August 31, 2009

Some Political Thoughts

Filed under: Corporatism, Health Racket Bailout — Tags: , — Russ @ 2:36 pm
We often read about how Obama has been expending “political capital” on this or that. What’s the nature of this expenditure?
For example, on carbon mitigation and on health care Obama’s actions demonstrate that he wants to continue the status quo.
This is easier on climate change, since his base for the most part doesn’t understand the issue. They think Waxman-Markey is a good bill, so he has their support. So here he’s fighting a conventional partisan fight, which uses up less political capital.
But on health care, Obama is fighting a War of Choice against both the partisan enemy and his own base. This is of course far more destructive.
Obama’s delusion was that the Republicans would provide “bipartisan” political cover while he betrayed his base. But why should they?
If I were a Republican I’d be laughing my ass off at the way things are going. I’d say: We have Obama doing our bidding, pushing our policy, and we get to clobber him as a “socialist” even as he’s doing it. It’s perfect.
As dumb as Bush was, he always knew exactly which America he was president of, whose president he was, and he relentlessly acted on behalf of that interest. Bush was always on firm ground with his base, as schizophrenic as that base seems. That is, he always acted in the interest of the rich and of big corporations, even as he could still emotionally satisfy the lumpenproles. (Even as you skewer them economically, for them all that matters is to appeal to their “psyche”, evidently.)
Bush even achieved Obama’s dream of waging class war from above while getting political cover from the partisan enemy. Thus the Dems provided cover on tax cuts, Iraq, the assault on civil liberties, and general lawbreaking (FISA, telecom immunity, etc.).
Meanwhile what is Obama trying to do? The Emmanuel theory of politics is to try to out-corporatize the corporatists; to outdo the Reps in whoring out the country to corporations. But this is demented: corporations certainly prefer the Republicans. The ideology makes more sense. They only switch their allegiance when Republican incompetence and extremism goes so far as to absolutely disgust the electorate. This is always a temporary, tactical condition.
The natural Democratic base is the progressive, public interest base seeking the general well-being of the non-rich, the constraint of abusive wealth and power, the limitation of corporate psychopathy, the weal of the workers, the protection of the environment, and in general a more rational and just society.
This of course means the goal is not to appease concentrated wealth but to deconcentrate it; not to enhance corporate power but to limit it. Those who want these things comprise the natural Democratic electorate.
But it’s clear that the Democratic Powers That Be have completely betrayed this base. Even after 2000 they haven’t learned their lesson. They are irredeemably corrupt. They sold out the people who could know belief and loyalty for a temporary fling with those who simply wait for the first chance to rush back to their true political mate.
Politically, the Democrats are stupid and cowardly, while the Republicans, as deranged as they are intellectually and morally, know what they’re doing. For progressives to still dream of a rejuvenated Democratic party seems as faith-based a delusion as the worst we hear from lower middle-class crowd and their delusions about the Republicans.
In both cases, a dispossessed, disenfranchised group dreams vainly that existing organized politics will be and can be for anyone other than the economic elite. It looks like we need a companion volume to What’s the Matter With Kansas.  
[A note on alleged political pragmatism, something I’ve written about before and probably will again. Given the entrenchment or corporate power and feudal culture, there’s nothing “practical” about ratcheting down your goals to some wretched minimum in the expectation that such reasonableness will be reciprocated, and everyone will find a mutually beneficial kumbaya compromise.
With financial regulation, with the stimulus, with carbon mitigation, with consumer safety, with food safety, with health care, to name a few, we see how:
1. No matter how paltry your initial demand, the enemy will scream bloody murder and seek to rule it out.
2. Given your initial show of weakness (which probably does represent your real inner weakness) they’ll force you downward even further.
3. Even then they’ll try to defeat your castrated “reform”.
Thus, for example, Charles Grassley has done all he can to dilute any health bill to the absolute minimum of substance, and he openly says even then he’ll vote against it. And lately I read the “reformers” are grovelling before Olympia Snowe, begging her to agree to a gutted “trigger” version of the public plan.
4. Whatever mangled reeking lump of scratch paper does get passed won’t be enforced anyway, as criminals seek every loophole and “regulators” refuse to do their jobs.
So all this is the guaranteed result of the cowardly path of moderation and “pragmatism”. I’d love to hear of a counterexample from recent history. I sure can’t think of one.
No, one of two things has to be true. Either real Change is politically possible, or it’s not. Either way, we should strive for the greatest goals, the most far-seeing and ardently reaching Change.
The only way the kind of compromise the practicalists seek could be possible would be if the dynamic was so changed that real radical reform was also possible, in which case we should seek that. But if real Change is not possible, it’s for the same reason that moderate reform would not be possible, in which case we’d still have redeemed at least our integrity and self-respect by fighting for great goals, even if in a losing cause.
Of course, this all assumes those who claim to seek reform really want it. It’s clear, unfortunately, that for many the 1-4 process I described above is in fact the desired outcome.
And the great irony is that the cornucopian dream sought by most of these oh so pragmatic reformers, is the ultimate delusional pipe dream. Nothing could be less “practical”. So they’re vapid dreamers in both their tactics and their vision.] 

