Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Welcome to 1984

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The artifice of corporate totalitarianism has been exposed. The citizens, disgusted by the lies and manipulation, have turned on the political establishment. But the game is not over. Corporate power has within its arsenal potent forms of control. It will use them. As the pretense of democracy is unmasked, the naked fist of state repression takes its place. America is about—unless we act quickly—to get ugly.

“Our political system is decaying,” said Ralph Naderwhen I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It’s on the way to gangrene. It’s reaching a critical mass of citizen revolt.”

This moment in American history is what Antonio Gramscicalled the “interregnum”—the period when a discredited regime is collapsing but a new one has yet to take its place. There is no guarantee that what comes next will be better. But this space, which will close soon, offers citizens the final chance to embrace a new vision and a new direction.

This vision will only be obtained through mass acts of civic mobilization and civil disobedience across the country. Nader, who sees this period in American history as crucial, perhaps the last opportunity to save us from tyranny, is planning to rally the left for three days, from May 23 to May 26 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in what he is calling “Breaking Through Power”or “Citizen’s Revolutionary Week.” He is bringing to the capital scores of activists and community leaders to speak, organize and attempt to mobilize to halt our slide into despotism.

“The two parties can implode politically,” Nader said. “They can be divided by different candidates and super PACs. But this doesn’t implode their paymasters.”

“Elections have become off-limits to democracy,” he went on. “They have become off-limits to democracy’s fundamental civil community or civil society. When that happens, the very roots shrivel and dry up. Politics is now a sideshow. Politics does not bother corporate power. Whoever wins, they win. Both parties represent Wall Street over Main Street. Wall Street is embedded in the federal government.”

Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton, has no plans to disrupt the corporate machinery, although Wall Street has rallied around Clinton because of her predictability and long service to the financial and military elites. What Trump has done, Nader points out, is channel “the racist, right-wing militants” within the electorate, embodied in large part by the white working poor, into the election process, perhaps for one last time.

Much of the left, Nader argues, especially with the Democratic Party’s blatant rigging of the primaries to deny Bernie Sanders the nomination, grasps that change will come only by building mass movements. This gives the left, at least until these protofascist forces also give up on the political process, a window of opportunity. If we do not seize it, he warns, we may be doomed.

He despairs over the collapse of the commercial media, now governed by the primacy of corporate profit.

“Trump’s campaign has enormous appeal to the commercial mass media,” Nader said. “He brought huge ratings during the debates. He taunted the networks. He said, ‘I’m boycotting this debate. It’s going to cost you profit.’ Has this ever happened before in American history? It shows you the decay, the commercialization of public elections.”

The impoverished national discourse, fostered by a commercial mass media that does not see serious political debate as profitable and focuses on the trivial, the salacious and the inane, has empowered showmen and con artists such as Trump.

“Trump speaks in a very plain language, at the third-grade level, according to some linguists,” Nader said. “He speaks like a father figure. He says, ‘I’ll get you jobs. I’ll bring back industry. I’ll bring back manufacturing. I’ll protect you from immigrants.’ The media never challenges him. He is not asked, ‘How are we going do all of this? What is step one? Step two? Is the White House going to ignore the Congress and the courts?’ He astonishes his audience. He amazes them with his bullying, his lying, his insults, like ‘Little Marco,’ the wall Mexico is going to pay for, no more entry in the country by Muslims—a quarter of the human race—until we figure it out. The media never catches up with him. He is always on the offensive. He is always news. The commercial media wants the circus. It gives them high ratings and high profit.”

The focus on info-entertainment has left not only left the public uninformed and easily manipulated but has locked out the voices that advocate genuine reform and change.

“The commercial media does not have time for citizen groups and citizen leaders who are really trying to make America great, whether by advancing health safety or economic well-being,” Nader bemoaned. “These groups are overwhelmed. They’re marginalized. They’re kept from nourishing the contents of national, state and local elections. Look at the Sunday news shows. No one can get on to demonstrate that the majority of the people want full Medicare for all with the free choice of doctors and hospitals, not only more efficient but more life-saving. There was a major press conference a few days ago at the National Press Club. The leading advocates of full Medicare for all, or single-payer, were there, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the heads of Physicians for a National Health Program. This is a group with about 15,000 physicians on board. Nobody came. There was a stringer for an indie media outlet and the corporate crime reporter. There are all kinds of major demonstrations, 1,300 arrests outside the Congress protesting the corruption of money in politics. Again no coverage, except a little on NPR and on ‘Democracy Now!’ ”

“The system is gamed,” he said. “The only way out of it is to mobilize the civil society.

“We are organizing the greatest gathering of accomplished citizen advocacy groups on the greatest number of redirections and reforms ever brought together in American history under one roof,” he said of his upcoming event. “The first day is called Breaking Through Power, How it Happens. We have 18 groups who have demonstrated it with tiny budgets for over three decades on issues such as road safety, removing hundreds of hazardous or ineffective pharmaceuticals from the market, changing food habits from junk food to nutrition and rescuing people from death row who were falsely convicted of homicides. What if we tripled the budgets and the staffs of these groups? Eighteen of these groups have a total budget that is less than what one of dozens of CEOs make in a year.”

Nader called on Sanders to join in the building of a nationwide civic mobilization. He said that while Clinton may borrow some of his rhetoric, she and the Democratic Party establishment would not incorporate Sander’s populist appeals against Wall Street into the party platform. If Sanders does not join a civic mobilization, Nader warned, there would be “a complete disintegration of his movement.”

