THE DIVINE COMEDY

Dante Illuminating Florence with his Poemk, by Domenico di Michelino

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

Dante: The Divine Comedy
Inferno: Canto I

While plumbing the depths of my Kindle seeking World War 2 research materials I discovered Dan Brown’s “Inferno” (2013) amongst the German books. I honestly don’t know how it got there.  But I began reading “Inferno” as a break from all the war material and Brown brought me back to the magical time I spent in Florence, Italy and my days as a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance literature and iconography. I went to Italy to research artistic symbols and images as reflected in literature and Florence was, of course, a major source of material. I even painstakingly translated parts of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” from the Medieval Italian. I miss the person I was back then. My plan was to stay in Florence but life intruded.

Fear and justice in the battle for Mexico’s future

by Petar Stanchev on November 22, 2014

Post image for Fear and justice in the battle for Mexico’s futureAs in 1968, Mexico’s political elites are once again using fear to silence the millions of protesters who demand justice for the Ayotzinapa students.

I woke up in fear, and for the rest of the day it controlled my life the way fear tends to control people’s lives. It dominated my thoughts the way it dominates people’s thoughts and actions, paralyzes them until they are deprived from all hope and the very basic human capacity to change the world around them.

My fear was provoked by a nightmare, not one I saw in my dreams, but rather a nightmare I have been unfortunate enough to observe with my own eyes and come to know intimately. It was the fear of waking up and realizing my friends have disappeared at night; lifted from their beds by men in uniforms, leaving friends and family behind who from that day on can only guess after the fate of their loved ones.

This fear is not imaginary. This is the fear I struggled to understand when talking to my friends and fellow students when I lived and studied in Mexico. It is a fear that is incomprehensible for someone who has not lived in a country where more than 100,000 have been killed and disappeared in less than ten years.

Although I participated in social and political movements in the country and was actively involved in student activist groups, I was still incapable of comprehending the terror that my friends felt when they saw the police or the army on the streets. I used to think it was exaggerated and they should not let themselves be influenced by this strategy of control. One can only understand this feeling when it becomes personal, when you wake up and feel the need to call your friends in order to be sure they are alive and well.

Students under Attack

On Saturday, the night before I woke up in horror, an undercover policeman shot and injured two students on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the biggest public university in Latin America. It is worth mentioning that the UNAM is an autonomous institution and as such it is a police-free territory. Exemptions to this rule can be made only if the police are asked to step in by the high administration of the institution.

This breach of autonomy is not without precedent: in 1968 the President at the time, Diaz Ordaz, ordered a military takeover of the university. The army moved in as journalists were ordered to move out. This happened in the context of the large-scale, countrywide student protests which actively opposed the Olympic Games. To show their opposition against the Games being held in a country characterized by increasing inequality the students took to the streets, shouting slogans like: “We don’t want games, we want revolution.”

After the shooting last week, students organized and attacked the aggressors. They burned their car and confiscated their documents, proving they were undercover police. The government then sent five hundred riot police to deal with the issue who subsequently clashed with autonomously organized groups of students at the doors of the institution.

These events do not happen in a social vacuum. The repression of the UNAM students comes at a moment when hundreds of protests, direct actions, marches, sit-ins and strikes organized by people from all walks of life and many different backgrounds are organized to demand social and political justice. This new wave of popular dissent was provoked by the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero on September 26 earlier this year.

The students of the rural school in Ayotzinapa protested to condemn the extremely poor conditions of their school and education in Mexico and to protest the neoliberal reforms in education. The police opened fire on them, killing six and arresting 43 of the student-activists. It is now months later and nobody is sure where they are, but the terrifying suspicion, confirmed by various sources, is that they have been brutally killed and some of them probably burned alive.

The political crisis that is shaking the country threatens to evolve into full-scale revolt with students, armed guerrillas, anarchists and indigenous groups raising legitimate demands for the President of the Republic to resign and for policies ensuring the basic social, human, political and ethnic rights of the population.

Bloody Past, Bloody Present

The Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto already has blood on his hands from previous atrocities, such as the one in Atenco in 2006, when he was Governor of the State of Mexico. In this event he ordered the police to take over the city during popular protests, resulting in 207 people subjected to brutal and degrading treatment, 145 arbitrary arrests, the sexual assault of 26 women, and the deportation of five foreigners.

Upon returning to Mexico after a tour of China and Australia, Peña Nieto openly threatened the popular movement that he is going to use of force, if necessary. Translated, this means sending in the army and the newly created national gendarme against the protesters. This, of course, is hardly the only example of extreme violence carried out by the security forces of Mexico during Peña Nieto’s presidency, but it illustrates how decisive he is on cracking down on popular protest with brute force and at any price.

Back in 1968, President Diaz Ordaz stood up in front of Congress and warned that he had been tolerant for too long and that he would have to resort to force to pacify the students. He, as the majority of Mexican Presidents, was a member of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country without interruption between 1920 and 2000. Peña Nieto is also a member of the same party which returned to power in 2012 after Nieto’s electoral victory that year.

