Saturday, December 24, 2011

Krugman and the Truth About the 1% That Can't Be Spoken

I have been participating in OWS with increased intensity over the course of the last two months. The defining moment for me was the illegal and brutal eviction on November, 15. One of the things that I liked about the Freedom Plaza encampment was the Think Tank discussion: people from all walks of life gathering together in a public space discussing openly about the inadequacies of capitalism.

Today's New York Times op-ed by Paul Krugman The Post-Truth Campaign reminded me of these discussions particularly in terms of certain ideological tenets that seem so engrained into our collective unconscious even in the face of the starkest of realities. In this regard, Krugman opens his essay by positing the following:

Suppose that President Obama were to say the following: “Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people, and he believes that only corporations and the wealthy should have any rights. He wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.”

Krugman goes on to say that such a statement would be universally condemned by almost everyone, including himself, and much of the essay is dedicated to creating a moral equivalence between the statement above and the continuous charges coming from Republicans about Obama being a redistributive socialist. He continues by wondering why the latter statements do not meet a condemnation similar to that which the former would receive if Obama, or anyone else for that matter, would dare uttering it.

As the title of his piece summarizes, Krugman describes this type of environment the Post-Truth Campaign.

While Krugman should be thanked for putting his finger on a praxis that has become pretty much the modus operandi of political discourse, his underlying ideological tenets don't seem to alert the Princeton economist to the fact that he has lured himself into an logical fallacy. If the idea of a post-truth political environment is assumed to be true – as I believe it has been for at least a decade – then Obama should be able to say that Mitt Romney, the embodiment of the 1%, wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs without causing any particular uproar in the establishment community. For this reason, the fact that he can't say it is proof that the statement is true: the 1% wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.

One of the primary goals of capitalism is to reduce labor costs. According to Marx's concept of surplus value, the lower the wages the higher the profits for capital. This is why the 1% has historically being opposed to unions or anyone and anything (i.e. minimum wage legislation) that would champion workers' wages. In the post-truth age, the increase of surplus value is called an increase in productivity. This is an euphemism for laying off workers while putting the extra work on the shoulders of remaining workers who must work longer ours without having their salaries raised.

If we take this tendency of capitalism to maximize profit by minimizing labor costs to its logical conclusion, it follows that the ideal wage from a capitalist's standpoint is zero. And what do we call someone who works for free or perhaps for simply food and shelter? That is a serf or, in other words, a slave. For this reason, it can be said that serfdom and slavery are an intrinsic tendency of capitalism because they represent the ultimate zero-level labor cost.

Yet, many in this country – including Krugman and those who I sometimes happened to converse with in the Think Tank discussions at Freedom Plaza – seem to not be able to grasp this simple reality. It's as if it is not possible for many people to accept that in America there are people, the 1%, who would have no qualms to return this country to the middle-ages or even earlier, more brutal forms of slavery. This resistance is perhaps rooted in the positivist idea of inevitable human progress, the idea that we could never go back to certain forms of barbarism. Yet, history is full of examples of regress – the middle-ages being only one the most glaring. Even Krugman admitted so much in an op-ed earlier this year when he wrote that the country was well on its way of becoming a banana republic.

The fact is that many Americans still seem unable to accept that given the chance the 1% would gladly turn this country into a Honduran style republic, where a tiny oligarchy which controls most of the wealth uses the government and death squads as a tool to repress a population of mostly peasants. Yet, the signs of this coming reality are all around us if one only cares to look:

– The absolute impunity of Wall Street executives in the greatest plunder of wealth in human history.

– A defense (sic) bill that enables the executive to deploy the military in the United States to arrest and detain Americans indefinitely.

– A 1% whose wealth has reached 1929 levels of concentration and which is thrusting the country into a depression.

I could go on and on but the point is simple: rather than being an imaginary statement, the truth about the 1% that can't be spoken is that they sense an historic opportunity and they are pursuing it with a vengeance: turning working people into serfs. Krugman even alluded to that much when he said that the Troika is now trying to destroy the European dream. On this, economist Dean Baker concurs. The truth is that, if they succeed, we are next.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Capitalism Hits the Fan

An excellent assessment and, most importantly, possible solutions to the world economic crisis by economist Richard Wolff, author of Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It. This aired today on Democracy Now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pepper Spraying Cop Iconized

As he was pepper spraying University of California Davis students, police lieutenant John Pike certainly could not have imagined that his torturous act would propel him to international infamy. Instead, he has become the psychopathic face of the corporate police state; so much so that his callous image as he is pepper spaying UC Davis students has become a meme – "a kind of folk art or shared visual joke that is open to sharing and reinterpretation by anyone" – which is growing with increasing momentum. Here are just a few examples of the creativity and beauty of the occupy movement with new images of the casually pepper spray everything cop keep popping up as people all over the world continue to paste Pike's instantly iconic figure into every type of imaginable scenery.