August 29, 2009

Judicial Activism

Filed under: Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: — Russ @ 4:18 am
There are several kinds of behavior which we can call judicial activism. Overriding the clear will of Congress, where that will is not unconstitutional on its face, is one. Another is overturning longstanding court precedent, again unless that precedent is patently wrong. More broadly, a court is activist where it acts against the trend of the people’s will.
In a more technical sense, a case will be argued by the litigants in a certain way. Sometimes one or both sides will ask the court to rule on some sweeping principle, sometimes they will ask for a more narrow decision. Courts often rule more narrowly than requested, and this is generally not activist, but rather conservative in the non-political sense of that term. But for a court to rule on a broader question than either litigant emphasized is always activist.
I’m not saying in any of this that any particular instance of such activism is necessarily wrong, but it is activist, which is what “conservatives” always claim to be against.
So it gives the lie to every alleged conservative ideal of jurisprudence, whether it be judicial conservatism or strict construction or originalism, when the Supreme Court’s radical right wing engages in every single one of these activist practices.
In the issue of corporate money and elections the will of Congress and the longstanding precedent are clear. Every time since the early 20th century, whenever the Congress or the Court has spoken on the issue, it has spoken in favor of limiting corporate influence on elections. Then there’s the Constitution itself, which very clearly envisioned a far more limited role for corporations than they already have. Here we’re already the victim of grotesque right-wing judicial activism starting with the 1886 extension of “personhood” rights to corporations in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad . To want to extend this today is simply activism to the level of an attempted overthrow of the constitution and the people.
Even more importantly, the people have been consistently skeptical of such influence. And especially today, when the people are in a state of low boil over the destruction wrought upon our economy by corporate crimes and criminals, there can be no doubt regarding how the people respond to the question, Do you want the banks to have a greater influence on politics and politicians than they already do?
So we come to the pending case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. Here the case involved a fairly narrow issue, whether or not a corporate-funded videotape constituted a political donation, which could easily have been decided on technical grounds, and neither side was expecting more. This is how the case first argued in March. 
But the right wing court basically ordered the litigants to go back and reconceive the case as a test of broad principles involving restrictions on corporate election manipulation. They are to return in September and argue this as a test of the overarching question  of whether or not corporations should be allowed to directly give money to election campaigns. Whether or not it is “constitutional” to forbid this.
So here we have in prospect every kind of activism. If the court votes to overturn all restrictions on corporate funding, it will be an assault on the wills of Congress, the Court’s precedent, the language of the Constitution, and the will of the people, and this activist decision will have been achieved through activist directives during the argumentation process.
Unfortunately, this outcome is all too plausible. On economic issues, issues of corporate power, this Court and the federal courts in general have long been trending rightward and corporatist. There’s a reason why, for all its sometimes incendiary anti-judge rhetoric, the Right hasn’t made a broad argument for defiance of court decisions. It’s because they expect the courts, by now packed with pro-corporate judges by every president since Reagan, to be one of their last legal bastions of corporatist power, as the politics turn decisively against them. So instead the people’s advocates need to be asking this question.
The Supreme Court has no power. Andrew Jackson – “Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it” – had it right. The power of the court depends upon the goodwill of the executive. Since Jackson the issue has barely come up so starkly, but the power facts remain. Thus the court is in the end reliant upon political factors.
We must go further. Under these class conditions, where the court has been captured by the predatory anti-public interest corporate cabal, it has no authority. We must steel ourselves for the possibility of demanding of state and federal legislatures and executives that they defy court decisions which seek enslavement. We must be ready for anti-court civil disobedience.
I know this sounds unpleasant to those who think of the court as a progressive stalwart in the 50s through the 70s, but this ain’t that court any longer.
This court is waging reactionary war, against the will of the people and against the verdict of history itself on finance capitalism. This is a last-ditch attempt to entrench, and it will fail, but for the time being it can still do lots of damage.
This is a renegade court. Historically, the court usually lags somewhat behind the progressive will of the people. This in itself shows its inherent anti-activist tendency. The great culture war decisions followed in the wake of a higher public consciousness. The court usually waited for the people to lead before it issued what would have been the most controversial decisions, and even where it was ill-inclined it usually followed along anyway. When it comes down to it the court is a political institution.
And where a court was bent on reactionary activism, as with the anti-New Deal 30s court, it had to be jolted into compliance with the will of the people through FDR’s packing threat. Although FDR’s scheme failed, it still achieved its purpose, as the court now became more reasonable in its decisions.
So we see how hard political activism on the part of a court can be countered only with hard political activism against that renegade court.
“Judicial activism” is therefore a form of political activism. It must be seen as such and dealt with as such.       

August 27, 2009

Physical and Moral Cornucopians

Peak Oilers and core environmentalists recognize the debt/growth economic model as physically unsustainable, while social reformers recognize it as spiritually and morally malevolent. There’s a lot of overlap among these groups.
But also overlapping is our mirror obverse, physical and moral cornucopianism. These are the faith-based people who reject resource limitation, believe growth can be infinite and benign, and think even wealth concentration can lift all boats.
We can split these into two broad groups, the green cornucopians (mainstream environmentalists and renewable/alternative energy and “efficiency” evangelists), who believe in physical boundlessness, and the economic liberals who believe in the taming and benevolence of growth and wealth. As I said there’s much overlap among these two as well.
In a nutshell greens think the problems of civilization can be solved through being more eco-friendly and energy-efficient about our growth, our wealth accumulation, and our consumerism.
Further (and endless) exponential growth is to be accomplished through an alternative energy transformation.
Wind, CSP, solar PV, smart grids, and far more efficient use of electricity will continue to power civilization at something near its current level.
2nd, 3rd, 4th generation biofuels will allow us to continue driving our cars the way we have been (and allow the rest of the globe to hit the road as well).
These cars will be PHEVs and EVs.
Meanwhile new technology will render vestigial fossil fuel extraction and burning far less carbon intensive.
New technology will everywhere render us ever more energy efficient and less emissive. 
(In every one of these it’s assumed that new technology will forever come along to continue the process.)
Meanwhile corporations will happily join the environmental and energy crusade. All stages of manufacturing and distribution will be ecologically and efficiently rationalized so that consumerism can continue unabated but in a green way.
This new infinite green consumerism will in turn economically power growth forever, which will in turn afford the investment to keep developing and deploying the eternally new green technology, which will in turn allow continued growth and consumerism without running up against resource or pollution limits, and so on.
Throughout, corporations will be more profitable than ever, the rich will get richer than ever, all boats will be lifted, everyone will be ecstatic, and this will all be done in a earth-friendly and resource efficient way.
Finally, any rump carbon issue which wasn’t cleared up by the genius of the green market and green technology will be mastered with a market-oriented mitigation policy, based on traded emissions permits and offsets. (If the caps look a little iffy, what with the offramps and safety valves, don’t worry. Given how wonderfully our market mechanism is going to function, those will never be triggered. They were only put in there for political show. And don’t worry about the anemic reduction goals. In our new green corporate utopia, we’re going to be mitigating so much carbon the plants won’t have enough to breathe.)
These permits and offsets, and derivatives from them, may blow up a finance bubble, but don’t worry. Unlike in previous Neanderthal economies, our new green economy will know how to control bubbles and prevent them from getting out of control. No more capitalist crises for us!
This is no doubt on account of our newfound moral virtue. For just as the greens think technology will save us from the environmental and energy crises and still allow the Tower Of Babel to keep rising higher, so liberals think there’s a way to morally redeem growth and superconcentration of wealth so that these continue even as all of society benefits and we achieve the end of poverty.
I won’t bother trying to hack my way through the tangle of liberal reform proposals which have somehow not worked for decades now, which years have seen only wages stagnate and decline, unionism clobbered, the safety net shredded, corporate power enhanced, and wealth ever more concentrated. You would think anyone who doesn’t like these things would’ve learned by now, but the Democrats’ version of corporate liberalism remains a popular ideology even as everyone deplores every development it has presided over.
The basic problem is the belief that growth, capitalist “innovation”, and wealth concentration are morally neutral or even inclined to be benevolent, except that mean old Mr. Potter perverts them from their right usages. Even a real philosopher like John Rawls still bases his otherwise excellent difference principle on this bad foundation (so we’ll let him stand in for the liberals).
(Even Marx believed in the intrinsic benevolence of growth and technology, objecting only to the capitalist mode of production.)
Rawls was willing to champion every aspect of capitalism and growth so long as it was done in a way which truly would lift all boats. (The difference principle means in theory that the measure of any policy must be whether or not it even slightly betters the condition of the poorest. Excellent principle with insuperable practical difficulties given the industrial premise.) In the end it’s another version of trickle-down, but which would use taxation and other government mechanisms to cause the trickling.
But we know that trickle-down does not work, both systemically and morally. Capitalism simply does not create enough constructive investment opportunities for bloated wealth to find a way to trickle down. That’s why wherever it accumulates this wealth always blows up bubbles instead. And even if such investment opportunities could be found, they’re not as profitable as rent-seeking through asset bubbles, so the entrenched wealth structure acts aggressively to defend its rentier prerogatives.
We know that throughout history, from all large ancient civilizations through today, concentrated wealth is used as a weapon to further concentrate itself. Even where a society has a real economy and generates real wealth, concentrated wealth invariably seeks to concentrate further at a rate greater than wealth is created.
So wherever a society seeks to grow economically, we have an eternal zero-sum game, where if the public isn’t gaining it is losing.
The American people have been losing now for forty years.
So the cornucopians are just as wrong about the progressive possibilities of continued growth as they were about its physical possibilities.
The only way to help the poor, and seek the public interest, is to distribute wealth the right way in the first place, not to let it concentrate and then expect it to “trickle down”.
(In a subsequent post I’ll explain why this would not be harmful to innovation.) 