Some of the party representatives shocked the country in the previous days with their public declarations. Luis Adrián Ramírez Ortiz, a militant of the PRI’s youth league, compared the protesters to “wild beasts who do not deserve to live” and invoked the spirit of Diaz Ordaz, stating that Mexico needs to be headed by someone like him in order to preserve its image to the world. The ex-Federal Deputy Marili Olguín Cuevas, also a member of the PRI, published a status on Facebook saying “kill them so they don’t reproduce.” Another member and syndicate leader loyal to the PRI stated after the clashes in Mexico City days ago: “And then they wonder why they are burning them. Rednecks.”

Apparently, a significant number of contemporary PRI officials would welcome a return to the days when Diaz Ordaz still ruled the country. Back in 1968 the President answered the popular call for “revolution instead of Games” by mobilizing the country’s security forces against the protesters. On October 2 that year, snipers attacked the mass demonstration at Tlatelolco square, causing an upheaval that legitimized sending army troops and tanks into the square. This day is remembered as the Tletelolco massacre, in which hundreds of students were either shot dead or simply disappeared.

The aftermath of the massacre saw a proliferation of policies that allowed for a total crackdown on social protests, eventually culminating in a dirty war in the state of Guerrero, not unlike the ones that characterized the military regimes in Argentina and Chile. Back then, the resistance in Guerrero was headed by two teachers from the very same school attended by the 43 disappeared students.

They were forced into clandestine resistance and the government could crush the popular support in the state only by leveling entire villages and attacking the civilian population with napalm. During this rebellion, hundreds of local peasants were murdered or disappeared. This is the scenario some PRI party members and officials evoke as desirable if the current protests continue.

Fearless Resistance

Commemorating the horrors of ’68 will not stop them from happening again, on the contrary: they are already happening. It would be an understatement to note that the repression is getting worse. Mass graves are being found all over the country, and evidence of more and more police and army brutality is being made public by victims and relatives who were until now too scared to step forward.

Indigenous groups rise up against five hundred years of genocide, challenging the neoliberal agenda that destroys their land and eradicates their culture. Parents of the disappeared are organizing to demand justice. Migrants march on the capital in order to stop the murders that have taken away the lives of more than 20.000 since 2006. Students and activists raise voices over the brutality and repression that were meant to silence their revolt against market-driven reforms in the education.

Anarchists and activist groups shout in solidarity with comrades who are condemned to life in prison. Women shout “not a single one more!” in reference to the devastating level of femicides in the country. Guerrillas in Guerrero declare their preparation for war against a state that condemns half of the Mexican people to live in poverty. The Zapatistas in Chiapas march in thousands to demand justice for Ayotzinapa and the indigenous groups around the country.

Meanwhile, the only answer all these different groups get from the corrupt and unscrupulous political elite is: “we do not care about you — and if you dare to resist, we will send in the army. We have done it before and got away with it, we will not hesitate to do it again.” These threats arise from a climate of fear which has taken shape in the years of the so-called “War on Drugs,” which was used as a pretext to militarize the society and crack down on any movement for change.

This fear is a weapon of control, stronger than any gun, tank or helicopter, stronger than bullets and executions. This fear is the one I woke up with. And I woke up with it, because my friends in Mexico stopped waking up in fear and flooded the streets, rejecting the fear that negates their humanity.

Fear and justice are and will be part of the battle of those fighting for their lives in the streets of Mexico. What is at stake is the question whether the government will be allowed to keep repeating the horrors of 1968. My fear is to wake up and discover that my friends have had the dignity not to accept the threat and sacrificed themselves in the face of a machine of death and destruction — or, as the Zapatistas say, that they have decided to “die in order to live.” Their fear, meanwhile, is that their children will have to repeat the tragedy they are witnessing now, if fear conquers the movement once again.

Petar Stanchev is finishing a degree in Latin American Studies and Human Rights at the University of Essex. He has previously lived and studied in Mexico and has been involved in the Zapatista solidarity movement for four years.

http://roarmag.org/2014/11/mexico-ayotzinapa-students-protest/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

US Defense Department organizing covert operations against “the general public”

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By Thomas Gaist
19 November 2014

The US Defense Department (DOD) is developing domestic espionage and covert operations targeting “the general public” in coordination with the intelligence establishment and police agencies, according to a New York Times report.

“The Times analysis showed that the military and its investigative agencies have almost as many undercover agents working inside the United States as does the F.B.I,” the newspaper wrote.

“While most of them are involved in internal policing of service members and defense contractors, a growing number are focused, in part, on the general public as part of joint federal task forces that combine military, intelligence and law enforcement specialists,” the Times continued.

The report amounts to an acknowledgment by the leading media organ of the US ruling class that the American government is deploying a vast, forward-deployed counter-insurgency machine to target the US population at large.

Coming directly from the horse’s mouth, the Times report makes clear that espionage, deception, and covert operations are now primary instruments of the US government’s domestic policy. In preparation for a massive upsurge in the class struggle, the US ruling class is mobilizing the entire federal bureaucracy to carry out systematic and targeted political repression against the working class in the US and around the world.

These moves are in keeping with the latest US Army “Operating Concept” strategy document, published in October, which calls for “Army forces to extend efforts beyond the physical battleground to other contested spaces such as public perception, political subversion, and criminality.”