Nader also said he was worried that Clinton’s high negativity ratings, along with potential scandals, including the possible release of her highly paid speeches to corporations such as Goldman Sachs, could see Trump win the presidency.

“I have her lecture contract with the Harry Walker lecture agency,” he said. “She had a clause in the contract with these business sponsors, which basically said the doors will be closed. There will be no press. You will pay $1,000 for a stenographer to give me, for my exclusive use, a stenographic record of what I said. You will pay me $5,000 a minute. She has it all. She can’t say, ‘We will look into it or we’ll see if we can find it.’ She has been dissembling. And her latest rant is, ‘I’ll release the transcripts if everyone else does.’ ‘Who is everybody else?’ as Bernie Sanders rebutted. He doesn’t give highly paid speeches behind closed doors to Wall Street firms, business executives or business trade groups. Trump doesn’t give quarter-of-a-million-dollar speeches behind closed doors to business. So by saying ‘I will release all of my transcripts if everyone else does,’ she makes a null and void assertion. This is characteristic of the Clintons’ dissembling and slipperiness. It’s transcripts for Hillary. It’s tax returns for Trump.”

While Nader supports the building of third parties, he cautions that these parties—he singles out the Green Party and the Libertarian Party—will go nowhere without mass mobilization to pressure the centers of power. He called on the left to reach out to the right in a joint campaign to dismantle the corporate state. Sanders could play a large role in this mobilization, Nader said, because “he is in the eye of the mass media. He is building this rumble from the people.”

“What does he have to lose?” Nader asked of Sanders. “He’s 74. He can lead this massive movement. I don’t think he wants to let go. His campaign has exceeded his expectations. He is enormously energized. If he leads the civic mobilization before the election, whom is he going to help? He’s going to help the Democratic Party, without having to go around being a one-line toady expressing his loyalty to Hillary. He is going to be undermining the Republican Party. He is going to be saying to the Democratic Party, ‘You better face up to the majoritarian crowds and their agenda, or you’re going to continue losing in these gerrymandered districts to the Republicans in Congress.’ These gerrymandered districts can be overcome with a shift of 10 percent of the vote. Once the rumble from the people gets underway, nothing can stop it. No one person can, of course, lead this. There has to be a groundswell, although Sanders can provide a focal point”

Nader said that a Clinton presidency would further enflame the right wing and push larger segments of the country toward extremism.

“We will get more quagmires abroad, more blowback, more slaughter around the world and more training of fighters against us who will be more skilled to bring their fight here,” he said of a Clinton presidency. “Budgets will be more screwed against civilian necessities. There will be more Wall Street speculation. She will be a handmaiden of the corporatists and the military industrial complex. There comes a time, in any society, where the rubber band snaps, where society can’t take it anymore.”

The Illusion of Freedom

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The seizure of political and economic power by corporations is unassailable. Who funds and manages our elections? Who writes our legislation and laws? Who determines our defense policies and vast military expenditures? Who is in charge of the Department of the Interior? The Department of Homeland Security? Our intelligence agencies? The Department of Agriculture? The Food and Drug Administration? The Department of Labor? The Federal Reserve? The mass media? Our systems of entertainment? Our prisons and schools? Who determines our trade and environmental policies? Who imposes austerity on the public while enabling the looting of the U.S. Treasury and the tax boycott by Wall Street? Who criminalizes dissent?

A disenfranchised white working class vents its lust for fascism at Trump campaign rallies. Naive liberals, who think they can mount effective resistance within the embrace of the Democratic Party, rally around the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who knows that the military-industrial complex is sacrosanct. Both the working class and the liberals will be sold out. Our rights and opinions do not matter. We have surrendered to our own form of wehrwirtschaft.We do not count within the political process.

This truth, emotionally difficult to accept, violates our conception of ourselves as a free, democratic people. It shatters our vision of ourselves as a nation embodying superior virtues and endowed with the responsibility to serve as a beacon of light to the world. It takes from us the “right” to impose our fictitious virtues on others by violence. It forces us into a new political radicalism. This truth reveals, incontrovertibly, that if real change is to be achieved, if our voices are to be heard, corporate systems of power have to be destroyed. This realization engenders an existential and political crisis. The inability to confront this crisis, to accept this truth, leaves us appealing to centers of power that will never respond and ensures we are crippled by self-delusion.

The longer fantasy is substituted for reality, the faster we sleepwalk toward oblivion. There is no guarantee we will wake up. Magical thinking has gripped societies in the past. Those civilizations believed that fate, history, superior virtues or a divine force guaranteed their eternal triumph. As they collapsed, they constructed repressive dystopias. They imposed censorship and forced the unreal to be accepted as real. Those who did not conform were disappeared linguistically and then literally.

The vast disconnect between the official narrative of reality and reality itself creates an Alice-in-Wonderland experience. Propaganda is so pervasive, and truth is so rarely heard, that people do not trust their own senses. We are currently being assaulted by political campaigning that resembles the constant crusading by fascists and communists in past totalitarian societies. This campaigning, devoid of substance and subservient to the mirage of a free society, is anti-politics.

