For Every One, A Basic Income?

 Yes! Radical Ideas About Fixing Inequality

Tony Atkinson’s new book points the way forward.

British economist Tony Atkinson has been studying inequality — the gap in income and wealth between the top and the bottom — for nearly half a century. Now that the dogma of trickle-down has been exposed as myth, he sees economists, policy-makers and the public finally waking up to the seriousness of the problem. But how to fix it? In his new book, Inequality: What Can Be Done?Atkinson focuses on ambitious proposals that could shift the distribution of income in developed countries. This post was originally published on the blog of theInstitute for New Economic Thinking.

Lynn Parramore: When did you become interested in the topic of economic inequality? What sparked your work?

Tony Atkinson: My interest in the topic actually led me to become an economics student. There was a famous book in England called The Poor and the Poorest, which was the rediscovery of poverty in Britain, published in 1965. I then decided to write a book about poverty when I graduated, and it was published in 1969: Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security.

LP: In terms of finding solutions to inequality, Thomas Piketty, in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, talks about a wealth tax, but many are skeptical that it could work. What is distinct about your prescriptions?

TA: It’s fair to say that Piketty’s book was not about solutions. He does refer to a global capital tax, but he was much more concerned with an analysis rather than a set of prescriptions. In a way, my book was really continuing the lines of recent discussions, that is to say, we’ve identified the problem and we’ve seen some of the reasons for it, and we’ve seen our political leaders and our religious leaders all saying this is a serious problem — a “defining challenge of our time” to quote your president. So the next question, of course, is, what are we going to do about it?

What I tried to do was to set out a range of measures, which were to some extent very familiar in terms of taxes and transfers. But I also tried to stress that this is only, at best, part of the solution. One has to think much more carefully about what determines incomes people get before the government intervenes in taxing and transferring.

LP: Some of the possible prescriptions you discuss, such as a basic income for all citizens, may sound radical, but you point out that they are actually already implemented as policy in many countries in various ways. Are ideas like basic income getting more attention and traction now?

TA: Definitely. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the book, in different places, say, Oh! I never knew we could do that kind of thing. It’s a tragedy, in a way, that our political system has become very narrowly focused and not willing to at least debate these ideas.

The basic income is very close to the idea Thomas Paine put forward in the 1790s. (Paine’s proposal, by the way, is on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration.) That proposal is something that I and many others think is really interesting, which is that everyone, on reaching the age of 18 or so, should receive a capital payment. It would be like a negative capital tax. That idea was also proposed years ago in America by Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale.

A capital payment, or capital grant, would contribute to solving the problem of the intergenerational distribution of income, which is something I stress in the book. That is a serious problem, which I found, for example, in discussions with Korean journalists and economists. They are very worried about generational divide — concerned that the older people have benefitted from growth and the younger people are struggling to find jobs and so on. Some of the measures I propose are designed to take money away from my generation and give it to younger generations. The capital grant certainly would do that.

LP: You’ve been a strong critic of claims that we can’t afford to do much about inequality. How do you react to such claims?

TA: I think that the question about whether we can afford it has two dimensions. One is the extent to which addressing inequality involves redistribution —whether it involves some people, like myself, paying higher taxes to finance a more effective system of social protection, for example. On the other hand, it’s a question about how far these measures and other measures would tend to reduce the size of the cake, to put it in a rather hackneyed metaphor.

The second argument is the one I spend more time discussing, which is to say that in the kinds of economies in which we live, there are a number of directions in which we can both make the distribution fairer and contribute to making our economies more efficient and more productive for everyone. That’s very much within the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s way of looking at the world because I’m really saying that the economic model we’ve had to think about is one in which intervention tends to reduce the size of the cake. Yet if you think about a different economic model, you have to allow for the fact that there are corporations with monopoly power. You have to allow for the fact that we have workers who have very little countervailing power, and so on. There are, in fact, ways in which the current situation is inefficient.

LP: So reducing inequality may increase efficiency rather than the opposite, as neoclassical economists might argue?

TA: Yes, I think that as a starting point we need to look at the world as it really is. We have unemployment and other evidence that the world isn’t working in a kind of textbook competitive fashion.

LP: Let’s talk about debates concerning Britain and whether or not inequality is growing. Pikettty, for example, says that British society is becoming more economically unequal. Others refute this view. How do you read the data?