In addition to the DOD, at least 39 other federal security and civilian agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), have developed increasingly ambitious forms of covert operations involving the use of undercover agents, which now inhabit “virtually every corner of the federal government,” according to unnamed government officials and documents cited by the New York Times.

New training programs to prepare agents to conduct Internet-based undercover sting operations have been developed by the DOD, Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI, according to the report.

DHS alone spends at least $100 million per year on the development of undercover operations, an unnamed DHS intelligence official told the Times. Total costs for operations involving undercover government agents likely total at least several hundred millions of dollars per year, the Times reported.

The US Supreme Court trains its own security force in “undercover tactics,” which officers use to infiltrate and spy on demonstrators outside the high court’s facilities, the Times reported.

IRS agents frequently pose as professionals, including as medical doctors, in order to gain access to privileged information, according to a former agent cited by the report. IRS internal regulations cited in the report state that “an undercover employee or cooperating private individual may pose as an attorney, physician, clergyman or member of the news media.”

Teams of undercover agents deployed by the IRS operate in the US and internationally in a variety of guises, including as drug money launderers and expensive luxury goods buyers.

The Department of Agriculture (DOA) employs at least 100 of its own covert agents, who often pretend to be food stamp users while investigating “suspicious vendors and fraud,” according to the Times .

Covert agents employed by the Department of Education (DOE) have embedded themselves in federally funded education programs, unnamed sources cited by the report say.

Numerous other federal bureaucracies are running their own in-house espionage programs, including the Smithsonian, the Small Business Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the report stated.

This sprawling apparatus of spying, disruption and manipulation implicates the state in a mind-boggling range of criminal and destructive activities. Covert operations using undercover agents are conducted entirely in secret, and are funded from secret budgets and slush funds that are replenished through the “churning” of funds seized during previous operations back into the agencies’ coffers to fund the further expansion of secret programs.

Secret operations orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on this basis are increasingly indistinguishable from those of organized crime syndicates, and give a foretaste of what can be expected from the ongoing deployment of counter-revolutionary undercover agents by the military-intelligence apparatus throughout the US.

In 2010, the ATF launched a series of covert operations that used state-run front businesses to seize weapons, drugs, and cash, partly by manipulating mentally disabled and drug addicted individuals, many of them teenagers, according to investigations by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

While posing as owners of pawnshops and drug paraphernalia retail outlets, ATF agents induced cash-desperate and psychologically vulnerable individuals to carry out illegal activities including the purchase and sale of stolen weapons and banned substances.

A number of the ATF-run fake stores exposed by the Sentinel were run in “drug free” and “safe” zones near churches and schools. Youths were encouraged to smoke marijuana and play video games at these locations by ATF agents. In one instance reported by the Sentinel, a female agent wore revealing attire and flirted with teenage targets while inciting them to acquire weapons and illegal substances to sell to an ATF-run front business, the Sentinel found.

The ATF was notorious for its operations in the 1980s where it used agents provocateurs to frame up and jail militant workers involved in industrial strikes. In one infamous case in Milburn, West Virginia an ATF informer was exposed after he tried unsuccessfully to convince striking coal miners to blow up an abandoned processing facility.

The US government has steadily escalated its domestic clandestine operations in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks. The New York Police Department (NYPD) intelligence section deployed hundreds of covert agents throughout New York City, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

As part of operations coordinated with the CIA and spanning more than a decade, the NYPD paid informants to spy on and “bait” Muslim residents into manufactured terror plots. The security and intelligence agencies refer to this method as “create and capture,” according to a former NYPD asset cited by the Associated Press.

It is now obvious these surveillance and infiltration programs, initially focusing on Muslim neighborhoods, were only the first stage in the implementation of a comprehensive espionage and counter-insurgency system targeting the entire population.

Large numbers of informers and FBI agents infiltrated the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

Historically, secret police groups targeted the political and class enemies of the capitalist state using the pretext of defending the nation from dangerous “foreign” elements.

Among the first covert police sections established by the imperialist powers were the British “Special Branch,” originally established as the “Special Irish Branch” in 1883 to target groups opposed to British domination of Ireland. “Special Branch” police intelligence forces were subsequently set up throughout the commonwealth to run cloak-and-dagger missions in service of British imperialism.

Similarly, in an early effort by the US ruling class to develop a secret police force, New York City police commissioner established “Italian Squad” in 1906 to carry out undercover activities against socialist-minded workers in the city’s immigrant and working class areas.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/19/unde-n19.html

The meme-ification of Ayn Rand

How the grumpy author became an Internet superstar

“Feminist” T-shirts are her latest viral sensation. Why the objectivist’s writings lend themselves to the Web

, The Daily Dot

The meme-ification of Ayn Rand: How the grumpy author became an Internet superstar
Ayn Rand (Credit: WIkimedia)
This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot.

The Daily Dot Ayn Rand is not a feminist icon, but it speaks volumes about the Internet that some are implicitly characterizing her that way, so much so that she’s even become a ubiquitous force on the meme circuit.

Last week, Maureen O’Connor of The Cut wrote a piece about a popular shirt called the Unstoppable Muscle Tee, which features the quote: “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

As The Quote Investigator determined, this was actually a distortion of a well-known passage from one of Rand’s better-known novels, The Fountainhead:

“Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”

“Yes.”