No vote we cast will alter the configurations of the corporate state. The wars will go on. Our national resources will continue to be diverted to militarism. The corporate fleecing of the country will get worse. Poor people of color will still be gunned down by militarized police in our streets. The eradication of our civil liberties will accelerate. The economic misery inflicted on over half the population will expand. Our environment will be ruthlessly exploited by fossil fuel and animal agriculture corporations and we will careen toward ecological collapse. We are “free” only as long as we play our assigned parts. Once we call out power for what it is, once we assert our rights and resist, the chimera of freedom will vanish. The iron fist of the most sophisticated security and surveillance apparatus in human history will assert itself with a terrifying fury.

The powerful web of interlocking corporate entities is beyond our control. Our priorities are not corporate priorities. The corporate state, whose sole aim is exploitation and imperial expansion for increased profit, sinks money into research and development of weapons and state surveillance systems while it starves technologies that address global warming and renewable energy. Universities are awash in defense money but cannot find funds for environmental studies. Our bridges, roads and levees are crumbling from neglect. Our schools are overcrowded, decaying and being transformed into for-profit vocational centers. Our elderly and poor are abandoned and impoverished. Young men and women are crippled by unemployment or underemployment and debt peonage. Our for-profit health care drives the sick into bankruptcy. Our wages are being suppressed and the power of government to regulate corporations is dramatically diminished by a triad of new trade agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement. Government utilities and services, with the implementation of the Trade in Services Agreement, will see whole departments and services, from education to the Postal Service, dismantled and privatized. Our manufacturing jobs, sent overseas, are not coming back. And a corporate media ignores the decay to perpetuate the fiction of a functioning democracy, a reviving economy and a glorious empire.

The essential component of totalitarian propaganda is artifice. The ruling elites, like celebrities, use propaganda to create false personae and a false sense of intimacy with the public.

The emotional power of this narrative is paramount. Issues do not matter. Competency and honesty do not matter. Past political stances or positions do not matter. What is important is how we are made to feel. Those who are skilled at deception succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of deception become “unreal.” Politics in totalitarian societies are entertainment. Reality, because it is complicated, messy and confusing, is banished from the world of mass entertainment. Clichés, stereotypes and uplifting messages that are comforting and self-congratulatory, along with elaborate spectacles, replace fact-based discourse.

“Entertainment was an expression of democracy, throwing off the chains of alleged cultural repression,” Neal Gabler wrote in “Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality.” “So too was consumption, throwing off the chains of the old production-oriented culture and allowing anyone to buy his way into his fantasy. And, in the end, both entertainment and consumption often provided the same intoxication: the sheer, endless pleasure of emancipation from reason, from responsibility, from tradition, from class and from all the other bonds that restrained the self.”

The more communities break down and poverty expands, the more anxious and frightened people will retreat into self-delusion. Those who speak the truth—whether about climate change or our system of inverted totalitarianism—will be branded as seditious and unpatriotic. They will be hated for destroying the illusion. This, as Gabler noted, is the danger of a society dominated by entertainment. Such a society, he wrote, “… took dead aim at the intellectuals’ most cherished values. That theme was the triumph of the senses over the mind, of emotion over reason, of chaos over order, or the id over the superego. … Entertainment was Plato’s worst nightmare. It deposed the rational and enthroned the sensational and in so doing deposed the intellectual minority and enthroned the unrefined majority.”

Despair, powerlessness and hopelessness diminish the emotional and intellectual resilience needed to confront reality. Those cast aside cling to the entertaining forms of self-delusion offered by the ruling elites. This segment of the population is easily mobilized to “purge” the nation of dissenters and human “contaminants.” Totalitarian systems, including our own, never lack for willing executioners.

Many people, maybe even most people, will not wake up. Those rebels who rise up to try to wrest back power from despotic forces will endure not only the violence of the state, but the hatred and vigilante violence meted out by the self-deluded victims of exploitation. The systems of propaganda will relentlessly demonize those who resist, along with Muslims, undocumented workers, environmentalists, African-Americans, homosexuals, feminists, intellectuals and artists. The utopia will arrive, the state systems of propaganda will assure its followers, once those who obstruct or poison it are removed. Donald Trump is following this script.

The German psychoanalyst and sociologist Erich Frommin his book “Escape From Freedom” explained the yearning of those who are rendered insignificant to “surrender their freedom.” Totalitarian systems, he pointed out, function like messianic religious cults.

“The frightened individual,” Fromm wrote, “seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self.”

This is the world we live in. The totalitarian systems of the past used different symbols, different iconography and different fears. They rose up out of a different historical context. But they too demonized the weak and persecuted the strong. They too promised the dispossessed that by subsuming their selves into that of demagogues, or parties or other organizations that promised unrivaled power, they would become powerful. It never works. The growing frustration, the ongoing powerlessness, the mounting repression, leads these betrayed individuals to lash out violently, first at the weak and the demonized, and then at those among them who lack sufficient ideological purity. There is, in the end, an orgy of self-immolation. The death instinct, as Sigmund Freud understood, has a seductive allure.

History may not repeat itself. But it echoes itself. Human nature, after all, is constant. We will react no differently from those who went before us. This should not dissuade us from resisting, but the struggle will be long and difficult. Before it is over there will be blood in the streets.

