Unemployment and the meaning of human rights

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a non-binding document, I have argued that it is binding upon the United States, and as it has become very clear that the unemployed are to be demonized and that our plight should be ignored, there is a dissonance to be reconciled.

Because, as I have pointed out before, article 23 of the Declaration reads:

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

How is it that the United States, which adopted the Declaration on December 10, 1948, and since reaffirmed its commitment to the Declaration (apparently, judging from the URL, on April 27, 2009), can simply leave the unemployed to the cold winds of fate?

The answer lies in a process of denying the humanity of an “other” group or individual. If we are not human, then we are not entitled to the rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration. The United States began this way, brutally counting African-Americans, Indians, and women as something less than human. Abortion became a divisive issue, late in the 19th century, at about the same time that African-American males were afforded the vote and that a second great wave of immigration began; the latter brought huge numbers of darker-skinned, Catholic, non-native speakers of English to the country and so-called nativists expressed a fear that they would be outbred. There was a eugenics movement in the early 20th century that led some to believe the U.S. should ally with Nazi Germany rather than Britain. And advocates for legalizing the birth control pill argued that it would limit reproduction among the poor.

When a country commits structural violence against its own people, as Jonathan Kozol makes clear in Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools; as Jeffrey Reiman describes in The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice; as Scott Sernau illustrates at length in Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy; as so many writers document in Thomas M. Shapiro’s Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States; and as is evident in the failure to consider unemployment a national emergency, it treats people as less than human. If, after all, the country recognized the humanity of those it stigmatizes–whether for poverty, unemployment, the color of their skin, or any other difference–it could not tolerate treating them the way it does. But it treats us so, enthusiastically and habitually.

And the United States does this even when to do so is economically damaging, meaning that stigma is more important even than prosperity. That the country has taken months to pass an extension of unemployment benefits and that it cannot even contemplate actually doing something about unemployment speaks not to the recognition of a national emergency but rather to the importance of politics as usual.

I began by pointing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and by pointing out that I believe it is binding upon the United States. But Declaration or no, if the country recognized our humanity, it would not do this to us. And it persists. And it is proud.

Fuck the United States.

The end of pacifism: limits to nonviolence as a strategy for transformation

Given a criminal regime determined to destroy the economy for any but the extraordinarily wealthy, committed to war even where defeat is certain, the threat thereof as a bullying tactic against other nations, and a race and class war against its own people that appears in infant mortality rates; in life expectancy rates; in a widening gap between rich and poor; in imprisonment rates; in a general brutality in our fascist police state; in the absence of any substantial difference between U.S. political parties except in a willingness to inspire violence for political ends when the other is in power; in the inability of alternative voices to be heard in a society where the vast majority of people are informed by corporate- and thus state-controlled media; and in politicians’ haste to appease the racist right while spurning the left, a sense of despair–even depression–seems rational.

That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that state control is so complete that the ruling elite have somehow immunized themselves even from severe discrepancies between policy and reality that should surely spell their doom. It is as if the neoconservative hubris that “we create our own reality” has come true and that at least in a policymaking process where the only reality that matters is on Wall Street and inside the Beltway, the reality of billions of people who suffer the consequences of these decisions has become utterly irrelevant.

It is in such a bleak condition and in a condition where I am finally coming to grips with a realization that I am extremely unlikely ever to be employed again in a society that still functions ideologically from a myth of unlimited opportunity to dehumanize me as a parasitic piece of trash, to be blamed and therefore isolated for my own misfortune, while official sources minimize my own plight, that of nearly 20 million people who would be employed or only briefly unemployed if we had sustained the level of employment and labor force participation achieved at the end of the Clinton administration, and that of the 27.8 percent of the population who say they are seeking employment, that I come upon an article written by Peter Gelderloos for an anarchist publication. He points out that this series of recessions passing for an economic system functions to suppress social justice movements. He argues that democracy is only a flip-side of dictatorship and that change will never come through appeals to public opinion. He encourages us to look elsewhere for signs of change, to “posters, flyers, graffiti, demos, protest marches, and face to face conversations” that receive little attention in mainstream media. He urges us to commemorate even a history of uprisings that have mostly ended in defeat as proof that resistance is not only possible, but I would add, sufficiently significant as to draw out the military and police to enforce “order,” i.e. repression.

For all the wisdom in Gelderloos’ article, he does not shy from violence. He repeats the mistake of so many in failing to understand violence that compels obedience not through egalitarian appeals to reason but through sheer brute force as inherently authoritarian and therefore to be eschewed by any true anarchist. Still, in such dire circumstances, it is evident that pacifism fails as a defense.