“My dear fellow, who will let you?”

“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

Ironically, Rand not only isn’t responsible for this trendy girl power mantra, but was actually an avowed enemy of feminism. As The Atlas Society explains in their article about feminism in the philosophy of Objectivism (Rand’s main ideological legacy), Randians may have supported certain political and social freedoms for women—the right to have an abortion, the ability to rise to the head of business based on individual merit—but they subscribed fiercely to cultural gender biases. Referring to herself as a “male chauvinist,” Rand argued that sexually healthy women should feel a sense of “hero worship” for the men in their life, expressed disgust at the idea that any woman would want to be president, and deplored progressive identity-based activist movements as inherently collectivist in nature.



How did Rand get so big on the Internet, which has become a popular place for progressive memory? A Pew Research study from 2005 discovered that: “the percentage of both men and women who go online increases with the amount of household income,” and while both genders are equally likely to engage in heavy Internet use, white men statistically outnumber white women. This is important because Rand, despite iconoclastic eschewing ideological labels herself, is especially popular among libertarians, who are attracted to her pro-business, anti-government, and avowedly individualistic ideology. Self-identified libertarians and libertarian-minded conservatives, in turn, were found by a Pew Research study from 2011 to be disproportionately white, male, and affluent. Indeed, the sub-sect of the conservative movement that Pew determined was most likely to identify with the libertarian label were so-called “Business Conservatives,” who are “the only group in which a majority (67 percent) believes the economic system is fair to most Americans rather than unfairly tilted in favor of the powerful.” They are also very favorably inclined toward the potential presidential candidacy of Rep. Paul Ryan (79 percent), who is well-known within the Beltway as an admirer of Rand’s work (once telling The Weekly Standard that “I give out Atlas Shrugged [by Ayn Rand] as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.”).

Rand’s fans, in other words, are one of the most visible forces on the Internet, and ideally situated to distribute her ideology. Rand’s online popularity is the result of this fortuitous intersection of power and interests among frequent Internet users. If one date can be established as the turning point for the flourishing of Internet libertarianism, it would most likely be May 16, 2007, when footage of former Rep. Ron Paul’s sharp non-interventionist rebuttal to Rudy Giuliani in that night’s Republican presidential debate became a viral hit. Ron Paul’s place in the ideological/cultural milieu that encompasses Randism is undeniable, as evidenced by exposes on their joint influence on college campuses and Paul’s upcoming cameo in the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 3. During his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Paul attracted considerable attention for his remarkable ability to raise money through the Internet, and to this day he continues to root his cause in cyberspace through a titular online political opinion channel—while his son, Sen. Rand Paul, has made no secret of his hope to tap into his father’s base for his own likely presidential campaign in 2016. Even though the Pauls don’t share Rand’s views on many issues, the self-identified libertarians that infused energy and cash into their national campaigns are part of the same Internet phenomenon as the growth of Randism.

As the Unstoppable Muscle Tee hiccup makes clear, however, Rand’s Internet fashionability isn’t always tied to libertarianism or Objectivism (the name she gave her own ideology). It also has a great deal to do with the psychology of meme culture. In the words of Annalee Newitz, a writer who frequently comments on the cultural effects of science and technology:

To share a story is in part to take ownership of it, especially because you are often able to comment on a story that you are sharing on social media. If you can share a piece of information that’s an absolute truth—whether that’s how to uninstall apps on your phone, or what the NSA is really doing—you too become a truth teller. And that feels good. Just as good as it does to be the person who has the cutest cat picture on the Internet.

If there is one quality in Rand’s writing that was evident even to her early critics, it was the tone of absolute certainty that dripped from her prose, which manifests itself in the quotes appearing in memes such as “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” or  “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others” and “The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.” Another Rand meme revolves around the popular quote: “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on Earth is the individual).”

What’s particularly noteworthy about these observations, aside from their definitiveness, is the fact that virtually no one adhering to a mainstream Western political ideology would disagree with them. Could you conceive of anyone on the left, right, or middle arguing that they’d accept being forced to live for another’s sake or want another to live solely for their own? Or that their ambitions are not driven by a desire to beat others? Or that they don’t think success comes from seizing on opportunities? Or that they think majorities should be able to vote away the rights of minorities?

These statements are platitudes, compellingly worded rhetorical catch-alls with inspiring messages that are unlikely to be contested when taken solely at face value. Like the erroneously attributed “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me,” they can mean whatever the user wishes for them to mean. Conservatives can and will be found who claim that only they adhere to those values while liberals do not, many liberals will say the same thing about conservatives, and, of course, Rand wrote each of these statements with her own distinctly Objectivist contexts in mind. Because each one contains a generally accepted “absolute truth” (at least insofar as the strict text itself is concerned), they are perfect fodder for those who spread memes through pictures, GIFs, and online merchandise—people who wish to be “truth tellers.”