Reports document growing income inequality, declining manufacturing pay

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A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that more than four-fifths of US metropolitan areas have seen household incomes decline in the new century. The research is based on data from urban centers that are home to three-quarters of the US population.
Pew’s America’s Shrinking Middle Class shows that middle-class household income has declined throughout the population, while at the same time the gap between low- and upper-income households has grown, demonstrating a significant increase in income inequality across the US. A major contributor to economic decline and inequality has been the plunge in manufacturing jobs and wages.
The study analyzed data from 229 of the 381 metropolitan areas in the US, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). These areas accounted for 76 percent of the US population in 2014. They included all those that could be identified in US Census Bureau data with statistics available for both 2000 and 2014.
Middle-income households are defined as those with incomes of about $42,000 to $125,000, adjusted for a household of three. Pew found that the share of middle-income households fell in 203 of 299 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2014. With household income falling in the middle-income tier in these areas, the shares of upper- and lower-income tiers have correspondingly grown.
Based on US Census figures, the share of middle-income adults also fell nationwide, while the shares in the lower- and upper-income tiers have increased. The national share of middle-income adults decreased from 55 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2014. At the other poles of society, the share of adults in the upper-income tier increased from 17 percent to 20 percent, and the share of adults in the lower-income tier increased from 28 percent to 29 percent.
US metropolitan areas with the lowest household incomes are mainly located in the South. Areas with the highest household incomes are concentrated along the Northeast corridor and mid-Atlantic, from Boston to the District of Columbia, and in Northern California, representing the proliferation and profits of the tech, insurance and finance industries, as well as high-paid government employees and politicians.
Midland, Texas, which benefited from the rise in oil prices from 2000 to 2014, saw both a shrinking middle class, which fell from 53 percent to 43 percent, and a decline in lower income households, falling from 28 percent to 21 percent. The recent drop in oil prices is not reflected in these figures.
In nearly half of the metropolitan areas studied, the lower-income share of households increased. The 10 metropolitan areas with the greatest losses in overall economic status—the change in the share of upper-income adults minus the change in the share who were lower-income—have one thing in common: a greater than average reliance on manufacturing.
These include the Rust Belt areas of Springfield, Ohio and Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan, as well as two North Carolina areas: Rocky Mount and Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown.
In Springfield, which saw the biggest decline in economic status, a 16 percent drop, the truck assembly plant owned by Navistar employs thousands fewer workers than it did in its heyday.
The Detroit metropolitan area has seen a dramatic decline in auto jobs, as well as a drastic drop in wages through two-tier systems introduced in large part as a result of the Obama administration’s auto bailout, carried out with the collaboration of the United Autoworkers union.
The Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown area, once a thriving center of furniture manufacturing, has seen the demise of this industry, with an accompanying decline in household incomes and an increase in poverty.
A brief from the UC Berkeley Labor Center documents the impact on incomes of declining manufacturing wages and the proliferation of temporary staffing agencies. Producing Poverty: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Production Jobs in Manufacturing charts the increasing numbers of manufacturing workers who are forced to rely on government programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, to survive.
The study shows that wages in manufacturing are falling to the levels of those in the fast-food industry and at big-box retailers. In 2013, the typical manufacturing production worker made 7.7 percent below the median wage for all occupations. The median wage of these production workers was $15.66, with a quarter making $11.91 or less.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) also found that since 1989 there has been a significant increase in the hiring of frontline production workers through temporary staffing agencies. Frontline workers are defined as non-supervisorial production workers who work at least 27 hours per week in the manufacturing industry or those closely associated with it.
The Berkeley study found that high utilization of government programs by manufacturing workers was primarily due to low wages as opposed to inadequate work hours. Economic Policy Institute researchers found that as manufacturing wages have declined, manufacturing labor productivity has grown by an average of 3.3 percent a year from 1997 to 2012, nearly one-third greater than in the private, nonfarm economy as a whole.
This means that the manufacturing industry is sucking more and more productivity out of workers while catapulting them out of the “middle class” and into poverty through low wages.
There has been a dramatic growth in low-paying temporary positions, which now account for 9 percent of frontline manufacturing jobs—a nine-fold increase from 25 years ago. Temporary workers earn a median wage of $10.88 an hour, compared to $15.03 for those hired directly by manufacturers.
Nearly half of all manufacturing workers hired through staffing agencies are enrolled in at least one public assistance program, just below the 52 percent of fast-food workers who rely on these programs.
Ken Jacobs, chair of the Labor Center and co-author of the report, told Berkeley News, “Manufacturing has long been thought of as providing high-paying, middle-class work, but the reality is the production jobs are increasingly coming to resemble fast-food or Walmart jobs, especially for those workers employed through temporary staffing agencies.”

Unemployment Claims Spike Again As We Get More Scientific Evidence The Middle Class Is Shrinking