Such a realization is not without difficulties. The human potential movement, a turning inward that led to a reinforcement of destructively individualistic values (see Adam Curtis’s “The Century of the Self” (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) series, broadcast on BBC channel 4 in 2002), sprang from a realization that the counterculture movement could not prevail against the violence which the most militarily powerful state in the world was willing to employ. It failed in a hope that if enough people liberated themselves as individuals, authority would become obsolete. As Gelderloos writes,

Many people becoming politically active today learn about past struggles through books and documentaries, not from commemorative vigils, protests and parades, posters, celebrations, and movement holidays. The revolutionary struggles in the ‘60s and ‘70s were defeated by effective government repression, by a large part of the movement selling out and opting for peaceful, civic politics and a cushy place within the system, and by others adopting increasingly authoritarian forms of organization, which predictably led to factionalism, power plays, and infighting. Unfortunately, today more people are choosing to reinvent the wheel rather than to engage honestly with the depth of this defeat.

The Black Panthers, an organization founded for community self-defense, seems a likely model for any modern uprising but itself collapsed under a withering establishment counterattack. I do not know the way forward; that our society so heavily stigmatizes unemployed and the poor serves to isolate us from each other. A misdirected white working class male venom against immigration and against opportunity for people of color and for women rather than against the elite who have imposed “free trade” and exported good-paying working class jobs makes it difficult to see right wing whites as potential allies. That makes it difficult to organize “commemorative vigils, protests and parades, posters, celebrations, and movement holidays,” let alone a modern-day Black Panther-inspired organization. But the ideas have appeal.

Government and Organized Crime

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve said before that “the only difference between government and organized crime is in whose rules you follow.”

When I first realized that (long before I posted it in this blog), I was responding both to police behavior and the sense that taxation was a form of protection racket, in which you are protected not from common criminals–for them, the police will come after a crime has occurred and take a report, then maybe find (all too often) an African-American (or at least someone who can ill afford to defend themselves) to lock away–but from the government itself which might otherwise imprison you for tax evasion.

And while I was well aware that those taxes paid for war, this was well before I came to grasp the extent of the serial rape, mass murder, and genocide campaign that characterizes United States history. And it was before the collusion of the Obama administration with corporations, particularly the military-industrial complex with an utterly and completely predictably failed escalation in Afghanistan, banking interests with a weak financial reform that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will be in a position to further gut, and the health care industry with a mandate that millions of people buy insurance that will let them down when they need it (coupled with an exemption to leave uncovered those who need insurance the most).

These are criminal acts on a breathtaking scale. And if our only remaining shred of a distinction between the U.S. government and organized crime is the rule of law, the CIA drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere; an insistence on preserving an option to torture in defiance of international law; multiplying secret prisons; and perpetuated violations of constitutional protections against domestic spying strip it away.

This government stands exposed as a profoundly criminal regime that protects rather than prosecutes criminals. The insight I had so long ago, based on police behavior, barely scratched the surface.

But after reading the latest about how Tim Geithner, who enabled the financial crisis that brought on the depression, is being put in control of the consumer protection agency that the banks hate and being given broad new powers, I’m feeling just a little extra sick about it today.

After all, war is indeed the first resort of a war criminal

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I am seeing a lot of buzz regarding a potential attack on Iran due to its nuclear program. The saber-rattling has proceeded apace even though there remains zero proof of Iranian nuclear military intent. An article on Tehran Bureau led me to suspect it was more of the same old bluster that has worried me so many times in the past (including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). That was in June. This is July. And now I’m seeing a spate of articles.

At a time like this, it is useful to dredge up the advice I assembled back on 14 February 2007:

Media Matters for America has argued that the mainstream media are being insufficiently skeptical about United States military claims that Iran is supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents. It cites Washington Post blogger Michael Froomkin’s advice to journalists:

  • Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.
  • Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.
  • Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should … make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion — or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion — may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.
  • Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

A tidbit appears in the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency story that somehow didn’t make it into the mainstream reports: “[T]he unnamed officials who briefed the media Sunday admitted that the claim is merely ‘an inference’ rather than based on a trail of evidence.” It turns out that the weapons Iran is accused of supplying are widely available on the black market.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace further underlined the weakness of the administration’s case by declaring Monday in an interview with Voice of America, “It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved,” he continued, “but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.”

According to Media Matters, “Apparently bearing out Froomkin’s concerns, media outlets such as The New York Times, CBS, and NBC have continued to report Bush’s allegations about Iran’s role in Iraq in a muddled, incomplete manner — at times offering rebuttals to baseless and unsourced allegations of Iranian influence, while at other times serving as little more than stenographers.”

Today, I’d point out that we don’t really have adequate sourcing for all this speculation of an attack on Iran. It’s happened lots of times before: one source feeds two intermediate sources, then the reporter gets corroboration from the intermediate sources and fails to realize or consider that there is in fact only one source and therefore that true corroboration does not exist. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here but with foreign policy news, particularly involving war or potential war, there are very few people whom mainstream media will consider authoritative and seek answers from who really know anything. Until we know otherwise, it is prudent to assume that all this speculation is insufficiently corroborated.