Future historians may marvel at the perfect storm of cultural conditions that allowed this Rand boom to take place. After all, there is nothing about the rise of Internet libertarianism that automatically guarantees the rise of meming as a trend, or vice versa. In retrospect, however, the fact that both libertarianism and meming are distinct products of the Internet age—one for demographic reasons, the other for psychological ones—made the explosion of Randisms virtually inevitable. Even if they’re destined to be used by movements with which she’d want no part, Ayn Rand isn’t going to fade away from cyberspace anytime soon.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/18/how_ayn_rand_became_an_internet_superstar_partner/?source=newsletter

Child homelessness at all-time high in US

“A permanent Third World in America”

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By Niles Williamson
18 November 2014

America’s Youngest Outcasts, a study released this week by the National Center on Family Homelessness at American Institutes for Research (NCFH), reports that 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point last year, a historic high. The authors of the report warn that if these brutal social conditions persist or worsen, the result will be a “permanent Third World in America.”

More than six years after the height of the foreclosure crisis and fifty years after the declaration of the “War on Poverty,” homeless children account for one out of every thirty children in the country. The number of homeless children increased eight percent between 2012 and 2013 and the total number rose by nearly one million between 2010 and 2013.

This devastating report comes in the sixth year of what President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared to be a great economic recovery. While there has been a recovery for those at the very top, as illustrated by the astronomical rise of the stock market, for most Americans, who have continued to experience a decline in living standards, there has been no recovery at all.

In a particularly nauseating speech delivered at the United Nations in September, Obama insisted that “this is the best time in human history to be born.” The report by the NCFH decisively refutes this ludicrous claim. Rather than the best time to be born, it is the worst of times for millions of children, as they and their families are forced out of their homes and onto the streets.

“Child homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in America,” said Dr. Carmela DeCandia, director of the NCFH. “Living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds, and worse, homeless children are the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society. Without decisive action now, the federal goal of ending child homelessness by 2020 will soon be out of reach,” she concluded.

According to the NCFH report, between the end of the Great Depression and the early 1980s, child homelessness was not a widespread or persistent problem. Child homelessness emerged as a significant and persistent social problem in the middle of the 1980s amidst the social counterrevolution inaugurated by the administration of Ronald Reagan.

Based on the latest federal and state data on child homelessness, including the US Department of Education’s annual count of homeless students in public schools and 2013 US Census data, the report singles out six major factors contributing to high rates of child homelessness. They are: the high national poverty rate; the lack of affordable housing; the continuing impacts of the Great Recession; racial disparities; the challenges of single parenting; and the impact of traumatic experiences on families, in particular, domestic violence.

With a child poverty rate of 19.9 percent in 2013, a large number of American children are living at significant risk of being homeless. Families headed by a single mother are particularly at risk, with more than one third of single mother households living in poverty. An estimated 45 million people lived at or below the federal poverty line in 2013.

Affordable housing is essentially nonexistent for the poor in the United States, putting the poorest of the poor at constant risk of homelessness. Nationally, there are only 30 units available for every 100 extremely low-income families seeking housing. Federal housing vouchers have been repeatedly slashed over the last decade, reducing the amount of assistance available for low-wage workers and the unemployed. Waiting lists for housing assistance average two years.

A 2013 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there was no state in the US where an individual working a 40-hour minimum-wage job could afford a two-bedroom apartment for his or her family.

Homelessness has been shown to damage the cognitive development of young children, further limiting their opportunities later in life. According to the NCFH report, the effects of trauma associated with homelessness may impair the development of a child’s brain structure, disrupting the ability to learn and blocking the development of social relationships, cognitive skills and emotional self-regulation. Approximately 25 percent of homeless preschool age children have serious mental health problems; this rises to 40 percent among homeless school age children.

The report utilized the broad McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness, which counts adults and children who are at any point in a given year without secure housing, in a temporary shelter, living out of a vehicle, squatting in abandoned buildings, residing in a motel, hotel or campground, doubling up with extended family members, or fleeing domestic violence.

The definition used by the report is much broader than the more limited Housing and Urban Development Department’s Point in Time study, which measures only the number of individuals sleeping outdoors or in homeless shelters on a single day at the beginning of a given year. The HUD count, which found 216,261 homeless family members at the beginning of 2013, left out hundreds of thousands of children and families in transitory shelter.

The NCFH report ranked states according to a composite of four criteria: extent of child homelessness; child wellbeing; risk for child homelessness; and state policy and planning efforts. While there is no part of the United States that is free from the scourge of child homelessness, the severity of the crisis varies by state and region. The states with the worst composite rating are located in the Southeast and Southwest, while those with the least onerous scores are concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast.

Minnesota had the “best” score with a population of 23,608 homeless children in 2013 and a child poverty rate of 14 percent. Alabama had the worst, with a population of 59,349 homeless children in 2013 and a child poverty rate of 27 percent. Last year in California, a staggering 525,000 children experienced homelessness, while 190,000 did in Texas, and nearly 140,000 in Florida.

Despite rising to historic levels, the issue of child homelessness was not once addressed during the midterm elections by the Democrats or Republicans. No new tranche of funding or emergency social program was proposed that would aim to eliminate the social crime of child poverty and homelessness. The callous indifference of Democrats and Republicans alike to the plight of the most vulnerable members of American society is not surprising, as they not only serve the interests of the rich, but are themselves in the wealthiest 10 percent of the country. The year 2012 marked the first time that a majority of congressional members had an average net worth of $1 million or more.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/18/home-n18.html

Riot police attack student protesters in Athens

by Markos Vogiatzoglou on November 14, 2014

Post image for Riot police attack student protesters in AthensSchools in Greece have been occupied for a week. After today’s student protest, riot police blocked access to the university and attacked the students.

