half of US public school students live in poverty, report finds," The Guardian (January 17, 2015). Online: http://www.theguardian.com/money/us-money-blog/2015/jan/17/public-school-students-poverty-report

3. Paul Buchheit, "The Reality Tale of Two Education Systems," AlterNet (January 11, 2015). Online:http://www.alternet.org/education/reality-tale-two-education-systems-one-poor-and-one-rest

4. Cited in William Robinson, "In the Wake of Ayotzinapa, Adonde va Mexico?" Truthout (December 8, 2014). Online;http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27862-in-the-wake-of-ayotzinapa-adonde-va-mexico

5. Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), p. 179.

6. Allan Pyke, "To Make Up For His Massive Tax Cuts, Kansas Governor Proposes Cutting Schools," Think Progress (January 22, 2015). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/01/22/3614508/kansas-short-term-thinking-budget/

7. Paul Krugman, "Hating Good Government," The New York Times (January 18, 2015). Online:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/opinion/paul-krugman-hating-good-government.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region®ion=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region&_r=0

8. See: Hannah Arendt, Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2013), pp. 33-34.

9. See Richard Sennett's lecture on Disposable Life in the Histories of Violence Project. Online:http://historiesofviolence.com/specialseries/disposable-life/

10. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (London: Zero Books, 2009), p.74.

11. Jacques Derrida interview with Jean Birnbaum, Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview, (New Jersey: Melville House Publishing, 2007), pp. 12-13.