I’d also point out that despite an excessive resemblance, the Obama administration is not the Bush administration. That allows for a couple possibilities:

  1. Hopefully, the Obama administration will not be as stupid as the Bush administration. Sadly, there is considerable evidence to support the claim that they are just as stupid. And Obama did escalate in Afghanistan and he did lie in support of this action.

  2. The Obama administration’s style is, however, different from the Bush administration. That means that saber-rattling or a prelude to yet another war may look different from that conducted under the Bush administration.

Noam Chomsky writes:

The Obama administration has been rapidly expanding US offensive capacity in the African island of Diego Garcia, claimed by Britain, which had expelled the population so that the US could build the massive base it uses for attacks in the Central Command area. The Navy reports sending a submarine tender to the island to service nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines with Tomahawk missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads. Each submarine is reported to have the striking power of a typical carrier battle group. According to a US Navy cargo manifest obtained by the Sunday Herald (Glasgow), the substantial military equipment Obama has dispatched includes 387 “bunker busters” used for blasting hardened underground structures. Planning for these “massive ordnance penetrators,” the most powerful bombs in the arsenal short of nuclear weapons, was initiated in the Bush administration, but languished. On taking office, Obama immediately accelerated the plans, and they are to be deployed several years ahead of schedule, aiming specifically at Iran.

“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” according to Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London. “US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he said. “The firepower of US forces has quadrupled since 2003,” accelerating under Obama.

The Arab press reports that an American fleet (with an Israeli vessel) passed through the Suez Canal on the way to the Persian Gulf, where its task is “to implement the sanctions against Iran and supervise the ships going to and from Iran.” British and Israeli media report that Saudi Arabia is providing a corridor for Israeli bombing of Iran (denied by Saudi Arabia). On his return from Afghanistan to reassure NATO allies that the US will stay the course after the replacement of General McChrystal by his superior, General Petraeus, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen visited Israel to meet IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and senior military staff along with intelligence and planning units, continuing the annual strategic dialogue between Israel and the U.S. The meeting focused “on the preparation by both Israel and the U.S. for the possibility of a nuclear capable Iran,” according to Haaretz, which reports further that Mullen emphasized that “I always try to see challenges from Israeli perspective.” Mullen and Ashkenazi are in regular contact on a secure line.

I think it is fair to say that Chomsky is worried. He doesn’t know and does not claim there will be an attack. Certainly he sees saber-rattling.

And once again, I’m worried too.

Just as an invasion of Iraq was a diversion from a dire (but not nearly so as at present) economic situation and from a failure to capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, a carpet bombing of Iran would be a diversion from the present economic situation and from a war going badly astray in Afghanistan. Just as the drumbeat for an attack on Iraq began in 2002 (though the invasion occurred in 2003), prior to midterm elections, the drumbeat may be beginning for an attack on Iran in 2010, prior to midterm elections.

I want to believe it won’t happen. But I also remember thinking that surely, even George W. Bush would not be so stupid as to attack either Afghanistan or Iraq. He did. I would like to believe that Obama is not so stupid as to attack Iran. See #1 above.

The Tailspin: Watch and Cheer as an Economy Self-Destructs

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Imagine that you are a bond trader.

Remember that you are in the financial industry. You believe in capitalism and are more than likely to the right of political and economic center. Even if you accept that John Maynard Keynes had a point–Paul Krugman calls it textbook economics–in suggesting that government should incur debt to encourage economic recovery, you have been alarmed that government has gone deeper in debt even in prosperous times rather than, as Keynes recommended, paying it off.

Now, imagine that you, a bond trader, have read a story in the Washington Post in which “the co-chairmen of President Obama’s debt and deficit commission” declare that “we can’t grow our way out of” a rapidly growing debt.

Now, recall that Krugman has pointed out numerous times that “investors don’t seem at all worried about the solvency of the U.S. government; the interest rates on federal bonds are near historic lows.” But you have the O.E.C.D., the I.M.F., the G.A.O. and our putatively spendthrift socialist president’s own debt and deficit commission warning of a crisis unless fiscal policies are tightened:

[Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Co-chairman Erskine] Bowles said that unlike the current economic crisis, which was largely unforeseen before it hit in fall 2008, the coming fiscal calamity is staring the country in the face. “This one is as clear as a bell,” he said. “This debt is like a cancer.”

I’m thinking that if you’re a bond trader, you’re getting a little more nervous about federal debt. After all, all these very prestigious organizations staffed with experts are pushing the panic button.