It’s been some time since we last heard from the Greek movement. But, thanks to the Greek government and its riot police, today became a day of large student demonstrations, clashes with the cops, injuries and rising tension. First, let’s see what happened. Early in the morning, the Athens Law School students arrived at their university in order to carry out their assembly decision, which included a symbolic occupation of their university until the 17th of November — commemoration day of the 1973 student revolt against the military dictatorship.

The problem was that the school was already occupied by the riot police. The Athenian Universities’ rectors had decided to apply a peculiar “lock out” of the students and employees, supposedly for “security reasons”. The government gave a helping hand by sending in hundreds of cops, in riot gear, to carry out the decision. The cops assaulted the students, seriously injuring a couple of them and dispersing the rest. The news circulated, public outrage was expressed about the police blockades and violence, hundreds of students demonstrated in the center of Athens during lunchtime, and another protest — involving thousands — took place in the evening around the universities, confronting a total police blockade of the city center.

A question I guess the international reader would pose is why this mess, and why now? November is the traditional month of student mobilization in Greece. Yet, in the last years, the protests seldom — if ever — went beyond the symbolic level, as the movement was too preoccupied with the country’s current problems to seriously devote itself to commemorations. This school year, though, started with incredible problems for both schools and universities due to underfunding and lack of teaching and administrative personnel. Hundreds of schools were occupied in the previous weeks and soon enough the universities joined the struggle.

The mobilization, if we want to be sincere, seemed quite weak until now. In a collapsed country, where everyone appears to be waiting for the government to collapse as well and for the elections that will bring the left-wing SYRIZA to power, a few hundred occupied schools do not make a real difference. It is also noteworthy that the student population of Greece, which was traditionally at the vanguard of the movements and had led all major mobilizations since the 1990s and up to 2008, was largely absent from the large anti-austerity protests of 2010-’12.

But, as it seems, our surrealist government is doing its best to reverse the situation. As I am concluding these lines, the student protest arrived at the Polytechnic University of Athens in Exarchia (where it all started back in 1973), the students forced open the doors and entered with the purpose of holding yet another assembly. The police immediately attacked. Eye-witnesses report several injuries among protesters; hundreds are barricaded inside the Polytechnic. The burning smell of tear gas is spreading, once again, in Athens.

Markos Vogiatzoglou is a Researcher at the European University Institute. This piece was originally published by our comrades at Dinamo Press. Photos and videos via left.gr.

http://roarmag.org/2014/11/student-protests-clashes-athens/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The Interregnum: Why the Future is so chaotic

The Interregnum:

Why the Future is so chaotic

“The old is dying,and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a diversity of morbid symptoms”-Antonio Gramsci

The morbid symptoms began to appear in the spring of 2003. The Department of Homeland Security was officially formed and despite the street protests of millions around the world, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext of capturing Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction”. By summer it was obvious that there were no such weapons and that we had been tricked into a war from which there was no easy exit. Pollsters began to notice that a majority of American’s felt we were “on the wrong track” and the distrust of our leadership has gotten worse every year.

So while the citizens exhibit historical levels of anger with the country’s drift, neither the political nor the economic leaders have put forth an alternative vision of our future. We are in an Interregnum: the often painful uprooting of old traditions and the hard-fought emergence of the new. The traditional notion of an interregnum refers to the time when a king died and a new king had not been coronated. But for our purposes, the notion of interregnum refers to those hinges in time when the old order is dead, but the new direction has not been determined. Quite often, the general populace does not understand that the transition is taking place and so a great deal of tumult arises as the birth pangs of a new social and political order. We are in such a time in America.

For those of us who work in the field of media and communications the signs of the Interregnum are everywhere. Internet services decimate the traditional businesses of music and journalism. For individual journalists or musicians, the old order is clearly dying, but a new way to make a living cannot seem to be birthed. Those who work in the fields of film and television can only hope a similar fate does not await their careers. In the world of politics a similar dynamic is destroying traditional political parties and the insurgent bottom up, networked campaigns pioneered by Barack Obama now become the standard. And yet we realize that for all it’s insurgency, the Obama campaign really did not usher in a new era. It is clear that there is an American Establishment that seems to stay in power no matter which party controls The White House. And the recent election only makes this more obvious. But this top-down establishment order is clearly dying, but it clings to it privileges and the networked, bottom-up society is not yet empowered.

Since 1953 when two senior partners of a Wall Street law firm, the brothers John Foster and Allen Dulles began running American foreign (and often domestic) policy, an establishment view, through Democratic and Republican presidencies alike, has been the norm. As Stephen Kinzer (in his book The Brothers)has written about the Dulles brothers, “Their life’s work was turning American money and power into global money and power. They deeply believed, or made themselves believe, that what benefited them and their clients would benefit everyone.” They created a world in which the Wall Street elites at first set our foreign policy and eventually (under Ronald Reagan) came to dominate domestic and tax policy — all to the benefit of themselves and their clients.