August 23, 2009

Krugman and the Evolution of Political Truths

Paul Krugman has long been one of the best commentators from inside the system. His analysis on Iraq (though not the GWOT as a whole), the bailouts (though again, which he sees as wastefully applied, not wrong as such), health care, Republican depravity, government lying, and much else has often been superb.
However, the question has come up of how long you can tenably remain a dissenter within the system.? How long can you insist that everything which is being done is being done wrongly before you have to conclude that the entire premise, and not just the tactics, is wrong?
As if in response to this, Krugman seems lately to be breaking down and accepting the doctrinaire view of things. Thus even in a column where he strongly expresses how malign is the very existence of the big banks:

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely……

Such growth would be fine if financialization really delivered on its promises — if financial firms made money by directing capital to its most productive uses, by developing innovative ways to spread and reduce risk. But can anyone, at this point, make those claims with a straight face? Financial firms, we now know, directed vast quantities of capital into the construction of unsellable houses and empty shopping malls. They increased risk rather than reducing it, and concentrated risk rather than spreading it. In effect, the industry was selling dangerous patent medicine to gullible consumers………

What’s clear is that Wall Street in general, Goldman very much included, benefited hugely from the government’s provision of a financial backstop — an assurance that it will rescue major financial players whenever things go wrong.

he still parrots his longstanding line that it has to be done; that we have no choice.

You can argue that such rescues are necessary if we’re to avoid a replay of the Great Depression. In fact, I agree. But the result is that the financial system’s liabilities are now backed by an implicit government guarantee.

And more recently, after long resistance, he has begun to accept the green shoots dogma:

So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government……

Just to be clear: the economic situation remains terrible, indeed worse than almost anyone thought possible not long ago. The nation has lost 6.7 million jobs since the recession began. Once you take into account the need to find employment for a growing working-age population, we’re probably around nine million jobs short of where we should be…….
But in the 1930s the trend lines just kept heading down. This time, the plunge appears to be ending after just one terrible year…..

So what saved us from a full replay of the Great Depression? The answer, almost surely, lies in the very different role played by government……..

In addition to having this “automatic” stabilizing effect, the government has stepped in to rescue the financial sector. You can argue (and I would) that the bailouts of financial firms could and should have been handled better, that taxpayers have paid too much and received too little. Yet it’s possible to be dissatisfied, even angry, about the way the financial bailouts have worked while acknowledging that without these bailouts things would have been much worse.

The point is that this time, unlike in the 1930s, the government didn’t take a hands-off attitude while much of the banking system collapsed. And that’s another reason we’re not living through Great Depression II…..

I’m still very worried about the economy. There’s still, I fear, a substantial chance that unemployment will remain high for a very long time. But we appear to have averted the worst: utter catastrophe no longer seems likely.

I suppose this is an answer to the proposition that where the stakes are so high you can’t honorably remain in loyal dissent forever. It’s not the right answer, but it is an answer.
This makes me wonder about a question I’ve long had. Krugman has written excellently on how MSM analysis of the war accepts as the “right” commentators only those who initially supported the war but later became skeptics or detractors, while those who opposed it from the beginning are still ruled out of the discussion.
In other words, as far as the mainstream is concerned, the “correct” position is to be brainwashed enough to accept whatever premise the government demands, and whatever its initial alleged evidence is, but to retain enough of a critical faculty that when the new evidence goes overwhelmingly against the initial premise, you can then change your mind. This is the position the MSM considers the correct one because this is what it sees as its own position.
But to reject the premise peddled by government and big business in the first place rules you out. You’re antisocial, feral, not a constructive part of the discussion.
So far, so good. So I’ve long wondered how this will play out regarding the economic crisis and the system’s doomed attempt to prop up the zombie banks and the zombie debt/”growth” economic model. For example, when we Peak Oilers are proven correct that the system was not sustainable and should have been wound down as rationally as possible, and that NO bailouts were worth doing, will we remain marginalized as wild men not fit for civilized company? Will it be the likes of Krugman himself who will belatedly recognize the truth and thereby become one of the “right people” while still scoffing at us as terminal doomsayers who therefore don’t deserve credit for having been right?
In this connection Krugman did once write a blog post (first half of 09; unfortunately my attempts to locate it failed) which went halfway toward dealing with this question. But he only asked the question regarding nationalization of the banks: once the mainstream accepts that it has to be done, will it be only the late adopters who are anointed politically correct while Krugman and others who called for it from the start will remain, as far as respectable conversation goes, outsiders?
By now no one still talks about nationalization. By now even longtime dissenters like Krugman accept that we’re committed to acceleration of the status quo until the next, far bigger, far worse crash. I suppose out of psychological self-defense they’ve had to retrench and convince themselves that maybe the corporatists can pull it off.
(As for the morality and aesthetics of it, the extrapractical desirability of continuing with such a vile system, I don’t know how they square their consciences.)
For those of us who really understand what’s happening and what must happen, we’re back where we started – alone. Oh well, we’re used to it. We’ll listen to the green shoots blather for a while, while hopefully we continue our preparations and perhaps start to find a means of political organization.
But I guess we can forget about anyone in this system ever conceding that we were right. That’ll be only for the history books, if there still are history books post-Peak Oil.
I’m determined to try to ensure there will be.  