This is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophesy. And the logic isn’t principally based on immediate necessity. As Robert Reich puts it,

Many Americans borrowed too much during the boom years before the Great Depression, and now they’re paying the price. So they naturally analogize their own plight to that of the federal government and the economy as a whole. The government is too deep in debt, they reason. Logically, that means the only way out of the nation’s economic doldrums is for the government to mend its ways. The government has to reduce its budget deficit just like American families have to reduce theirs.

This analogy is faulty, of course. If John Maynard Keynes taught us anything, it’s that a federal budget is not at all like a family budget. In fact, it’s precisely because families have to pull in their belts that the federal government has to let its belt out. When consumers and businesses aren’t buying much of anything, the government has to fill the gap. That’s the only way to get jobs and get the economy moving again. Once the economy is percolating, the government can pull back. By then, tax revenues will soar, and the long-term deficit will shrink. (And yes, entitlement reform is probably necessary in the long term. But here again, it’s vitally important to separate the long term from the now.)

But the powers that be are all chanting a mantra that deficit reduction must come first despite horrendous unemployment. This is not the result of logic but of ideology.

And this is the part that Krugman and Reich fail to answer. Because at some point, when you trust your economic system to the market, what really matters, whether the markets are collectively right, wrong, prudent, or bat shit crazy, is what the markets believe. Theories, analysis, and statistics may at any point, entirely subject to the vagaries of fickle human nature, cease to matter.

Even if it has yet to appear in market behavior, virtually all the capitalists I’ve been reading are united in their fear of expanding federal debt. To the extent they concede that unemployment inhibits economic recovery, they seem to see it as a necessary price. “There are no good answers,” I remember John Mauldin writing.

So I imagine that as a bond trader, you’re probably going to start insisting on a little higher yield on government debt any day now. That will, of course, make the deficit worse because now a larger portion of government revenue will have to be diverted to service the debt. And of course, as Reich and Krugman point out, prolonged unemployment–which on the advice of all your experts the government will do absolutely nothing about–depresses those revenues.

So, as a bond trader, you’ll insist on a still higher return. After all, you have your own interests to look out for, and a capitalist mantra is that the universal pursuit of individual self-gain will benefit society the greatest. You’re pushing the economy on a tailspin, but you’re just doing what you’re supposed to do, and counting on the rest to work itself out somehow.

I guess I’m the crazy one for not believing you.

Lies, Damned Lies, and People Who Play by the Rules

Note, April 15, 2014: This posting originally cited a number of sources with links that are unfortunately now broken. These links have now been removed.

A phrase is on my mind: “People who play by the rules.” I vaguely remembered then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, referring to such people. According to the New York Times in 1994, following disastrous midterm elections,

“I hope and believe we can cooperate with the new [Republican] Congress,” Mr. Clinton said, speaking via satellite to delegates at a National League of Cities meeting in Minneapolis. “But cooperation from me cannot mean abandoning principle, abandoning the hard work we have already accomplished together in our fight to restore the economy, our fight against crime, our fight to give this country back to the hard-working people who play by the rules.”

This species of “hard-working people who play by the rules” is nearly absent from my experience. They certainly are not the ones I have ever seen being promoted in any of a succession of crappy jobs I’ve held, the only jobs I’ve ever been able to find on my own in thirty years of struggling to stay afloat in this succession of recessions that passes for an economy.

Indeed, my experience has overwhelmingly been that deception prevails. This of course appears in campaign promises, most notably recently of Barack Obama. It certainly appears in economic statistics weighted to protect the positions of those in power. It appears–repeatedly–in our rationales for going to war: We went to war and have continued to fight in in Afghanistan and in Iraq based on outright lies and an astonishing hubris, as we had in Vietnam. We lie about torture, pretending first that it isn’t torture, second that it is an effective means of gaining information, and third about the places where we conduct it. And it appears in the notions that we are a peace loving people, our blindness towards our extremely martial history, and even in the duplicity with which we treat our returning soldiers.

It even appears in the Pledge of Allegiance that schoolchildren recite each morning in school, to “one Nation under God, indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all,” as if that included people of color and the poor who are disproportionately caught within our system of criminal so-called justice and who certainly do not benefit from the standard of justice that appears in the de facto amnesty that Obama has extended to war criminals and to those who have committed crimes against humanity and against the Constitution. I cannot help but connect the pledge to the beliefs of many soldiers and of those who support them, as expressed on the bumper sticker that “freedom isn’t free,” even when it is the millions of people in other countries who principally pay that cost with their own lives and their own homes, even when so many soldiers from disadvantaged groups offer themselves as cannon fodder in exchange for a recruiter’s promise of a college education that they otherwise feel they cannot afford and that might help them to avoid the fate of their imprisoned peers, and even when the outcome for our society is not freedom but fascism.