In 1969 the median salary for a male worker was $35,567 (in 2012 dollars). Today it is $33,904. So for 44 years, while wages for the top 10% have continued to climb, most Americans have been caught in a ”Great Stagnation”, bringing into question the whole purpose of the American capitalist economy. The notion that what benefited the establishment would benefit everyone, had been thoroughly discredited.

Seen through this lens, the savage partisanship of the current moment makes an odd kind of sense. What were the establishment priorities that moved inexorably forward in both Republican and Democratic administrations? The first was a robust and aggressive foreign policy. As Kinzer writes of the Dulles brothers, “Exceptionalism — the view that the United States has a right to impose its will because it knows more, sees farther, and lives on a higher moral plane than other nations — was to them not a platitude, but the organizing principle of daily life and global politics.” From Eisenhower to Obama, this principle has been the guiding light of our foreign policy, bringing with it annual defense expenditures that dwarf those of all the world’s major powers combined and drive us deeper in debt. The second principle of the establishment was, “what is good for Wall Street is good for America.” Despite Democrats efforts to paint the GOP as the party of Wall Street, one would only have to look at the efforts of Clinton’s Treasury secretaries Rubin and Summers to kill the Glass-Steagal Act and deregulate the big banks, to see that the establishment rules no matter who is in power. Was it any surprise that Obama then appointed the architects of bank deregulation, Summers and Geithner, to clean up the mess their policies had caused?

So when we observe politicians as diverse as Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul railing against the twin poles of establishment orthodoxy, can we really be surprised? Is there not a new consensus that the era of America as global policeman is over? Is there not agreement from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street that the domination of domestic policy by financial elites is over? But here is our Interregnum dilemma. It is one thing to forecast a kind of liberal-libertarian coalition around the issues of defense spending, corporate welfare and even the privacy rights of citizens in a national security state. It is a much more intractable problem to find consensus on the causes and cures of the Great Stagnation. It does seem like we need to understand the nature of the current stagnation by looking back to the late sixties when the economy was very different than it is today. In 1966, net investment as a percentage of GDP peaked at 14% and it has been on a steady decline ever since, despite the computer revolution which was only getting started in the early 1970’s.

Economic growth only comes from three sources: consumption, investment or foreign earnings from trade (the Current Account). We have been living so long with a negative current account balance and falling investment that economic growth is almost totally dependent on the third leg of the stool, consumer spending. But with the average worker unable to get a raise since 1969, consumption can only come from loosened credit standards. As long as the average family could use their home equity as an ATM, the party could continue, driven by the increasing sophistication of advertising and “branded entertainment” to induce mall fever to a strapped consumer. And by the late 1990’s consumer preferences began to drive a winner take all digital economy where one to three firms dominated each sector: Apple and Google; Verizon and AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable; Disney, Fox, Viacom and NBC Universal; Facebook and Twitter. All of this was unloosed by the establishment meme of deregulation — a world in which anti-trust regulators had little influence and laissez-faire ruled. These oligopolies began making so much money they didn’t have enough places to invest so corporate cash as a percentage of assets rose to an all time high.

Here is my fear. That our current version of capitalism is not working. Apple holds on to $158 billion in cash because it can’t find a profitable investment. And because U.S. worker participation rates are only 64%, a huge number of people can never afford an I Phone and so domestic demand is flat (though very profitable) and the real growth in the digital economy will be in Asia, Africa and South America. There is not much the Fed lowering interest rates can do to alter this picture. What is needed is not more easy money loans; it more decent jobs.

But unlike our left-right consensus on military spending, there is a fierce debate raging between economists about the causes and solutions to this stagnation. Though both left and right agree the economy has stagnated, there are huge differences in the prospects for emerging from this condition. On the right, the political economist Tyler Cowen’s new book is called Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. Here is how Cowen sees the next twenty years.

The rise of intelligent machines will spawn new ideologies along with the new economy it is creating. Think of it as a kind of digital social Darwinism, with clear winners and losers: Those with the talent and skills to work seamlessly with technology and compete in the global marketplace are increasingly rewarded, while those whose jobs can just as easily be done by foreigners, robots or a few thousand lines of code suffer accordingly. This split is already evident in the data: The median male salary in the United States was higher in 1969 than it is today. Middle-class manufacturing jobs have been going away due to a mix of automation and trade, and they are not being replaced. The most lucrative college majors are in the technical fields, such as engineering. The winners are doing much better than ever before, but many others are standing still or even seeing wage declines.

On the left, Paul Krugman is not so sure we can emerge from this stagnation.

But what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?…In fact, the case for “secular stagnation” — a persistent state in which a depressed economy is the norm, with episodes of full employment few and far between — was made forcefully recently at the most ultrarespectable of venues, the I.M.F.’s big annual research conference. And the person making that case was none other than Larry Summers. Yes, that Larry Summers.

Cowen forecasts a dystopian world where 10% of the population do very well and “the rest of the country will have stagnant or maybe even falling wages in dollar terms, but they will also have a lot more opportunities for cheap fun and cheap education.” That’s real comforting. He predicts the 90% will put up with this inequality for two reasons. First, the country is aging: “remember that riots and protests are typically the endeavors of young hotheads, not sage (or tired) senior citizens.” And second, because of the proliferation of social networks, “envy is local…Right now, the biggest medium for envy in the United States is probably Facebook, not the big yachts or other trophies of the rich and famous.”