August 21, 2009

Back to Our Future 1: Primeval Forgetting and Memory

Filed under: Corporatism, Nietzsche, Peak Oil — Russ @ 9:24 am
In times of such turbulence, we turn with both nostalgia and with constructive curiosity to the question of beginnings. Today’s predicament is perhaps unprecedented in history. Never has a civilization faced such an acute crisis of both the moral legitimacy of its institutions and the physical basis of its existence.
It is not a coincidence that we simultaneously enter the crises of debt collapse and Peak Oil. Modern civilization has been based upon: the wholesale liquidation of all natural resources, the best and cheapest first, with no rational allocation measure, but only the satisfaction of wealthy gluttony; and upon ever growing production and capital accumulation, without reference to rational limitations on consumption.
The economic result of this has been the inevitable regular crises of capitalism, as production regularly becomes overproduction and investment regularly becomes insane gambling as excess capital desperately seeks a place to go. This inevitably reached its extreme in recent decades as capital forced itself to liquidate the Western middle class, destroying its own consumer market, at the same time as it sprawled the globe searching for ever more deranged ways to overproduce. The only way to temporarily sustain this was to blow the entire capitalist economy into a monstrous debt bubble, turning the insolvent Western consumer into a zombie market.
Thus the American middle class was the microcosm of America as a whole, insolvent and addicted to overconsumption. It could not be sustained.
The same dynamic has played out with oil, metals, water, forests, the soil. The imperative everywhere was extraction and consumption, as quickly and wastefully as possible. This could not be sustained either, and we are now at the end of cheap, plentiful oil. The same is true of all other critical resources.
The debt/growth bubble was unsustainable in itself, as well as unsustainable except upon the fossil fuel platform. (In fact we Peak Oilers tended to neglect the first of these facts and focus on the second, so that we’ve had to revise our ideas since the debt bubble collapsed primarily of its own weight, although high oil prices driven in part by straining supply fundamentals helped set off the collapse.)
So now we know that the entirety of the modern ideology was a lie. “Capitalism” was really corporatism, “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have really been rent-seeking and con jobs, technology and material accumulation have not improved our lives but only laid whips upon us to work us harder and longer.
Our “countries” have really been protection zones for corporate gangs to operate, and our governments have been their goons. Our political, religious, business, and media “leaders” have spoken only lies and stupidities, meant to lead us into bondage.
And today they tell the same lies as they continue the same crimes. They will try to perpetuate a bankrupt, criminal system to prop up their privilege, for as long as they can.
We are now finally, once and for all, at ground zero.
So let’s start over again, at the beginning. The great political philosophers have tackled this question for thousands of years, and have mostly found their answer in some kind of contract between individuals and government, which arises out of some primeval state of nature. Whether or not this is really the way it happened, or whether it’s just a metaphor, is not important. No one can know, and few, least of all the philosophers themselves, cared.
What’s important is the moral ideal, that men can agree upon some collective act at the inception, toward some greater future good. This, however it has happened in real life, is the defining social act.
(It’s fascinating that in so many tellings this primeval act was or included a crime. Thus we have Prometheus bringing the forbidden fire, Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple, Cain slaying Abel, on through Nietzsche’s idea of a barbaric race enslaving a deeper and weaker, forcing it to seek itself spiritually, and Freud’s primeval sons joining to kill their ur-tyrant father, thus contracting the original taboo.
And in history the revolutionary spirit has always recognized and defined itself above all by its will to make a clean sweep toward a new beginning.) 
It was the fact that debt has played such a critical role in the death of mass civilization, while Nietzsche saw debt as having been the very first social concept, and the contraction of debt as the defining primeval social act, which made me decide to begin my quest with an analysis of Essay Two of his Genealogy of Morals. (Though also because GM has been one of my three favorite books for over fifteen years now.)
Section 1 opens declaring: “To breed an animal with the right to make promises – is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? Is it not the real problem regarding man?”
As we’ll see, this promise would quickly become concentrated in the form of debt: monetary, but also to family, ancestors, community, the gods. But here I’m getting ahead of myself.
For section 1 the conflict is between our natural capacity for active forgetfulness, and our will to commit ourselves for the future by means of a promise we make and try to remember. Active forgetting, which includes what modern psychology calls “repression”, is a mechanism of psychological health and defense. It helps us purge all the information and memory which is useless (c.f. Huxley’s “reducing valve”) or harmful (e.g. unconstructive and counterproductive guilt, obsolete moral scruples). It also, in the form of repression into the unconscious, tries to give us time to “digest” our experiences (while modern technology does all it can to forestall this by never giving us time to even incorporate experiences let alone digest them).

The doors and windows of consciousness are shut temporarily; they remain undisturbed by the noise and struggle with which the underworld of our functional organs keeps working for and against one another; a little stillness, a little tabula rasa [blank slate] of the consciousness, so that there will again be room for something new, above all, for the nobler functions and officials, for ruling, thinking ahead, determining what to do (for our organism is arranged as an oligarchy)—that is, as I said, the use of active forgetfulness, a porter at the door, so to speak, a custodian of psychic order, quiet, etiquette. From that we can see at once how, if forgetfulness were not present, there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hoping, no pride, no present. The man in whom this repression apparatus is harmed and not working properly we can compare to a dyspeptic (and not just compare)—he is “finished” with nothing. . .

For men to make promises to one another they had to develop a wholly new faculty which could overcome this active forgetting. This meant nothing less than developing “a real memory of the will”, as the prerequisite to making any promise, and seeing it through as the basis for social action.
So we see how at its core social action arises out of the primeval human will.
“Man himself must first of all have become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of himself, if he is to be able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does.”
And so today we again face this revolutionary new day, and we must ask where we must forget, and what we may promise, and how  we can find our way to making promises again.

August 17, 2009

Health Reform Fight (3 Of 3)

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Health Racket Bailout, Neo-feudalism — Tags: — Russ @ 2:52 pm
We now come to the self-directed action of defaulting on debt.
The idea that any individual should feel morally committed to this system, e.g. paying alleged “debts” the system forced upon him, is both misguided and self-enslaving, and it’s exactly what the gangsters want people to think. That’s why this kind of social indoctrination exists.
But the facts are:

1. As everyone knows, the elites feel no such scruples or moral obligations. Every bank, every corporation, feels it has an absolute right to be bailed out by taxpayer money, but that it does not incur any social obligations in return. It is entitled to continue with predatory, sociopathic, destructive behavior, both while it is a direct ward of the state and of course after it has gone through the charade of “paying back” a small portion of the public money it stole and continues to steal. (The TARP, which some of them have “paid back” with such fanfare, is only a small portion of the loot conveyance.)

The government approves of this practice.

2. Meanwhile the system has been set up to encourage and basically require that the individual become a “consumer” and go into debt. The brainwashing starts in school and continues all our lives, as the public media is for all intents and purposes a shrieking advertising agency. That goes to the brainwashing which drives people into so-called “voluntary” consumer behavior.

3. More importantly, much of the debt load is not voluntary by any measure. The system is set up to be as high-maintenance as possible. It’s set up to require you drive a car. It’s set up to require a college “education”, which for most is just an astronomically expensive careerist hoop to jump through. It’s set up to drive housing and land prices out of reach other than through debt indenture. It requires a panoply of electronic devices in order to be socially functional: PC with internet connection, cell phone, perhaps a blackberry or twitter or some other such implements. Since economic concentration pressures make it next to impossible to function as a low-overhead small business, the would-be entrepreneur is forced to go into debt to capitalize his business attempt.

All of this is intended to impose social control.

Anyone who understands this whole dynamic understands how the individual has been coerced into it, and how he is not morally responsible for these system debts.

(Of course we’re not talking about borrowing money from a friend in an emergency and then refusing to pay him back. That always has been and always will be despicable.)

So these kinds of defaults are a form of civil disobedience, monkeywrenching. (Perhaps many of the individuals involved don’t really deserve to be called rebels are far as their intent goes. I don’t doubt many of them were selfish enough, the type who willingly binged beyond their means. It’s unfortunate that many of them can get a moral free ride if decent involuntary defaulters really proliferate. Or if such decent people are smeared by association with the irresponsible.  But what’s important here is the overall structural result.)

There’s a really good piece by Michael Hudson from last February, Bubble Economy 2.0.

I still think it’s the best single piece I’ve read on this crisis.

The part that’s relevant for this discussion is how Hudson describes talking to a banker who had an epiphany:


The officials drawn from Wall Street who now control of the Treasury and Federal Reserve repeat the right-wing Big Lie: Poor “subprime families” have brought the system down, exploiting the rich by trying to ape their betters and live beyond their means. Taking out subprime loans and not revealing their actual ability to pay, the NINJA poor (no income, no job, no audit) signed up to obtain “liars’ loans” as no-documentation Alt-A loans are called in the financial junk-paper trade.
I learned the reality a few years ago in London, talking to a commercial banker. “We’ve had an intellectual breakthrough,” he said. “It’s changed our credit philosophy.”