It seems like nothing in our country is what it appears and that what little truth emerges from or somehow evades mainstream media spin paints a picture of utter evil that has no respect for people even just trying to live, let alone live “by the rules.” Our economic prospects alone are sufficient to boil blood. But there are other stories that are just plain wrong. Doug Wead, writing on the conservative site, NewsMax, illustrates how our reality has become so infuriatingly twisted:

My French sister-in-law, in her twenties, seeking to come to the United States for medical treatment with medical papers in hand and telephone numbers of her doctors and receipts showing that the work had been paid, was sent home on the next plane. She had all of the right documentation and had never violated a stay in the country. But the officers decided she had made too many trips to the USA. She died in France a few months later.

Nor will the system even approve legitimate Hispanics if they are legally in the pipeline. I guess they are too likely to vote Republican.

I have a personal friend, Mexican, who graduated with a CPA from a prestigious university. He is doing charitable work that no one else can do in a difficult situation. By all of the government’s own rules he is a perfect candidate for citizenship. But no, the only citizens that the administration and the national media approve are those who have cheated to get here.

People who play by the rules and get in line are suckers.

And in my own direct experience, I have too often seen people who believe not just the hype that applies to our society in general, but even to the organizations they assume responsibility for. It goes without saying that such people would never examine the myths that stigmatize people: One of my senators, Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, said recently that

unemployment insurance has never carried the heavy weight that it does right now, the cost that it does right now, so people are concerned. And there isn’t a lot of documentation on this. Last night for the first time I had somebody from a company tell me they’ve offered jobs to individuals and they said well, I want to not come back to work until my unemployment insurance runs out. So we need to start looking at these things. And we need to start paying for it.

For the record, one of the conditions of my last job, teaching at California State University, East Bay, while finishing my Master’s, was explicitly that I would not be eligible for unemployment insurance. I stopped being eligible for that job when I graduated, and I needed to graduate, both because my financial aid for that program had run out and because I wanted to go on to my Ph.D. program. Since then, I have sent out resumes endlessly and fruitlessly in a ritual that has never worked for me in my entire adult life. I haven’t been collecting any benefits and I certainly haven’t found a job any sooner.

But when I have collected unemployment insurance in the past, it certainly didn’t pay better than a decent job. Instead, I have found myself in a succession of low-paying jobs that do not pay what it costs to live, which means that most of my employers over the decades of my working life have not even recognized the value of my life, and they have treated me accordingly. I had become accustomed to this, as I think most workers in low-wage jobs do, and not noticed it until I returned to school and noticed a dissonance between how I was treated by my professors and how I was treated by my employers.

I should explain that the term cognitive dissonance does not apply merely to any inconsistency, but rather to an inconsistency so profound that the dissonant concepts cannot coexist with each other. Such a dissonance compels a transformation of one’s world view. Ideally, one comes to understand the assumptions that underlie the incompatibilities.

As a student, I was honored. As an employee, I was abused. The transformation was that I came to understand the nature of low wage work, the work which conservatives maintain we should accept regardless.

When Diane Feinstein and other politicians (usually Republicans) claim that the jobless prefer unemployment benefits to a wage, they echo my abusive employers, in their pretense that human life should not be accorded even an elementary dignity promised in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I maintain are binding upon the United States (but which a political science professor replied are politically impossible):

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Instead, my employers have insisted that I, along with all my colleagues, should be considered infinitely replaceable, that no intelligence save their own should be rewarded, and that they should benefit from a loyalty they will not return.

It is seemingly never the competent who are promoted or even hired, but instead those who attract attention to themselves, no matter how outrageously, who rise, succeed, and prosper. If marketing isn’t your style, and it profoundly is not mine, this society will not recognize that you have any value at all.

Last Saturday, I wrote,

I have consistently decried the malice with which Obama declared with regard to unemployment, “We all know there are limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times.” It was a prelude to sheer inaction and a hypocrisy that banks were worthy of a bailout but that the deficit was more important than the unemployed.

Obama’s statement devalues the millions who are unemployed. It is political folly and, as many economists agree, a hasty emphasis on the deficit is foolish. But it was also a more honest thing to say than when he said, and continues to say,

We have to continue to work every single day to get our economy moving again. For most Americans, and for me, that means jobs. It means whether we are putting people back to work.

As Robert Reich observed,

In June the nation added fewer jobs than necessary merely to keep up with population growth (private hiring rose by 83,000 after adding only 33,000 jobs in May). The typical workweek declined. Average earnings dropped. Home sales are down. Retail sales are down. Factory orders in May suffered their biggest tumble since March of last year.

So what are we doing about it? Less than nothing. The states are running an anti-stimulus program (raising taxes, cutting services, laying off teachers, firefighters, police and other employees) that’s now bigger than the federal stimulus program. That federal stimulus is 75 percent gone anyway. And the House and Senate refuse to pass another one. (The Senate left Washington for the July 4th weekend without even extending unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans now running out.)