Although Cowen cites statistics about the fall in street crime to back up the notion that the majority of citizens are passively accepting gross inequality, I think he completely misunderstands the nature of anti-social pathologies in the Internet Age of Stagnation. Take the example of the Web Site Silk Road.

Silk Road already stands as a tabloid monument to old-fashioned vice and new-fashioned technology. Until the website was shut down last month, it was the place to score, say, a brick of cocaine with a few anonymous strokes on a computer keyboard. According to the authorities, it greased $1.2 billion in drug deals and other crimes, including murder for hire.

From Lulzsec to Pirate Bay to Silk Road, the coming anarchy of a Bladerunner like society are far more vicious than a few street thugs in our major cities. The rise of virtual currencies that can’t be traced like Bitcoin only make the possibilities for a huge crime wave on the Dark Net more imminent—one which IBM estimates already costs the economy $400 billion annually.

So while both Cowen and Krugman agree that stagnation is causing the labor force participation rate to fall, they disagree as to whether anything can be done to remedy the problem.

In the early 1970’s the participation rate began to climb as more and more women entered the workforce. It peaked when George Bush entered office and has been on the decline ever since. As the Time’s David Leonhardt has pointed out, this has very little to do with Baby Boomer retirement. The economist Daniel Alpert has argued in his new book, The Age of Oversupply, that “the central challenge facing the global economy is an oversupply of labor, productive capacity and capital relative to the demand for all three.”

Viewed through this lens, neither the policy prescriptions of Republicans nor Democrats are capable of changing the dynamic brought about by the entrance of three billion new workers into the global economy in the last 20 years. Republican fears that U.S. deficits will lead to Weimar-like hyper-inflation ring hollow in a country where only 63% of the able bodied are working. Democrats hectoring for The Fed and the banks to loan more to business to stimulate the economy are equally nonsensical when American corporations are sitting on $2.4 trillion in cash.

But there is a way out of this deflationary trap we are in. First the Republicans have got to acknowledge the obvious: America’s corporations are not going to invest in vast amounts of new capacity when there is a glut in almost every sector worldwide. Secondly, that overcapacity is not going to get absorbed until more people go back to work and start buying the goods from the factories. This was the same problem our country faced in the great depression and the way we got out of it was by putting people to work rebuilding the infrastructure of this country. Did it ever occur to the politicians in Washington that the reason so many bridges, water and electrical systems are failing is because most of them were built 80 years ago, during the great depression? For Republicans to insist that more austerity will bring back the “confidence fairy”is exactly the wrong policy prescription for an age of oversupply. But equally destructive, as Paul Krugman points out are Democratic voices like Erskine Bowles, shouting from any venue that will pay him, that the debt apocalypse is upon us.

But the Democrats are also going to have to give up some long held beliefs that all good solutions come from Washington. If the Healthcare.gov website debacle has taught us anything, it is that devolving power from Washington to the states is the answer to the complexity of modern governance. While California’s healthcare website performed admirably, the notion of trying to create a centralized system to service 50 different state systems was a fool’s errand. So what is needed is a federalist solution for investment in the infrastructure of the next economy. This is the way out of The Interregnum. Investors buying tax-free municipal bonds to rebuild ancient water systems and bridges as well as solar and wind plants will finance much of it. But just as President Eisenhower understood that a national interstate highway system built in the 1950’s would lead to huge productivity gains in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Federal tax dollars will have to play a large part in rebuilding America. As we wind down our trillion dollar commitments to wars in the Middle East, we must engage in an Economic Conversion Strategy from permanent war to peaceful innovation that both liberals and libertarians could embrace.

The way to overcome the partisan gridlock on infrastructure spending would be for Obama to commit to a totally federalist solution to us getting out of our problems. The Federal Government would use every dollar saved from getting out of Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other defense commitments in block innovation grants to the states. Lets say the first grant is for $100 Billion. It will be given directly to the states on a per capita basis to be used to foster local economic growth. No strings or Federal Bureaucracy attached to the grants except that the states have to publish a yearly accounting of the money in an easily readable form. And then let the press follow the money and see which states come up with the most imaginative solutions. Some states might use the grants to lower the cost of state university tuition. Others might spend the money on high-speed rail lines or municipal fiber broadband and wifi. As we have found in the corporate sector, pushing power to the edges of an organization helps foster innovation. As former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano told his colleagues, “we have to lower the center of gravity of this organization”.

If it worked, then slowly more money could be transferred to the states in these bureaucracy free block grants. Gradually the bureaucracies of the Federal government would shrink as more and more responsibility was shifted to local supervision of education, health, welfare and infrastructure.

In the midst of our current Washington quagmire this vision of a growing American middle class may seem like a distant mirage. But it is clear that the establishment consensus on foreign policy, defense spending, domestic spying and corporate welfare has died in the last 12 months. The old top-down establishment order is clearly dying, but just how we build the new order based on a bottom-up, networked society that works for the 90%, not just the establishment is the question of our age.