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As the U.S. economy slows down, we would expect to start to see evidence of this in the employment numbers, and that is precisely what has begun to happen.  During the week before last, initial claims for unemployment benefits jumped by 17,000, which was the largest increase that we had seen in over a year.  Well, last week we witnessed an even bigger spike.  Seasonally adjusted initial claims shot up 20,000 more to a total of 294,000.  Of course it makes perfect sense that more Americans are applying for unemployment benefits, because firms are laying people off at a much faster pace these days.  Just a couple days ago I reported that job cut announcements at major firms are running 24 percent higher this year compared to the first four months of last year.  So we should fully expect that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits will continue to accelerate.
Personally, I am a bit surprised by how quickly these numbers are getting worse.  The following comes directly from the Department of Labor
In the week ending May 7, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 294,000, an increase of 20,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level of 274,000. This is the highest level for initial claims since February 28, 2015 when it was 310,000. The 4-week moving average was 268,250, an increase of 10,250 from the previous week’s unrevised average of 258,000.
For a long time, initial claims for unemployment benefits were running quite low, and this was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. economy.
Unfortunately, that is now changing, and this is just more confirmation that a significant economic slowdown has already started.  For many more numbers that back up this claim, please see my previous article entitled “11 Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Rapidly Deteriorating Even As The Stock Market Soars“.
But whether the economy has been doing good or bad in recent years, the long-term trend of the decline of the middle class in America has continued unabated.
This week, we got even more evidence that the middle class is steadily disappearing from the Pew Research Center
The American middle class is losing ground in metropolitan areas across the country, affecting communities from Boston to Seattle and from Dallas to Milwaukee. From 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined in a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. The decrease in the middle-class share was often substantial, measuring 6 percentage points or more in 53 metropolitan areas, compared with a 4-point drop nationally.
Do you understand what that is saying?
It says that the middle class got smaller in 203 out of 229 U.S. metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2014.  This means that the death of the middle class is very widespread and it is happening all over the country.
But it isn’t just the middle class that is suffering.  According to that same report, household incomes have been falling for Americans in all income brackets…
American households in all income tiers experienced a decline in their incomes from 1999 to 2014. Nationally, the median income of middle-income households decreased from $77,898 in 1999 to $72,919 in 2014, a loss of 6%. The median incomes of lower-income and upper-income households fell by 10% and 7%, respectively, over this period.
The systematic evisceration of the middle class has been a continuing theme that I have been writing about for many years.  And without a doubt, one of the biggest reasons for the decline of the middle class has been the disappearance of middle class jobs.
Thanks to “free trade agreements” that have been pushed by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the U.S. economy has been steadily merged into the emerging one world economic system.  As a result, U.S. workers are now forced to directly compete for jobs with workers on the other side of the planet that live in countries where it is legal to pay slave labor wages.
It was inevitable that good paying jobs would leave areas where labor was expensive and go to places were labor was very cheap.  Over the past couple of decades, the U.S. has seen tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities shut down and we have lost millions of middle class jobs.
One of those middle class jobs was lost by a factory worker named Wendell Nolen
Wendell Nolen, 52, has experienced the slide from middle-class status first-hand. Eight years ago, he was earning $28 an hour as a factory worker for Detroit’s American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings, assembling axles for pickup trucks and SUVs.
But early in 2008, the good life unraveled. After a three-month strike, Nolen took a buyout rather than a pay cut. Less than a year later, the plant was closed and American Axle shipped much of its work to Mexico.
Now Nolen makes $17 an hour in the shipping department of a Detroit steel fabricator, about 40 percent less than he made at the axle plant.
America is losing jobs because of the free trade stuff,’ Nolen said. ‘They’re selling America out.’
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
If you step back and take a longer-term view of things, what has happened to our middle class is abolutely staggering.
For example, one study found that the middle class in America became a minority last year for the first time in our history.
And if you go back to 1970, the middle class took home close to 62 percent of all income, but today that number has dropped to just 43 percent.
This is a problem that has been crying out for a solution for a very long time, and yet our politicians have been sitting on their hands.
Now the next crisis is here, and the plight of the middle class is about to get a whole lot worse.
For months, my regular readers have been listening to me go on and on about howthe U.S. economy is deteriorating, but now even the mainstream media is saying it.
For example, a Bloomberg article that just came out admits that “the next president will probably face a recession” no matter who wins the election…
Talk about a poisoned chalice. No matter who is elected to the White House in November, the next president will probably face a recession.
And an article that was just published by CNBC is even more pessimistic about the economy…
We are in the midst of a deceleration in the economy, and the chain of dominoes leading to a recession has started to fall. First, it was a weak global economy. Then, multinationals and business-to-business companies were hit by the resulting decline in global trade and commodity prices. Now, consumers are starting to feel the repercussions as they draw down their growth in spending on discretionary goods and services, which we saw reflected in the first-quarter GDP report.
This is the foreshadowing of a recession. We saw similar indicators prior to recessions in 2001 and 2008. Although there is potential for economic indicators to flip, the current momentum and indicators suggest that the U.S. economy will get worse before it gets better.
This is precisely what I have been saying.  The exact same indicators that told us that recessions were coming in 2001 and 2008 have been flashing bright red, but most people don’t seem to understand what is happening.
It doesn’t matter how much faith you may have in Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.  None of them can stop what is already in the process of happening.
Without a doubt, we truly are “in the midst of a deceleration in the economy”, and it is most certainly true that “the next president will probably face a recession”.
In fact, we would be exceedingly fortunate if it is just a recession that we will be dealing with.
The largest and most important economy on the planet is teetering on the brink, and it is not going to take much to push us into a full-blown disaster.
So let us hope for some sort of economic miracle to take place, because we could really use one right about now.

The Great Leap Backward: America’s Illegal Wars on the World

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Can we face it in this election season? America is a weapons factory, the White House a war room, and the president the manager of the neoliberal conspiracy to recolonize the planet. It exports war and mass poverty. On the economic front, usurious neoliberalism; on the military front, illegal wars. These are the trenches of America’s battle for world domination in the 21st century.

If not stopped, it will be a short century.