This despite the fact that as bad as the numbers Reich cites–because those are the numbers published by “trusted” sources–are, they rely on assumptions that make no sense, that are clearly over-optimistic. It is just one subset of examples illustrating how our political system and our mainstream media cannot even be honest about hard realities that afflict millions of people, whether they are unemployed, whether they are Iraqis being killed or driven into exile, or whether they are innocent citizens targeted by drones, even when in the latter cases to carry on as we do presents a direct physical threat to our own safety.

It isn’t just “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film about global warming. It is any truth which does not conform to the narrative of those in power–whether politically, economically, or in the media–that is marginalized. And the people who suffer from those truths are marginalized. I’m sure many of them, like myself, have tried all our lives to “play by the rules.”

Politicians keep talking about “people who play by the rules” as if to acknowledge we are treated unfairly but carry on, like Obama on the jobless, changing nothing. We are largely invisible, even amongst ourselves. Because we aren’t the ones getting the promotions. We aren’t the ones getting hired. We aren’t conspicuous consumers. We aren’t worthy of notice. We are, it seems, only present to be exploited, only to do the real work that underlies any socioeconomic system when it is recognized that such work needs to be done, and when those in power are not so busy rewarding themselves with an economic “efficiency” that nearly always comes at our expense.

Recovery? Never

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

It’s easy to see former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s argument that tariffs are needed to protect U.S. jobs. Under globalization, 1) competition in labor conditions means that in order to compete, we must all accept the conditions of Tanzania; and 2) to compete in environmental and other regulation and taxation, we should probably accept a central government with the efficacy of that of say, Somalia, where–oops–pirates are unrestrained in hijacking large commercial freighters and tankers and holding them for huge ransoms.

Little incidents like the present depression–and yes, the time has clearly come to use that term–illustrate that unless you have people with sufficient incomes to purchase our excess production–or government to step in, as Maynard Keynes recommended, to consume where others cannot, there can be no economic recovery.

The trouble is that the jobs are already gone. Scott Sernau, in Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, devotes a lot of space to illustrating how well-paying industrial jobs have been replaced–to the extent they have been replaced at all–with low paying service jobs. Among many indictments against Wal-Mart in Robert Greenwald’s film, Wal-Mart: The high cost of low price, is that the mega-chain has profited from the impoverishment of the U.S. University of California Santa Cruz professor G. William Domhoff points out that the top 20 percent of the country now controls 85 percent of net worth and 93 percent of financial wealth, and that it takes in over 60 percent of income. As Sernau writes,

The new international division of labor that comes with globalization can also lead to expanded inequality, particularly within nations. Those who can control global markets and global production can garner a world of profits, benefiting from both the cheapest inputs of labor and resources and the largest markets afforded by the entire planet. In contrast, those whose skills are now replicated by workers around the world find themselves competing for jobs and wages with the entire planet. In this sense, the global capitalism of the twenty-first century has had effects similar to the national and international capitalism of the nineteenth century, but these effects have been greatly magnified. Spanning many different lands with many different laws and practices, they are also much more difficult to control. (p. 46)

In fact, the raison d’être for multinational corporations is to achieve an independence of any single country. Which means that U.S. has a greatly exaggerated sense of its own economic importance. The country is now important for the markets it can still provide, the resources like coal and oil our land still offers, the military protection we can offer corporate interests in places like Iraq for its oil and Afghanistan for its minerals; and our labor is important only for its proximity to those markets and those resources and for the blood it may shed in defending capitalism in foreign lands.

As Andy Grove points out, the illusion that the U.S. is somehow superior in innovation will not hold. He locates innovation with manufacturing facilities–which are now overseas, but other countries have also invested greatly in education; their universities rival our own. Meanwhile, we are disinvesting in education, and in truth, we have been doing so since long before this depression.

It is not just that countries like China and India are successfully competing with the U.S. for factories. But that the U.S., by selling itself to multinational interests, has stolen the opportunities of hundreds of millions of people to further enhance the wealth of a very few who have absolutely no loyalty to this country. I can’t even consider as news a front page story in the New York Times that the U.S. has subsidized the companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe even as they located their corporate headquarters and flagged the drilling rig itself in countries where tax and regulation costs would be lower. That’s just the capitalist way and the Deepwater Horizon is exceptional only for the magnitude of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

And after that, as Steven Barkan describes in a chapter of Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, we rarely prosecute white collar criminals even when they repeatedly cause preventable disasters that cost lives. Well before Ronald Reagan and deregulation,