“What is it?” I asked, imagining that he was about to come out with yet a new magical mathematics formula?

“The poor are honest,” he said, accompanying his words with his jaw dropping open as if to say, “Who would have guessed?”

The meaning was clear enough. The poor pay their debts as a matter of honor, even at great personal sacrifice and what today’s neoliberal Chicago School language would call uneconomic behavior. Unlike Donald Trump, they are less likely to walk away from their homes when market prices sink below the mortgage level. This sociological gullibility does not make economic sense, but reflects a group morality that has made them rich pickings for predatory lenders such as Countrywide, Wachovia and Citibank. So it’s not the “lying poor.” It’s the banksters’ fault after all!

In other words the poor are saps to submit to a practice and a morality which the elite never believed in and would never practice, but which they do seek to promulgate among the masses.

It’s a modern version of the ancient pious lie.

And now we may also have to extend this attitude of disobedience to health care. There’s been a lot of propaganda in the MSM about how many among the uninsured are “free riders”. Whether or not this is ever true, we must reply that no amount of individuals could ever add up to the free riding, rent-seeking, corporate welfare-glomming private insurance parasite, the feudal drug industry, and the fee for service provider model.
These epitomize non-value-adding, non-innovating parasitic rackets, which can use captive markets and government-bestowed privilege to jack up prices upon the public, way beyond any legitimate capitalist level.
The definition of reform is to rein in the rent-seeking of providers and the big drug pushers, and to break the private insurance parasite completely. Only a reform program which would do this would have any authority to mandate that individuals pay into the system. The only way this could legitimately be done is through taxes for a public program.
But the anti-reform concept of mandating individuals to pay into a private feudal protection racket is, on its face, unconstitutional and tyrannical. It is a form of poll tax. No one has any obligation to comply with it.
On the contrary, it is those who would try to demand this, who would seek to further corporate depredation under the guise of reform, who would act illegally and immorally. They are traitors to the reform ideal.
(Also, on a practical level, no one should believe the lies about such a program being subsidized for those who can’t afford it. That’s not what’s happening in Massachusetts. We can only imagine the nightmares which will ensue if, solely for the sake of corporatist ideology, the Democrats try to complexify the system and render it far more complex, with a tyrannical mandate, for one reason and one reason only: to prop up and add to the profits of a handful of criminals.)
So if Obama and the Democrats betray their promise of reform and turn it into yet another assault on the weakest and poorest among the people, the people have the right to defend themselves, including by systematically, as a group, becoming these “free riders” they keep being called they are.
People are willing to pay their fair share. But how can you pay your fair share when the price is jacked up to obscenely unfair levels by gangsters with the connivance of the government? And when you have no job or a job which fails to pay a living wage because of the rapacity of the bosses, again assisted by every government policy?
No, “the uninsured” are an artificial creation of the government, because it has abdicated its responsibility to ensure decent basic health care for all citizens. Those in the establishment will have a right to tax the people for publicly established care. They have no right to act as hired goons while a racket imposes a private tax on those already victimized.
And these victims have no responsibility or obligation to comply.
I’d like to wrap up with one general observation on political organization. We true reformers know we must find an alternative to the existing political system. The basic idea is a new reform movement, probably arising organically, originally in a decentralized manner, although if it is to have any impact it will have to achieve cohesion and discipline. (Just look at the Democrat varieties of these.)
One way these movements sometimes start out is as single-issue movements. If the people are angry, fearful, but also ready to be inspired, where it comes to an issue, this can be the pivot upon which a broader, lasting movement comes together.
Last year there was lots of talk about what Obama was going to do with the grassroots organization which carried him to victory. Overly optimistic people assumed he would reorganize it as a pro-reform pressure group outside the Washington structure. (How sad to think about that now, what could’ve been…) Others thought, that group will keep Obama honest, force him to follow through on his promises. No such luck there either.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of how this could have worked. Perhaps the same model can be built up around some campaign, issue or electoral (though 2012 is a long way off..), and next time hopefully the participants won’t make the mistake of following a “leader” outside and as it were above themselves, who can just lie and manipulate and betray like Obama. Next time the movement should be clear from the start that it is self-directed.
This can probably best be done with an issue like health care, especially where every element among the power structure is so clearly bent on betrayal and crushing reform even as they blaspheme the word.

August 14, 2009

Health Reform Fight (2 of 3)