TA: I think it’s very important to distinguish here between distribution of incomes and distribution of wealth. On incomes, there’s very little dispute. There is no doubt that income inequality in Britain today is very significantly higher than it was a generation ago. The Gini coefficient, which is used to measure it, is some ten percentage points higher than it was in the 1970s. And that’s a very big increase. It took us from being a country like the Netherlands or France to being a country like the United States in terms of inequality. I don’t think anyone disputes that, nor do they dispute the fact that poverty is higher than when I started out as an economist nearly 50 years ago.

Where there is much less certainty is about the wealth data, that is, how rich people are. There, our current statistics about changes in wealthy inequality are not so good — not as good as the American statistics. I think there is room for confusion there. The OECD says that wealth concentration in Britain is rising. Maybe. I’m not myself quite sure. It’s much harder to measure wealth concentration now because people are so geographically mobile. People on the “rich list” — it’s not quite clear whether they live in England or not. They might live somewhere else. It’s not clear whether the wealth is owned by them, or by a foundation, or a trust, or whether it’s spread out amongst a family. So it’s a much more complicated set of statistics to assemble today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

LP: You’ve written in your book that you feel optimistic about solving the problem of inequality. What gives you hope?

TA: People often say that there’s a sense of inevitability, that there’s nothing much you can do. But what I was trying to argue in the book is that there are things you can do. The problem has been that we’ve not had on the agenda issues that would make a difference. Interestingly, even since I wrote the book the Conservative government in Britain has actually adopted the living wage as policy. Last week in the budget the chancellor announced he was in favor of paying higher wages. So there’s hope.

Lynn Parramore is contributing editor at AlterNet. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU, and she serves on the editorial board of Lapham’s Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore. 

 

 

http://www.alternet.org/economy/every-one-basic-income-yes-radical-ideas-about-fixing-inequality?akid=13349.265072.SDfV7e&rd=1&src=newsletter1040248&t=9

Sanders talks “left” and moves right

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By Patrick Martin
1 August 2015

Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders held the largest online event of the 2016 presidential campaign Wednesday night, giving a brief address via live streaming video to more than 3,500 house parties held in all 50 states. Campaign organizers said more than 100,000 people sent RSVPs for the event and an even larger number attended.

The “house parties,” some held in public venues such as halls and restaurants, but most in private homes, are a campaign tactic, first used by Democrat Howard Dean in 2004, for collecting large numbers of email addresses and small donations from supporters.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign held an estimated 650 parties on the day she formally announced her candidacy. The scale of the events for Sanders was five times as large, an indication of the growing discontent among Democratic voters with the pro-corporate policies advanced by Clinton in her campaign.

The Vermont senator has focused his campaign on warnings about the growth of economic inequality and the power of the “billionaire class,” while offering little in the way of substance to differentiate himself from Clinton.

He occasionally refers to himself as a “socialist,” by which he means an American version of the reformist policies once pursued but repudiated over the past two decades by the social democratic parties in Europe. All of these parties—in Britain, Germany, France, Greece, Scandinavia, etc.—are systematically cutting social spending and imposing austerity on the working class, working hand-in-glove with the traditional conservative parties.

According to an analysis by the New York Times, based on data supplied by the Sanders campaign, there were house parties in 423 of the 435 US congressional districts. By far the largest turnouts were in liberal college towns like Boulder, Colorado, as well as in the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, particularly San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where more than 1,000 attended in each city. The Times reported much lower turnouts in the more impoverished inner-city areas.

“Tonight really is an historic night,” Sanders told his audience, speaking from the home of Manisha Sharma, a bank attorney, in an upscale neighborhood of Southwest Washington DC. “To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a political online organizing event this early in the campaign which involved 100,000 people in 3,500 locations in every state in the United States of America. And that’s pretty impressive.”

However, when he moved from the broader audience to address more conservative and business-oriented groups Thursday and Friday, Sanders toned down his populist rhetoric considerably and reiterated a chauvinist and reactionary position on immigration.

Speaking Thursday before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Sanders went out of his way to reject calls by immigration activists for open borders. He repeated comments first made in an interview Tuesday with the Vox web site, in which he denounced unrestricted immigration as the perspective of the Koch brothers, the ultra-right billionaires who have pledged to spend nearly a billion dollars to elect Republican candidates in 2016.