Since 1945, America’s Manifest Destiny, posing as the Free World’s Crusade against the Red Menace, has claimed 20 to 30 million lives worldwide and bombed one-third of the earth’s people. In the 19thcentury, America exterminated another kind of “red menace,” writing and shredding treaties, stealing lands, massacring, and herding Native populations into concentration camps (“Indian reservations”), in the name of civilizing the “savages.” By 1890, with the massacre of Lakota at Wounded Knee, the frontier land grab—internal imperialism– was over. There was a world to conquer, and America trained its exceptionally covetous eye on Cuba and the Philippines.

American external imperialism was born.

Then, something utterly dreadful happened in 1917—a successful social revolution in Russia, the second major after the French in 1789, to try to redistribute the wealth of the few to the advantage of the many. The rulers of the world—US, Britain, France and sundry acolytes—put aside their differences and united to stem the awful threat of popular democracy rising and spreading. They invaded Russia, fomented a civil war, funding and arming the counter-revolutionary forces, failed, and tried again in 1939. But Hitler’s war of extermination on the USSR ended in a spectacular victory for Moscow.

For a while, after 1945, the US had to behave as a civilized country, formally. It claimed that the USSR had a barbarian, all-conquering ideology, rooted in terror, disappearances, murder, and torture. By contrast, the US was the shining city on the hill, the beacon of hope for a “the free world.” Its shrine was the United Nations; its holy writ was international law; its first principle was the inviolability of the sovereignty of nations.

All this was rubbish, of course. It was an apartheid society. It nuked Japan not once but twice, deliberately selecting civilian targets. It shielded from justice top Nazi criminals to absorb them as partners in intelligence structures. It conducted virtual “show trials” against dissidents during the hysteria of the McCarthy congressional hearings, seeding the country with a harvest of fear. It waged a genocidal war on Vietnam to prevent independence and unification. It assassinated African independence leaders and bestowed fascist dictators on Latin America. It softly occupied Western Europe, tied it to itself through military “cooperation” in NATO, and it waged psy-op war on its opposition parties. Behind the civilized façade was a ruthless effort to take out the Soviet Union and crush self-determination in the colonial world.

By hook and by crook, the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and America went berserk with triumphalism. Now, at last, the conquest of the world, interrupted in 1917, could resume. The global frontier reopened and America’s identity would be regenerated through violence, which had delivered the American West to the European invaders in the 19th century. The benign mask dropped. Behind it came a rider on a pale horse. According to the ideologically exulted, history had ended, ideologies had died, and the messianic mission of the US to become the steward of God’s property on earth could be fulfilled.

The “civilizing mission” was afoot.

A cabal of neo-conservative policy wonks first sketched what I call the Great Leap Backward into lawlessness as a revival of the myth of the frontier in the 1990s. “The Plan for a New American Century” (PNAC) envisaged the 21st century as a unilateralist drive to entrench American values globally—what the PNAC ideologues call “freedom and democracy”—through preemptive wars and regime change. This frenzied delirium of US military domination turned into official foreign policy with the Bush Doctrine after 9/11, but it was the Clinton administration’s Doctrine of Humanitarian Warfare before 9/11, that shut the door on the prohibition of aggressive wars by the UN Charter, remaking the map of the world into a borderless American hunting reserve by removing the principle of sovereignty and replacing it with “right to protect” (R2P)—or humanitarian pretext for use of force.

Clinton’s doctrine was an act of supreme, even witty, exploitation of liberal principles and commitment to policies of human rights. It was how the liberal left was induced to embrace war and imperialism as the means of defending human rights. The Carnegie Endowment cooked up the doctrine in 1992. Its report, “Changing Our Ways: America’s Role in the New World,” urged “a new principle of international relations: the destruction or displacement of groups of people within states can justify international intervention.” The report recommended that the US use NATO as the enforcer. It must be noted, too, that the principle of “humanitarian war” has no authority in international law. The Charter of the United Nations sought to outlaw war by making it impossible for unilateral interventions in the business of sovereign states by self-appointed guardians of human rights. The reason behind the proscription was not heartlessness but the consciousness that WW II had been the result of serial violations of sovereignty by Germany, Italy, and Japan—by militarist imperialism, in other words.

The bell tolled for the UN and the old order in the 1999 Kosovo War. The bi-partisan effort to dismantle the architecture of the post war’s legal order played out there. With the Kosovo War, the Clinton administration launched the first humanitarian war and set the precedent for waging war without Security Council clearance of many to follow by both Republican and Democrat administrations. The Clintonites who used NATO to bomb Serbia to protect ethnic Albanians in Kosovo from non-existing Serbian genocide may or may not have appreciated the fact that Hitler had used the pretext of R2P—humanitarian intervention—to launch WW II by claiming to protect German minorities in Poland, but they certainly knew that the monopoly on use of force rested with the UN’s Security Council. This monopoly was secured after WW II precisely to prevent unilateral attacks on sovereign states through bogus claims of altruistic interventions, such as Hitler had championed and pursued. Ironically for critics of the Soviet leader, it was Stalin who insisted at the Yalta Conference that if the USSR were to join the United Nations a veto in the Security Council was a must to insure that any war would be a multilateral consensus and a multilateral action.

As the Clintonites understood, the postwar legal authority for peacekeeping and the prevention of war entrusted to the UN Security Council posed a colossal obstacle to the pursuit of American world domination. For the vision of PNAC and the Carnegie Endowment to become reality, the United Nations, the guarantor of sovereignty, had to go. In the run-up to the Kosovo War, the Clintonites fatally and deliberately destabilized the United Nations, substituting the uncooperative UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali with the subservient NATO shill, Kofi Annan. Annan obligingly opined that in the matter of war and peace, UN Security Council resolutions were not the only way to skin a country– especially one chosen by the US for remaking, partitioning, or regime changing, a cynic might add.