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Health Racket Bailout — Tags: — Russ @ 3:13 am
In my last post I described the uncivil fascist unruliness of today’s right wing mob scene. Today let’s consider some possibilities for direct counteraction as well as broader civil disobedience in the face of tyrannical policies.
To begin with, there is progressive protest going on, as detailed in Peter Dreier’s Nation piece of August 6. If you haven’t heard of campaigns like the Home Defenders anti-foreclosure/anti-eviction activism, part of the reason is that the corporate media has basically imposed a news blackout on such actions, even as it hammers us ad nauseum with accounts of every crackpot right wing screaming session.
So perhaps one thread of activism we need, as assistance to the others, is to pressure the MSM to cover the protest of real Americans every bit as much as it does that of “real Americans”, that is the bad, worthless, vandalistic disgraces Palin calls by that term. 
On the level of conventional politics, everyone has the idea of pressuring individual Congressmen to do the right thing. And many of us are familiar with how FDR had to be pressured from below to institute the real New Deal, the part that actually helped Americans rather than just stabilized the banks.
The lesson here, sometimes missed, is that pressure did not mean e-mail campaigns. It meant strikes. It meant physical resistance to plant closures, scabs, thugs of every sort. It means counterdemonstrations at these “town halls” where so far the enemy has mostly had the space to himself. Only lately has there been some (literal) pushback, which I’m certainly happy to see, although the counteraction is still nowhere near as coordinated as enemy aggression. 
A big disadvantage the people suffer vis their enemies is the lack of a coordinating network for counteractivism and self-defense, the way the right has such networks of their astroturfing, fraud, and smear campaigns. It’s an ugly truth but a truth nevertheless that every kind of ruthlessness must be met with surpassing ruthlessness, if you want to win a war.
Pressuring the MSM; pressuring Congressmen, online but also in person; demonstrating for the right programs, counterdemonstrating against the bad and against the scum who would shut down the people’s discussions; direct resistance to social and environmental crimes such as mountaintop removal mining; setting up a national clearinghouse for witnesses to report environmental crimes; organizing farmer resistance vs. banker and biotech thugs; antiforeclosure and eviction programs like the Home Defenders, and many other such actions are available.
We can especially encourage more assertive labor action. Here let me recommend Fred Goldstein’s excellent free e-book Low Wage Capitalism which offers an abundance of tactical suggestions stemming from the strategic principle that the rank and file are ready for direct action, and strong direct action will communicate its energy to more and more among the dispossessed. To put it in the Yeatsian terms I discussed in the last post, this would invigorate and impassion the best. Throughout this economic disaster one constant has been how the workers have been both beaten and cursed, their jobs eradicated and their well-being scapegoated as the real source of corporate ill-health. This is so despicably wrong, factually and morally, though all too normal according to disaster capitalist tactics, that by itself it lays bare the fundamental wickedness of government and media, that they have abetted such a lie.
So those who would fight for the people must especially be ready to fight for the workers in their direct actions, and against their enemies, against the thugs and scabs. If all decent people could just resolve to hold this line, “right or wrong”, it would invigorate and in itself bring into being the whole renewal.
In the aftermath of the financial crash and the widely perceived absolute forfeiture of all moral and rational credibility on the part of monopoly finance capitalism, the political space still remains fairly open for reform and reconstitution, in spite of the despicable failure of the nominal “progressives”, starting with Obama, to enter that space with a new idea and a complete call for real Change. This is also in spite of the deranged attempts by the rabid reactionaries to fill the space themselves with their standard tactics of lies, fear, and hate. That they have largely failed so far is a testament to the bankruptcy of their screams and the new, more mature outlook of Americans.    
What do we fight for? An American renewal, where wealth becomes a source of beneficence and health for those who created it, instead of being stolen and hoarded and used as a weapon by parasites and gangsters. Where the land and the law are once again the domain of the people and not a private reserve and demented pleasure palace. Where the existing toxic and brutal wasteland can be replanted and repeopled with a better world of community and freedom, things which today are only words, not even memories.  
But this renewal must be led by a break with the criminals of today, those who have so corrupted and polluted the system that it must be swept absolutely clean. While individuals may have their personal preferences, the call must be both positive and negative. We have an enemy whose utter destruction is both a necessity and a moral and aesthetic value in itself. 
Part of the reason I bring this up is because lots of people don’t like a negative emphasis. They so dislike the sense of fighting “against” something, as a matter of personal temperament, that they come to deny the basic truth of political struggle, and of history itself, that all action is dialectical, and has both its creation and its creative destruction, its affirmative striving and its ruthless purging. That the negative can be just as motivational and inspiring as the positive. Anyone who studies the history of resistance to the Nazis sees how they fought just as much against the Nazis’ evil as for justice and freedom.
In the last post I described how the socialists finally joined the Dreyfusards against the antisemitic thugs. The workers established a presence on the streets, opening a political space for the Dreyfusard activists to operate without having to fear so much for their literal physical safety. This was of critical importance. But as Arendt describes, the workers were motivated primarily in a negative way:
At last Clemenceau convinced Jaures that an infringement of the rights of one man was an infringement of the rights of all. But in this he was successful only because the wrongdoers happened to be the inveterate enemies of the people ever since the Revolution, namely, the aristocracy and the clergy. It was against the rich and the clergy, not for the republic, not for justice and freedom that the workers finally took to the streets. True, both the speeches of Jaures and the articles of Clemenceau are redolent of the old revolutionary passion for human rights. True, also, that this passion was strong enough to rally the people to the struggle, but first they had to be convinced that not only justice and the honor of the republic were at stake but also their own class “interests”. 
I cite this truth not to applaud it but to accept it as a fact of political nature, especially in the far more fragmented and meaner world of today. We have to seize every vantage point, sound every rallying cry, exalting the good and demonizing the bad, without being overly precious about the ivory tower ethics of it all.
In the case of the Dreyfus Affair, the end result was victory over what looked for a time like impossible odds.
There remains one last arena for action and even civil disobedience, involving our horrendous debt load, much of it contracted with con men and predators, even as they don’t have to honor their debts or face the consequences of their fiscal recklessness and failure. I’ll talk about this in the third of these posts. (There I’ll also be getting back specifically to the health care fight.)  

August 12, 2009

Health Reform Fight (1 of 3)

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Health Racket Bailout — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 4:56 am
As happens often nowadays, pundits looking to punch up their political commentary with some poetry have had recourse to Yeats’ The Second Coming:
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It seems this needs to be restated a bit, since by definition the (politically) best are full of passionate intensity and take passionate action, while those who “lack all conviction” are down there with the worst.
So where it comes to something like the health care battleground, what we mean to say is that those who in theory should be the best have abdicated or betrayed (which I’m certain is what Yeats meant).
(The same goes for the Burke attribution, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing”. Since the measure of a good man is a good action, by definition those who “do nothing” are not good men. They are sheep, slaves. So this really should say, “The only thing required for evil to triumph is that sheep do nothing.” So far the evidence bears this out, every time.)
In this first of three posts I’ll deal with the worst, then discuss the aspiring best in the second.  
Even as well-heeled mobsters in politics and business conspire to strangle in its cradle health care reform for the common people, from amid those same people a more literal mob has been spewing its clamor against the very reforms which would better their lives.
The mobs have materialized at congressmen’s appearances and “town hall” events, shrieking, threatening and committing violence. There’s a question as to how orchestrated the actual mob scenes are. Clearly to some extent these are rent-a-thugs and incorrigible shriekers organized by right-wing Astroturfs. Perhaps to some extent the claque provides the core, stakes out the turf, upon which free-floating anger can then congeal.
Much ink has been spilled on the nature and motivation of these persons. Why do they rage against those who could help them and for those who seek only to further impoverish and enslave them? Here’s the basic answer.
America no longer has an intact middle class. What seemed to be its middle class over the last 30 years has only been levitated by debt and asset bubbles, even as its wages declined and its job security became endangered. What we’ve therefore had is a zombie middle class. Now that the debt and housing bubbles have burst, nothing can prevent a huge portion of the potemkin middle class from sinking into poverty. This is especially true of the petit bourgeoisie, the lower middle class which has provided Republicanism’s base.
These are the people who were always the most willing to be brainwashed by religion and the American Dream ideology. In the course of this they have come to reject any true concept of economics and politics as class struggle. Instead they cling desperately to their self-identification as “middle class”, but they reinterpret this as not an economic and social category but as a cultural and religious one.
They are then ripe to deceive themselves and to be deceived by their own exploiters into interpreting everything in terms of culture war and scapegoat. So the reason for their economic hardship, their slow deterioration now become a free-fall, isn’t predatory corporations, manipulative and larcenous banks, Republican shredding of the safety net, and globalization. No, it’s Democrats, “liberals”, unions, environmentalists, blacks, the poor as such.
They are tricked into focusing their anger and hate on the very people who share their suffering at the hands of the same enemy, and the very people who are trying to help them against that enemy. Instead of becoming activists against regressive social policy and tax codes, against “free” trade, and for decent social programs and strong unions, they focus on blanket opposition to all reform, screaming about sex, school prayer, anti-evolution, denying climate change, opposing gay marriage, and demanding proof of Obama’s citizen birth. How any of this could possibly help their economic situation is a mystery, but somehow, mystically, they think it will.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote of the peculiar “selflessness” of many among the economically dispossessed masses following WWI. By selflessness she did not mean that they sought to help others, but rather that, against their own socioeconomic interests, they tended to give up on attempts at constructive activism and instead plunged into conspiracy theories and culture war diversions. Arendt considered this to be characteristic pre-totalitarian behavior among masses ripe for “coordination” [Gleichschaltung].
This socioeconomic bloc, today represented by the hardcore Bush 20%, has historically been fascism’s base.    
(This is the predominant, class war element of the phenomenon. On the level of base hominid psychology, there’s also the wretched existence of those simply born to be hateful bullies. These will naturally tend to fail socially and economically and to then gravitate to the thug camp, since they’re by nature too cowardly to fight against power, but are happy to become its hired goons.)
So we have this proto-fascist bloc, and in the mobs we have its activist vanguard. To analyze this as a pre-totalitarian situation, we can compare it with Arendt’s analysis of another such situation, the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890’s. Here too we have class-driven reaction, camouflaged as a massive culture war skirmish involving the ugliness of anti-semitism, religious strife, snobbery, social climbing among privileged individuals from otherwise despised minorities, etc. (For anyone who’s not familiar with the case, I recommend looking it up – you might find it endlessly rich with contemporary parallels.)
Here’s one passage from Origins, which describes events only slightly more intense than what we’re already seeing today, right down to details of organization. The only difference is the level of actual violence (so far).
Every stroke of the Dreyfusards (who were known to be a small minority) was followed by a more or less violent disturbance on the streets. The organization of the mob by the General Staff was remarkable. The trail lead straight from the army to the Libre Parole [antisemitic newspaper] which, directly or indirectly, through its articles or the personal intervention of its editors, mobilized students, monarchists, adventurers, and just plain gangsters and pushed them into the streets. If Zola uttered a word, at once his windows were stoned. If Scheurer-Kestner [first major politician who took on the cause] wrote to the colonial minister, he was at once beaten up on the streets while the papers made scurrilous attacks on his private life. And all the accounts agree that if Zola, when once charged, had been acquitted he would never have left the courtroom alive.
The cry, “Death to the Jews”, swept the country. In Lyon, Rennes, Nantes, Tours, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrante, and Marseille – everywhere, in fact – antisemitic riots broke out and were invariably traceable to the same source. Popular indignation broke out everywhere on the same day and at precisely the same hour. Under the leadership of Guerin [thug demagogue] the mob took on a military complexion. Antisemitic shock troops appeared on the streets and made certain that every pro-Dreyfus meeting should end in bloodshed. The complicity of the police was everywhere patent.
Things looked very bad at this point. And what turned things around? When the workers, after long ignoring the affair as a stupid feud among the bourgeoisie, finally came to see it as the thoroughgoing assault on the people and on freedom which it really was. After much persuasion, Clemenceau and Zola convinced socialist leader Jaures, and although there continued to be infighting among the socialists, the best now found themselves:
Scarcely had J’Accuse appeared when the Paris socialists held their first meeting and passed a resolution calling for a revision of the Dreyfus case…A socialist meeting even branded antisemitism a “new form of reaction”….Although a split in its ranks continued throughout the Affair, the party now numbered enough Dreyfusards to prevent the Ligue Antisemite from thenceforth controlling the streets.
As we can see here a parallel with today’s mob, so perhaps we can also pick up some clues on how to counteract that mob and drive it back into its ratholes.
That’ll be one of the subjects of part 2.