[Edwin] Sutherland (1949) studied the 70 largest U.S. manufacturing, mining and retail corporations and found they had violated antitrust, false advertising, and other laws 980 times, or 14 each on the average. Their crimes, including bribery of public officials, were not just accidental violations but deliberate, repeated, extensive, and harmful. Because Sutherland was forced to rely on the official record, he thought the true extent of corporate lawbreaking was much higher. He added that any common criminal committing even his low estimate of an average 14 offenses would be considered a habitual offender worthy of public and legal condemnation. (Barkan, p. 366)

Barkan discusses at length various forms of financial crimes, both occupational and consumer safety violations, environmental pollution. He concludes,

Many criminologists believe that white-collar crime costs us more in lives and money than street crime (Friedrichs 2004; Rosoff, Pontell, and Tillman 2004). . . . Our figure for street crime is $17.1 billion, the FBI’s estimate of the economic loss from all property crime and robbery. For white-collar crime, we will . . . tak[e] the midpoint of estimates for which a range was given: (1) $389 billion (the U.S. News & World Report estimate in today’s dollars) for the cost of all corporate crime, including price-fixing, false advertising, tax evasion, and various types of fraud; (2) $100 billion in health care fraud; (3) and $33 billion in employee theft. These figures add up to $522 billion annually. (p. 388)

But we call it hyperbole to accuse the rich of stealing from the poor and we continue to assume a possibility of good governance when the record is clear that the government aids and abets the rich–and not just since Ronald Reagan.

Those who hope for a recovery this year or even in ten years need to explain what this recovery will be based upon. The record of my entire life is of industry after industry exporting jobs just as soon as they figure out where to locate the facilities. To assume that “green jobs” will somehow be different places an undue emphasis on construction and contracting trades, which itself assumes that consumers will have money and businesses will be present to spend on “green technology.” While such investments may indeed be worthwhile as the cost of fossil fuels rises, they can only be made if the money is here to spend.

But by the time our politicians show any interest in making sure that money exists to be spent, it too will likely be gone.

Politics as “the art of the possible;” politics as a synonym for utter stupidity

For all my efforts to keep track of important articles, I occasionally miss one and regret it. And of course a Google search is at this point useless because the words I remember are far too frequently used in far too many contexts utterly irrelevant to what I’m looking for. So now I can’t find the article I want, which is the very point of accepting the risk of getting slapped for copyright violations. (I’m happy to honor the intellectual part and, at this point, thoroughly disgusted with the property part of “intellectual property” for a variety of reasons that are not my topic today.)

But the point I was looking for was a comment that the Obama administration has been weaving a course intended to protect his poll ratings by avoiding appearing either too far to the left or too far to the right. It is, we would understand, a thoroughly pragmatic course that, apart from a notorious corruption, is a hallmark of Chicago politics.

But the policies in question do not merely violate campaign promises and do not merely bely former law professor Obama’s constitutional scholarship. Nor is it even that these policies are grossly immoral but allow us to weigh ends against means. Rather, these policies are abject failures which undermine a presidency progressives hoped would reverse decades of a rightward shift in policy, making it clear that politics as “the art of the possible” is not merely cowardly but foolhardy and that faux-progressives who remain steadfast in their support for Obama, no matter how many Bush-era policies he perpetuates and enhances, are not merely hypocrites but fools.

A few commentators, but not nearly enough, responded to the recent McChrystal fiasco not by pointing to the disparaging remarks that Obama understood to undermine civilian control of the armed forces, but to those remarks from soldiers on the ground saying, “we’re fucking losing this thing [the Afghanistan war],” remarks reflected in the comments of one of McChrystal’s senior advisors that “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”

As Jacob Heilbrunn wrote for the Huffington Post,

The signs of failure are everywhere. A shyster Afghan president who’s enriching his family rather than rebuilding his country. An American ambassador who believes that the war plan is doomed. And a scorching new report from Rep. John Tierney called “Warlord, Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan” which shows, as the Washington Post puts it today, that the “U.S. military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country…” And now the American General who’s heading the effort is tearing down the commander-in-chief.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote for the Atlantic,

Obama’s gamble on somehow turning the vast expanse of that ungovernable “nation” into a stable polity dedicated to fighting Jihadist terror is now as big as Bush’s in Iraq – and as quixotic. It is also, in my view, as irrational, a deployment of resources and young lives that America cannot afford and that cannot succeed. It really is Vietnam – along with the crazier and crazier rationales for continuing it. But it is now re-starting in earnest ten years in, dwarfing Vietnam in scope and longevity.

Gareth Porter wrote for Inter Press Service that McChrystal’s firing was more a consequence of military failure than disparaging remarks, that “it had become evident in recent weeks that McChrystal’s strategy is not working as he had promised, and Congress and the U.S. political elite had already become very uneasy about whether the war was on the wrong track.” An analysis by STRATFOR that I received in email (included here) concludes that “whoever replaces McChrystal will continue to struggle with a war that remains deeply intractable with limited prospects for success.”