Friday, November 18, 2011

33K in NYC Nearly Silence Corporate Press

Last night I was at the OWS rally in Foley Square in downtown New York City and this is what I saw:

The square was packed with people, 32,650 according to official NYPD estimates. As a matter of fact, by the time I circled around City Hall and reached the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge there were still people left in the square who had not yet begun their symbolic encirclement of the City Hall block.

And yet, when this morning I searched for news of the event in the corporate press, I could barely find any mention of it. Most of today's coverage on yesterday's day of protest in NYC centers around the earlier disruption and arrests. If the rally is mentioned at all, it is done in a passing paragraph toward the bottom of the page and not one single outlet reports the NYPD crowd estimate. The most one is likely to see in terms of estimates is "thousands."

The New York Times, the city's newspaper of record, did not find the event worthy of front page news. This is how it covered the rally in less than a paragraph at the very bottom of an article on page A24:

At 5 p.m., thousands of protesters and members of about a dozen unions converged on Foley Square. “It’s magnificent,” Laurel Sturt, 55, who teaches elementary school in the Bronx, said as she gazed at the crowd. “All great movements of the past started like this.” (Cara Buckley, 200 Are Arrested As Protesters Clash With the Police, The New York Times, November 18, 2011)

The New Jersey Star-Ledger managed to acknowledge the rally with the headline "Thousands gather near Foley Square as Occupy Wall Street protests swell," except that it was not near Foley Square but in Foley Square.

A NY Post editorial while describing Foley Square as "full to overflowing," still managed to give a negative spin to the event, starting with the headline "Loud, but lame," and by writing
that "there were nowhere near the “tens of thousands” of demonstrators who were supposed to fan out across the five boroughs and convulse New York." Talking about lame, here is a precious piece of lame propaganda by in the same editorial which should be a candidate for the overstatement of the year:

Government employees in New York enjoy health-care and pension benefits that even millionaires might envy.

The near silence and the occasional disparaging propaganda of the corporate press is the clearest sign that the growth of OWS protests is starting to frighten the 1% and its corporate elites. Until now, protesters had been treated with a somewhat patronizing attitude, but now that our numbers are swelling and that the support for the protests is going mainstream, at least when it comes to labor, the corporate propaganda machine is gearing up for a smear campaign intended to discredit the movement.

This reaction was to be expected and, as I said, it is a positive development. As the movement continues to grow, the entrenched forces of corporate power will react more and more desperately and perhaps violently; in doing so, they will put their hypocrisy and contempt for democracy in full view and by the time next year comes around, they won't not even know what hit them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To Serve and Protect the 1%

Today the NYPD decided to show the world on which side they are on; they decided to stand on the side of greed, because it is their narrow minded greed for a paycheck today that made them follow the immoral orders of Mayor (sic) Michael Bloomberg and evict and destroy the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti park. The NYPD decided that it was more important to uphold the interests of those billionaires who are pillaging the future of humanity rather than look a little further than their wallet and to the future of their own children, a future that those who are occupying Wall Street are trying to protect.

Had this happened at Tahrir Square, the corporate media would have been criticizing the undemocratic tactics of the Egyptian military, and this is how the duplicity of ideology comes in full view: what is possible and just in a dictatorship is strangely impossible and unjust in a so called democracy. This disconnect between reality and ideology is so glaring that very few people can muster the will to openly acknowledge it. To do so would undermine the entire ideological edifice upon which we stand and the moral void that such an act of honesty would produce is apparently too big for most people to bear. And so the 1%, in concert with the politicians and the corporate media, go on pretending that we live on a shining city on a hill while the 99% of the people have – for all practical purposes – lost the right to peacefully assemble as stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The good news is that rather than stifling the movement, the latest autocratic action by Mayor (sic) Michael Bloomberg has shown the emptiness of his ideological platitudes: it was only three days ago when he boasted that NYC is "the freest city in the freest country in the world," and as the gulf between reality and the propaganda by the 1% widens we, the 99%, are more galvanized than ever; the more the 1% – as embodied by Bloomberg and protected by the NYPD – tries to stifle the movement, the more we will keep coming back in greater numbers until a more just and sustainable world is realized.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Obama Viewed Less Favorably Than Bush in the Arab World

First posted on Daily Kos on July 13, 2011.