August 10, 2009

Jobs Report

Filed under: Health Racket Bailout — Tags: — Russ @ 5:13 am
The only true measure of the health of an economy is how many decent living wage jobs it creates or destroys. This is also the measure of any economic policy, and any “recovery”.
The new BLS jobs report has immediately taken its place in the green shoots pantheon. Mainstream commentators and corporatist boosters are trumpeting two figures:
1. In July only 247,000 jobs were destroyed. While this is a big number even by recessionary standards, it was the lowest since December 2008.
2. After rising for months, the unemployment rate declined to 9.4% from June’s 9.5.
To hear the administration and the MSM, this is marvelous news. The NYT called it “most heartening”,  while the Obama has been quick to claim credit for the stimulus. Coupled with the report that for the spring quarter GDP declined “only” 1% (much better than this past fall and winter), the news has everyone crowing that this summer is the big turnaround.
But these reports are perhaps not quite as resplendent as everyone is making out. The so-called unemployment decline is on account of 400,000 “discouraged workers” giving up the search, thereby removing themselves from the official work force. When we compare such unpersons with the adult population as a whole, we find that the adult “participation rate” (which the 400K have dropped out of) in the labor force has fallen from 65.7% to 65.5, and the proportion of adults who have jobs has fallen from 59.5% to 59.4.
9.4% is now the official U-3 figure. If the 400K nonparticipating workers were still counted, this figure would have risen from 9.5 to 9.7. And if we use instead the U-6. the broadest, most accurate figure, which encompasses the entire real labor force including the underemployed, we have a figure of 16.3%.
So if these discouraged workers were to reenter the job search (for example if they were encouraged by these reports about an improving job situation), the U-3 would probably increase again.
So the unemployment rate numbers don’t convey much useful information. What’s more important is the duration of joblessness suffered. At his blog the NYT’s Floyd Norris has assembled the really important unemployment numbers. While the rate of unemployment for those out of work 14 weeks or less is now at its lowest since 12/08, the rate for 15 weeks or more is the highest ever, up 74% since December.
What’s more, over a third of the unemployed have been jobless for 27 weeks or more. This is the highest rate ever since records were first kept starting in 1948. (Remember, we’re talking about people who are actively looking for work. One in three has been at it for over half a year.) In December the average time it took to find a new job was 20 weeks. Today it is greater than 25.
So we can see that this green shoot has been somewhat greenwashed.
Norris has also provided an analysis of the distribution of job creation and loss over the past decade. For the first time since the Great Depression there has been practically zero private sector job creation over the last ten years (.01% per year, compared with >1%/yr from the early 60s thru 1999).
The following figures are for the last ten years. The biggest losses have been in manufacturing (down 3.7%/yr, auto manufacturing 6.7) and construction. Retail sector employment as a whole was down .2% even as it rose 1% at the big box stores.
The private sector gains were in health care, especially care for the elderly, corporate services (accounting, computer systems, legal), and biggest of all, management and “technical consulting” (up 5%).
In the aggregate, almost all job creation in the last decade was in government. This is quite a commentary on conservative ideology, with its faith in the infinite creative genius of the private sector and the fecklessness of government. On the contrary, the numbers prove the complete and absolute failure of the “free market” to create and conserve good jobs.
So what conclusions can we draw from all this? The jobless rate decline is bogus, so anyone who makes a big deal out of it is a deceptive propagandist. What’s more, not only has government been the major job creator over the last decade, but it is a particularly big contributor now. But this is almost completely on account of the stimulus. The Uchitelle article linked above quotes consultant Ian Shepherdson: without the stimulus there would be no consumer spending or business investment, and “the economy would grind to a halt”.
On a more profound level, what implications can we tease out of the sectoral figures? Manufacturing and construction , perhaps indicative of a youthful, vigorous economy, are in terminal decline. Only a crazed bubble was able to prop up the latter, which is no longer environmentally sustainable anyway. Yet a major growth industry is home and health care for the elderly. Think about that – an economy based on the “growth sector” of the impoverished young waiting on the idle old. How sick is that? It could be the basis for a satirical novel, or a case study in decadence and decrepitude. (I say this not to disparage decent care for the elderly, but to attack a system which looks ready to try to indenture the young to service a feudal stratum of rent-seeking geriatric wealth. Of course the vast majority of the non-rich elderly would be stuck with the deteriorating, soon to be insolvent public system.)
Norris presents an evocative panorama: When the economy recovers and job creation resumes, based on the trends of the last decade we’ll see growth in, on one hand such things as architectural and engineering firms (up 1.2% over past decade), on the other hand jobs like in bars and restaurants (up 1.8).
In other words, if there really is a temporary “recovery”, as the green shoots crowd calls it, we’ll see the further intensification of feudal stratification and social control where the only job growth is in service jobs waiting on the rich, some high end (but dependent and offshorable), most racing to the bottom in wages, benefits, working conditions, any hope for the future.
So by any real measure, the recent news is grim.