While Tim Porter, writing for Salem-news.com, thinks that Petraeus will buy off the Taliban, a consensus emerges rather that Obama is doubling down in Afghanistan with his appointment of Petraeus to replace McChrystal.

It’s hard to ignore that Obama is doubling down on a stupid bet. Here’s the part that Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele got right in an otherwise very silly argument:

It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that.

UPDATE: Juan Cole offers a correction, that “it is actually only since Afghans began learning how to manufacture [in artisan style] hand-held firearms that they have become truly formidable, i.e. from the late 1600s.” If anyone can know this, it would be him. Thanks, Juan.

As Greenwald points out, Steele also blamed the war on Obama, neglecting that Bush started it on the false pretense of responding to the 9-11 attacks. But then there’s the Democratic National Committee (via the Washington Post):


“Here goes Michael Steele setting policy for the GOP again. The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job. They’d also be interested to hear that the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we have no business in Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that we are there because we were attacked by terrorists on 9-11.

“And, the American people will be interested to hear that the leader of the Republican Party thinks recent events related to the war are ‘comical’ and that he is betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan. It’s simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement. Michael Steele would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences.”

Greenwald calls the DNC statement “Rovian” and points to the sheer stupidity–among other things–of it:

I understand and even accept the need to use the other side’s rhetoric against them, though once you start doing that, you forever forfeit the ability to complain when it’s used against you. More to the point: the 2006 and 2008 elections proved that this “against-the-Troops/cut-and-run” rhetoric is now as ineffective as it is ugly. That’s why the GOP lost so overwhelmingly in those elections while relying on those smears; why would the DNC want to copy such ineffective tactics?

But this is more pernicious than mere tactical error. The DNC’s behavior is bolstering the poisonous, manipulative premise that to oppose an American war is an “affront” to the Troops and their families and the by-product of a cowardly desire to “walk away from the fight” with the Terrorists. When the DNC, a front page Daily Kos writer and Bill Kristol all join together to smear someone with common language for opposing a war, it’s clear that something toxic is taking place. By all means, the ludicrous hypocrisy and illogic of Steele’s attempt to place all blame on the Democrats for this war should be screamed from the mountaintops — Obama inherited and (with the overwhelming support of the GOP) escalated the war, but he did not start it — but equating war opposition with disrespect to the Troops or cowardice is destructive and stupid no matter who is doing it. How revealing that the one time Michael Steele speaks the truth, he’s being swarmed on and attacked by both political parties.

It might be one thing if the stupidity were limited to the war in Afghanistan. It might still be that one thing if we expanded the stupidity to the war in Iraq, a war that is also unlikely to end on schedule, or to his expanding and mostly secret wars, mostly against Islamic countries. We might attribute Obama’s call to expand offshore oil drilling just a few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster to bad timing. We might even excuse Obama’s waffling on issues of race as something many (stupid) rich blacks do.

But I have consistently decried the malice with which Obama declared with regard to unemployment, “We all know there are limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times.” It was a prelude to sheer inaction and a hypocrisy that banks were worthy of a bailout but that the deficit was more important than the unemployed.

Today, we have the results. I don’t have a link because John Mauldin’s analysis of the latest unemployment numbers came to me by email (you can subscribe here). I have included the text here, and as reading goes, it’s a little on the heavy side. Mauldin, who leans towards emphasizing the deficit, makes some telling points about so-called birth/death adjustments in those numbers, intimating that the unemployment numbers are far worse than reported:

The B/D adjustments say that we added 65,000 construction jobs in the last two months, over half the total number of jobs created. Really? US single-family homes set an all-time low sales number this week. Mortgage applications are way down. Home construction is off. Commercial real estate construction is down. Where are those construction jobs?

158,000 new jobs have supposedly been created in the hospitality and leisure industry in the last two months. And that is consistent with what normally happens in summer time. Typically, these are lower-paying jobs. (I worked a few myself while in college.) In the actual numbers, as surveyed, they estimated only 33,000 new jobs in L&H, so the B/D adjustment accounted for nearly all the positive number.

So a consensus from yesterday’s coverage that the numbers indicate a weakening recovery rather than a plunge into a second dip of a double-dip recession or into a depression is in fact wildly optimistic. And no one I’ve seen, except perhaps those incompetent–as well as malicious–idiots at the White House, now thinks the employment situation will help the Democrats in November.

So a Chicago-style pragmatism is about to backfire badly on Democrats and upon those faux-progressives who continue to excuse Obama’s policies. Not only has Obama done wrong things, but he has done stupid things that have cost us any opportunity to reverse the increasingly barbaric and self-destructive course that this country has set itself on.