According to a new poll released by the Arab American Institute, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group, and conducted by Zogby International, president Obama's approval rating is currently lower than that of president Bush in his final year in office.

While Zogby International has been accused of right wing bias, the analysis of the data was done by James Zogby, founder of the AAI and member of the Democratic National Committee. Incidentally, he is also the brother of John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International. This poll simply confirms and broadens the findings of a Pew poll of Egyptians from last April which found that most Egyptians do not trust the United States.

The results of the poll, considering that Obama's approval rating stood at 30% when he first took office while riding the wave of change at home and abroad, should come at no surprise:

While the vehemence of Arab reaction to the U.S. was startling, the general sentiment echoed points made in AAI President James Zogby’s 2010 book Arab Voices, in which he reflected on Arab opinions of both the U.S. and our foreign policies. “American democracy [seems] a lot like damaged goods to many Arabs… U.S. policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward America as a global model.”

This considering that Obama has failed to end the war in Iraq – regardless of what the pentagon and the punditocracy would like the American people to believe – and it is actually laboring to maintain a troop contingent in Iraq beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline, by pretending that the U.S. government is simply complying with a request of the "sovereign" Iraqi government.

Then, there is the expanded war in Afghanistan with also no near end in sight, the not so covert drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and perhaps Somalia, the NATO bombing of Lybia, the lackluster support of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt and only when it was politically unfeasible to do otherwise, the practically nonexistent criticism of Saudi Arabia's quashing of the revolt in Bahrain, while at the same time singling out Syria's repression of its own population.

Last but not least there is the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, as well as the total impasse on the Israeli-Palestinian front which is giving Israel free rein to pursue its illegal blockade of the Palestinian people as well as assassinate U.S. citizens with the blessing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

For all these reasons:

Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed "U.S. interference in the Arab world" as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.

As a matter of fact, according to this poll, Obama's approval rating is so low (10% or less, depending on which country), that it is by far lower than that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In conclusion, it can be said that in slightly more than two years, Barack Obama has been able to squander the goodwill of the people in the Arab world and recast the image of the United States as that of an imperial power that has little regard for the democratic aspirations of the arab people unless they happen to coincide with its strategic and economic interests.

Discussing the poll, Glenn Greewald writes today:

Given that it is anti-American sentiment that, more than anything else, fuels Terrorism (as the Pentagon itself has long acknowledged), we yet again find the obvious truth: the very policies justified in the name of combating Terrorism are the same ones that do the most to sustain and perpetuate it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cornel West on Obama

First posted on Daily Kos on May 16, 2011.

In a interview with Chris Hedges published on May 16 on truthdig, moral philosopher and democratic intellectual Cornel West speaks openly about his feelings of disillusionment about Barak Obama. While feeling misled by the Obama phenomenon, West also says that he needs to take responsibility for "reading into it more than was there."

University Professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University Cornell West is no stranger to the now president of the United States, having done 65 campaign events in support for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. But after Obama was elected, he began to realize that things in Washington were not going to be as different as many of Obama's supporters liked to believe:

I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator and working with Lieberman as his mentor. But it became very clear when I looked at the neoliberal economic team. The first announcement of Summers and Geithner I went ballistic. I said, ‘Oh, my God, I have really been misled at a very deep level.’ And the same is true for Dennis Ross and the other neo-imperial elites. I said, ‘I have been thoroughly misled, all this populist language is just a facade. I was under the impression that he might bring in the voices of brother Joseph Stiglitz and brother Paul Krugman. I figured, OK, given the structure of constraints of the capitalist democratic procedure that’s probably the best he could do. But at least he would have some voices concerned about working people, dealing with issues of jobs and downsizing and banks, some semblance of democratic accountability for Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who are just running amuck. I was completely wrong.

West continues:

It became very clear to me as the announcements were being made that this was going to be a newcomer, in many ways like Bill Clinton, who wanted to reassure the Establishment by bringing in persons they felt comfortable with and that we were really going to get someone who was using intermittent progressive populist language in order to justify a centrist, neoliberalist policy that we see in the opportunism of Bill Clinton. It was very much going to be a kind of black face of the DLC.

Speaking about his sense of betrayal, West feels that Obama has been swallowed by the oligarchic mentality which pervades Washington:

This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment. We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.