August 7, 2009

Health Reform Betrayal

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Corporatism, Health Racket Bailout — Russ @ 3:22 pm

In recent days a series of news reports has provided us with the smoking gun, that on health care reform the Obama administration is not feckless and incompetent, but consciously and systematically acting against the public interest. Together these reports paint the picture of a secret deal in the White House with one feudal interest, while at the same time another deal with another interest is cut on Capitol Hill. Along the way there has been much prestidigitation and misdirection, with corporate media assistance. The result is intended to be for the mutual benefit of the rackets and of corrupt politicians, all the lucre sucked from the blood of the people.

First we have the secret administration deal with Big Drugs. As reported in the NYT, the administration and Senate industry flunkey Max Baucus have promised the drug industry that “reform” will not involve government negotiating the price of medication, will not encompass inexpensive Canadian imports, and will “block Congress” from any attempt to force the industry to enact savings of greater than $80 billion over ten years.

[Edit 8/8:  There is now a report that the administration is backpedalling from any such deal.  They’re at least embarrassed enough to claim so, but as from the start their words are muddled and uncertain.]

As head drug lobbyist Billy Tauzin put it, “$80 billion is the max, no more or less. Adding other stuff changes the deal.” According to the report, Tauzin, hearing of moves in Congress to impose cost savings beyond those agreed upon in the secret deal, demanded that the administration publicize it, and the Obamans complied.

[You may remember Tauzin as the Louisiana senator who spearheaded the Bush Medicare drug “benefit” which redistributed vast amounts of loot from the taxpayers to the big drug companies. Here too government was not allowed to negotiate rates or import from Canada.

In a particularly brazen example of a revolving-door deferred bribe, Tauzin left office shortly after to immediately take up the fat job of industry lobbying chief.

It’s rich how Obama came into office proclaiming with great fanfare how his administration would be off-limits to lobbyists. That was the very first promise revealed to be a lie.]

In an example of corporate media sycophancy, the article takes for granted that Obama still wants real reform, when the entire piece is dispositive evidence that “reform” is a sham. Here the administration is a principal in a conspiracy against the American people.

The piece quotes Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, apparently displeased about the conspiracy but resigned to it: it puts dissenters in the “untenable position of trying to scuttle it”. Why would this kind of congressional action, scuttling the administration’s treasonous deal, be “untenable”, but the “Blue Dog” Democrats’ openly anti-public interest obstructionism and corporate welfarism isn’t considered untenable at all, or at least they’re not shy about trying it?

The article implies that Obama favors the drug interest over the insurance interest. His rhetoric has been friendly to the former, sometimes harder on the latter. But according to this BusinessWeek article, they have their own plan of attack, involving those same dog dems.

The feudal insurance racket’s goal is to block all real reform, especially any robust public option, and go through the charade of potemkin cost-cutting commitments and a sham “concession” on no longer excluding pre-existing conditions from coverage.

Their strategy is to get the dog dems to scuttle reform for them. These corrupt curs will either block a public option or gut it. At the same time the new coverage extended to the newly conscripted/insured (that sham concession) will actually have a much-reduced reimbursement rate, from an average of 76% (the original reform goal) to 65%. So they will have to “cover” you, but can gut the coverage even as they charge top dollar for it.

(At the same time these dogs are conspiring with lobbyists against the people, the administration either uses Republican opposition or is distracted by it. Thus even if, as according to the NYT article, Obama really is down on the insurance companies (which I don’t believe), the result is the same; they just make their deal elsewhere.)

In some particularly nauseating passages of the BusWeek piece, leading Dem mongrels like Jim Matheson and Mike Ross are quoted openly declaring their prostitution to UnitedHealth (a particularly aggressive lobbyist), while Virginia senator Mark Warner warns against reform as a “Trojan horse for single-payer”.

(This is a standard talking point allegedly against the public plan: that if you offer a robust public option people will opt for it. I confess that after seeing this argument a hundred times I still say the same thing I said the first time: so? Good!

That would be very strong evidence of what the “free market” wants, no? But of course this isn’t about any market or freedom. This is only about a rigged racket, and the preservation of rent-seeking privilege. It’s telling that even the MSM, always eager to give “both sides” of any story, no matter how much truth and justice resides with only one side, and always eager to give pro-corporate coverage, could still never come up with an argument against universal Medicare other than the unvarnished ugly truth that this could be bad only for the handful of insurance criminals. This speaks eloquently of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the anti-reform position.

This bankruptcy is also evident in the fact that, in spite of how Obama has disgracefully left open a complete public message vacuum for so many months, only now is the enemy finally starting to get some traction with its lies about “cost” and “choice” and “rationing”.)

But the media is still plugging away, whatever pathetic depths it must sink to. The nadir for a supposedly respectable newspaper has to be the NYT’s recent fluff piece on parasite lobbyist Karen Ignagni. Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith went so far as to declare it “clearly a PR plant”.     

All this really is sickening. This is what I feared and suspected all along, the nightmare scenario where not only would there be no reform, but the feudal parasite would end up further entrenched, with a “universal mandate” to provide a conscript market.

(This mandate, under these circumstances, would clearly be unconstitutional. The government cannot constitutionally force you to buy a private product as the price of merely being allowed to exist as a citizen.

There’s clearly no analogy with auto insurance, which is contingent upon the choice to own a car, or with Soc Sec/Medicare which are of course public programs.

The closest comparison is a poll tax.)

Health care is a social right. If this isn’t a core reason for having society in the first place, what is?

And if we’re to have Hobbesian anarchy, why not be honest and go all the way with it? Then men would rage anarchically against wealth and property, neither of which could exist except within society.

I would make the modest suggestion that the uninsured (of whom I have intermittently been one), before they accept the corporate media accusation that they are “free riders”, consider the monumental free riding of this purely parasitic private insurance “industry”, and consider how the political and media class are completely corrupted by and beholden to this parasite.

Having considered this institutionalized trillion dollar free ride, the uninsured should absolve themselves of any remorse they may have been inclined to feel over the one penny’s worth of their own “free ride”, and affirmatively declare that we refuse to buy such feudal policies at gunpoint, and we will indeed free ride if that’s the only way this system allows us to exercise our human right to decent health care. (And do you really believe that those alleged “subsidies” for those who can’t afford this extortion are ever going to materialize?)

Citizenship should say we’re willing to pay reasonable taxes for a single-payer system, or at the very least a strong public plan (i.e. a full extension of Medicare), but that we are NOT willing to pay extortion rates to prop up a criminal gang and the despicable politicians it has bought off.

That’s when civil disobedience must do the talking.

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