So now we live in a dangerous world. Once again, since the 1930s, the world is being stalked by an expansionist power answering to no law but its own unilateral, humanitarian vigilantism. The Kosovo precedent has spun out of control. Libya smolders in the ashes of NATO bombs, dropped to prevent “genocide”; Syria fights for survival under attack by genocidal terrorist groups, armed, trained and funded by genocide preventers grouped in the NATO alliance and the Gulf partners; Afghanistan languishes in a permanent state of war, present ten thousand American troops which bomb hospitals to promote human rights; in Iraq, the humanitarians are back, after twenty-five years of humanitarian failure. And in Ukraine, Nazi patriots are promoting American democratic and humanitarian values by shelling Donbass daily. I hesitate to mention Africa, where humanitarian Special Forces are watering the fields where terrorists sprout like mushrooms after rain—in Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya.

Then there is Yemen, perhaps the most callous, vicious, and careless humanitarian crime of a litany of crimes against humanity in the Middle East. The US government has recently admitted deploying troops to Yemen. The Pentagon claims that the deployment will assist Saudi Arabia (“the Arab coalition”) to fight al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. Can a sentient being meet such a grotesque claim with anything but infernal laughter? Help Saudi Arabia to fight its own creature? Are we stupid yet?

$4 trillion dollars later, spent on the War-on-Terror/Humanitarian-R2P, the pattern of military destabilization of sovereign states proceeds apace, one recalcitrant, independent country at a time in the Middle East and North Africa. For the rest of the world, the surrender of sovereignty is sought by means of economic globalization through trade pacts—TTP, TTIP, etc.—that virtually abolish the constitution of states, including our own. Spearheading the economic effort to control the periphery and the entire world is the so-called “Washington Consensus.”

It hugs the market-fundamentalist idea that global neoliberalism and core finance capital’s economic control of the planet by means of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the option to poverty and social chaos.

Neither military nor economic war on the sovereignty of nations has yielded anything close to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful world. It had delivered death, destruction, debt, market crises, tidal waves of refugees and displaced persons, and concentrated masses of wealth in a few but powerful hands. What the poet W.H. Auden called “the international wrong,” which he named “imperialism” in his poem “September 1939,” is the crisis that stares out of the mirror of the past into our faces, and it bodes war, war, and more war, for that is where imperialism drives.

In this scenario, no potential presidential candidate—even establishment-party dissenter—who does not call for both the end of the bi-partisan “Washington Consensus” and the end of bipartisan militarist aggression can reverse the totality of the “international wrong” or stem the domestic descent into social brutalization. If none calls this foreign policy debacle “imperialism,” elections will be a sleepwalker’s exercise. Nothing will change. Except, almost certainly, for the worse.



To the Next U.S. President, the Unlimited Power to Spy, Imprison and Kill

Go To Original

Remember when coups and assassinations were secretive and presidents were obliged to go to Congress, tell lies and ask permission to wage wars? Remember when torture, spying and indefinite imprisonment were illicit, when issuing signing statements to rewrite laws was rare, and when yelling “state secrets” to shut down legal cases was considered abusive?

For over two centuries, it would have been an outrage for the president to hold a meeting every Tuesday for the sole purpose of going through a list of names and picking out which men, women and children should be killed.

Those times are gone. By mutual consent of those in power in Washington, D.C., all such resistance and outrage is now firmly in the past. It would now be unfair and violate established bipartisan precedent to deny the powers of unlimited spying, imprisonment and killing to the next president of the United States.

The fact that this new reality is so little-known is largely a symptom of partisanship, as most Democrats still haven’t allowed themselves to hear about the kill list. But the widespread ignorance is also a function of media, of what’s reported, what’s editorialized, what’s asked about in campaign debates and what isn’t.

Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program,” a new book from Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept, is terrific to see—both for what it actually teaches us and even more because of what it represents. These same reports from The Intercept have already brought us the same details online—details that fit a pattern of similar revelations that have trickled out through numerous sources over the years. The truly encouraging part is that a media outlet is reporting on the dangerous expansion of presidential and governmental power and framing its concerns in a serious way.

The United States is now working on putting into action drone shipsand ships of drone planes, but the country has never worked out how it is legal, moral or helpful to use missiles to blow people up in numerous places all around the earth. Drone wars, once declared successful and preferable alternatives to ground wars, are predictably evolving into small-scale ground wars, with great potential for escalation, and nobody in any place of power has considered using aid, disarmament, diplomacy or the rule of law to do what Obama—as a presidential candidate back in 2008—might once have called ending the mindset that starts wars.

I recommend starting “The Assassination Complex” by first reading Glenn Greenwald’s afterword. In it, Greenwald reminds us of some of Senator and Candidate Obama’s statements in favor of restoring the rule of law and rejecting President George W. Bush’s abuses. Yet what Candidate Obama called unacceptable at Guantanamo, President Obama has not only continued at Guantanamo and elsewhere but expanded into a program that focuses on murder without “due process” rather than on imprisonment without “due process.”