Finally, while not excluding voting for Obama again as a last resort, West contends that perhaps the only hope for a better future rests in third party formations and grassroots movements as well as acts of civil disobedience:

We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful. It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties. Our last hope is to generate a democratic awakening among our fellow citizens. This means raising our voices, very loud and strong, bearing witness, individually and collectively. Tavis [Smiley] and I have talked about ways of civil disobedience, beginning with ways for both of us to get arrested, to galvanize attention to the plight of those in prisons, in the hoods, in poor white communities. We must never give up. We must never allow hope to be eliminated or suffocated.

In the end, Cornel West, has come to the conclusion that Barack Obama did not turn out to be the hope and change that most of his supporters around the world would have liked him to be. As noted earlier, West takes responsibility for projecting a lot of his hopes and aspirations onto a person who, after all, never pretended to be anything other than a centrist pro-corporate Democrat.

On the other hand, it is good that West and other intellectuals are waking up in light of the upcoming presidential election. Perhaps, this awakening on the left will force Obama and the Democrats to do something more than simply pay lip service to a base which has been mostly used and abused ever since Barack Obama has come into office.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mubarak Down

They did it.
I cried.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Aetna™ Wants to Kill Me

It looks like the greedy bureaucrats at Aetna™ have decided that my life is worth less than their bottom line. My doctor has informed me that Aetna™ has denied my claim for a potentially deadly health condition. The reason: pre-existing condition. That's right. They acknowledge my condition to be valid, but since I've had it before I got coverage from Aetna™ they don't want to deal with it.

It wouldn't be fair to just put the blame on Aetna™. After all they simply do what predatory capitalists are supposed to do. That's why I also want to personally thank president Obama and the Democratic party. The reason being that the Health Insurance Reform provision that currently forbids shark insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing condition only applies to people under the age of 19. For everyone else, this provision will not kick in until 2014. You could ask yourself: if Obama could create a provision for everyone under the age of 19 with the stroke of a pen, why couldn't he do it for everyone else? The only cogent answer I can come up with is: cynical political calculation. Basically, most of the goods of the Health Insurance Reform – more apt a description than Health Care Reform – will not come into effect until 2014. It seems that the Democrats and Obama had the bright idea to stake the interest of those whose life hangs in the balance of the pre-existing condition gap against their own re-election hopes. Now that the American people can see the seriousness of the Republican repeal of Health Insurance Reform effort, they will dutifully vote Democratic in 2012 in order to preserve it.

This is a perfect example of what Alain Badiou defines as the essence of modern electoral politics in his 2008 book The Meaning of Sarkozy: fear, and the fear of fear – which in the US would translate as the fear of the Other as fomented by the Republicans, and the fear of the Republican fear as fomented by the liberal Democrats. (More on this topic at some future time).

Small caveat: this cynical political game is going to cost over 100,000 lives. That's because, according to a 2009 Harvard medical study, lack of insurance is responsible for the death of 45,000 Americans every single year. But here comes the rub which exposes the idiocy of the Democratic political calculation: there will be 100,000 less potential Democratic voters who will not be able to vote from their grave in 2012.

Finally, the icing on the cake. To supposedly alleviate this problem of insurance coverage denial because of pre-existing conditions, Obama and the Democrats have come up with the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Unfortunately the eligibility requirements state that "if you currently have insurance coverage that doesn’t cover your medical condition ... you are not eligible for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan." Basically, one is eligible the PCIP government plan only if the insurance company denies coverage altogether. But if the shark insurance company takes your money – i.e. gives you coverage or, more appropriately, the illusion of coverage – and then simply denies the specific claim related to the pre-existing condition, then you get nothing. That's because even if I were to cancel my illusory health insurance policy, I still would not qualify for PCIP since, technically, I was not "denied" insurance coverage. So, while the insurance companies are free to pocket people's premiums in exchange for crumbs, Obama and the Democrats can look like they are doing all they can for those with pre-existing conditions. Simply brilliant.

Long live the Corporate State.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I've Done It!

After eleven years living in the Heights, I've walked from the Hoboken terminal to home in fifty minutes flat – but I did stop to take a few pictures. Beautiful strangely warm night. After this week's ice storm the snow looks as if it is glazed. I enjoyed the walk while listening to Sigur Rós's ( ); very apt. The reason why I decided to walk is that, after spending the evening at a right wing, Fox News infested party near Columbus Circle (I will perhaps post specifics on the party at a later time), the packed train from 33rd St. arrived at Hoboken and then decided to turn around and go back to New York. So everyone was bumped off the train waiting for who knows what. Since I still would have had to walk twenty minutes from Journal Square, I figured it would have taken me about the same amount of time or less if I just walked from Hoboken. In the end, I'll never know, but I am glad I walked.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011