“Somehow,” writes Greenwald, “it was hideously wrong for George W. Bush to eavesdrop on and imprison suspected terrorists without judicial approval, yet it was perfectly permissible for Obama to assassinate them without due process of any kind.” That is, in fact, a very generous depiction of the drone murder program: “The Assassination Complex” documents that, at least during one time period examined, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.” Instead of thinking of drones as weapons killing particular people who are denied the right to a trial by jury but are suspected of something by somebody, we should think of drones as random killing machines.

“It is hard,” Greenwald writes, “to overstate the conflict between Obama’s statements before he became president and his presidential actions.”

Yes, I suppose so, but it’s also hard to overstate the conflict between some of his campaign statements and others of his campaign statements. If he was going to give people a fair hearing before abusing their rights, what are we to make of his campaign promises to start a drone war in Pakistan and escalate the war in Afghanistan? Greenwald is assuming that the right not to be murdered ranks somewhere fairly high alongside the right not to be spied on or imprisoned or tortured. But, in fact, a war-supporting society must understand that all rights have particular protection except the right to stay alive.

The advantage that comes from viewing small-scale drone murders as an escalation of small-scale imprisonment—that is, as a violation of rights—really comes when you carry logic one step further and also view large-scale killing in war as a violation of rights. Among the top areas in which I would add to Greenwald’s summary of Obama’s expansions of Bush powers are: torture, signing statements and the creation of new wars of various types.

Obama has made torture a question of policy, not a crime to be prosecuted. Frowning on it and outsourcing it and hushing it up do not deny it to the next president in the way that prosecuting it in court would.

Obama campaigned against rewriting laws with signing statements. Then he proceeded to do just as Bush had done. Obama has only used fewer signing statements than Bush did largely because fewer laws have been passed and because he has created the silent signing statement. Remember that Obama announced he would review Bush’s signing statements and decide which to reject and which to keep. (That is itself a remarkable power that now passes to the next president, who can keep or reject any of Bush’s or Obama’s signing statements.)

But as far as I know, Obama never did actually tell us which of Bush’s signing statements he was keeping. Obama simply announced that prior signing statements—issued by himself or by Bush—would continue to apply to new laws, even he did not issue a new signing statement. Obama also has developed the practice of instructing the Office of Legal Counsel to write a memo in place of a law. And he’s developed the additional technique of creating self-imposed restrictions, which have the benefit of not being laws at all when he violates them. A key example of this is his standards for whom to kill with drones.

On the question of starting wars, Obama has radically altered what is acceptable. He began a war on Libya without Congress. He told Congress in his last State of the Unionspeech that he would wage a war in Syria with or without them (a statement which they applauded). That power, further normalized by all the drone wars, will pass to the next president.

Lawyers have testified to Congress that drone killing is murder and illegal if not part of a war, but perfectly fine if part of a war, and that whether it’s part of a war or not depends on secret presidential memos that—by definition—the public hasn’t seen. The power to render murder effectively legal by declaring the existence of a secret memo, is also a power that passes to the next president.

In reality, there is no way to even remotely begin to legalize drone murders, whether or not part of a war. The seven current U.S. warsthat we know of—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia—are all illegal under the United Nations Charterand under the Kellogg-Briand Pact. So any element of them is also illegal. This is a simple point but a very difficult one for American liberals to grasp, particularly in a context where human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have taken a principled stand against recognizing the illegality of any warin order to appear politically neutral.

If, on the other hand, the drone murders are not part of an illegal war, they are still illegal because murder is illegal everywhere under universal jurisdiction. The defense that a foreign dictator, exiled or otherwise, has granted permission to murder people in his country so that sovereignty is not violated, misses the basic illegality of murder, not to mention the irony that helping dictators kill their people conflicts rather stunningly with the common U.S. excuse for launching wars of overthrow, namely punishment of a dictator for the ultimate sin of “killing his own people.” Sovereignty is also an idea very selectively respected. Just ask Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria.

In “The Assassination Complex,” reporter Cora Currier looks at Obama’s self-imposed restrictions on drone murders. Under these limitations, it is required that drone missiles target only people who are “continuing, imminent threats to the American people” and who cannot be captured and that there is “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed or injured. Currier points out that Obama approves people for murder for months at a time, rendering dubious the already incoherent idea of a “continuing imminent threat.” It’s not clear that “capture” is ever seriously considered, and it is clear that in many cases it is not.

The alleged requirement that drone operators seek “near certainty” that civilians will not be killed is belied by the constant killing of civilians and, as Currier points out, by the White House’s claim to have had that “near certainty” in a case where the dead civilians were American and European—a crime that necessitated at least some accountability.

In the book, Scahill and Greenwald also document the fact that sometimes what is being targeted is not a particular person but a cellphone believed to belong to that person. Obviously, this strategy offers no “near certainty” that that person is near their phone during a drone attack—nor that anyone else isn’t.

What might begin to restrain this madness? Will those who opposed lawlessness under Bush but turned a blind eye to its expansion under Obama find themselves opposing it again? That seems highly unlikely under the best of the three remaining big-party presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders. I can’t imagine ever getting a significant number of his supporters to even become aware of his foreign policy, so good is he on domestic issues.

With Hillary Clinton, the task would be extremely difficult as well, aided only by the likelihood that she would launch truly big-scale wars.

With a President Trump, it seems much more conceivable that millions of people would suddenly find themselves opposing what has been firmly put into place the past 16 years.

Whether it would then be too late is a different question.