Asked about criticism from immigrants’ rights groups, Sanders said, “What they are talking about is completely opening up the border. That was the question. Should we have a completely open border so that anyone can come in the United States of America? If that were to happen, which I strongly disagree with, there is no question in my mind that that would substantially lower wages in this country.”

Sanders went on to depict immigrants as a threat to Hispanic-American and African-American workers, saying, “When you have 36 percent of Hispanic kids in this country who can’t find jobs and you bring a lot of unskilled workers in the country, what do you think happens to that 36 percent of kids of today who are unemployed? Or 51 percent of African-American kids? I frankly do not believe we should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled workers to compete with those kids.”

Pitting immigrants against native-born workers, particularly the lowest-paid and most exploited, is one of the oldest and most noxious traditions of American capitalist politics. That Sanders embraces this Know-Nothing legacy tells more about the real nature of his campaign than all his talk of defeating the political influence of the billionaires.

In what was perhaps his most revealing remark, he cited the consensus of all his Democratic and Republican rivals, asking, “But to simply open the borders of America. Do you think there is any candidate for president who thinks that that makes sense? I don’t think so.”

No one asked whether he would be bound by the opinions of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Scott Walker in other areas of policy—foreign and military policy, workers’ rights, or tax breaks for Wall Street, for example.

Sanders also told his audience, representing Hispanic businessmen and corporate executives, that he ruled out running as a third party candidate. “The answer is no,” he said, in response to a question. “The reason for that is I do not want to be responsible for electing some right-wing Republican to be president of the United States.”

Evidently, he is not troubled by helping to elect a right-wing Democrat.

Again, no one asked the obvious question: what does his allegiance to the eventual Democratic candidate say about his claimed “independence” from the Democratic Party over the past 24 years in Congress? In truth, his claim to oppose the corporate-controlled two-party system is a sham. Sanders has supported every Democratic presidential candidate since he was first elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1984.

On Friday, Sanders spoke to the Urban League, the most conservative of the African-American lobbying groups and the one most closely associated with efforts to promote “black capitalism.”

As in his remarks to the Hispanic businessmen, Sanders dropped any reference to “political revolution” and gave barely a nod to anti-Wall Street sentiment. He devoted much of his remarks to police violence, which he portrayed entirely in racial terms, intoning the phrase “Black Lives Matter” while promising unspecified actions to reduce the high rate of unemployment among black youth.

Sanders said several times, with an air of apology, that his emphasis on economic inequality and the power of the billionaires might make some people in the audience “uncomfortable.” He did not elaborate, but there are more than a few black multi-millionaires in the Urban League and the group is heavily dependent on contributions from corporations and what Sanders has called the “billionaire class.”

 

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/01/sand-a01.html

Water: source of life and conflict in the Land of Rivers

By Joris Leverink On August 1, 2015

Post image for Water: source of life and conflict in the Land of RiversOil is often seen as the root cause of conflict in the Middle East, but in the coming years water might come to overtake it as a key source of dispute.

Photo by João Silva.

Mesopotamia, the ‘Land of Two Rivers’, cradle of modern civilization and currently home to probably as many conflicts as there are ethnic groups, religious factions and nation states. Rebels fighting states, Sunnis battling Shias, Turks clashing with Kurds, jihadists massacring local villagers, environmental activists against national governments and states competing with one another for the region’s natural resources.

Where oil is widely considered to be one of the main causes for the region’s instability — mainly because it drew imperialist powers to the region that eagerly supported local dictators to ensure continued and unlimited access to the precious liquid — another potential source of conflict is often overlooked. Water, the first and foremost source of life in the barren desert regions of the Middle East, which allowed for the world’s first civilizations to develop on the fertile floodplains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is becoming ever more scarce, and the struggles to safeguard a fair share are growing fiercer by the day.

Water flows. From the mountains to the seas. Oblivious to national borders, local conflicts and the religious, ethnic and ideological backgrounds of the people who populate its banks. Rivers that sprout in one country quench thirst in another, and as such, by definition, they play in important role in the relations between the countries whose borders they so easily cross.

On several occasions over the past decades local development projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have brought the three neighboring states Turkey, Syria and Iraq to the brink of war. When in 1990 Turkey blocked the flow of the Euphrates for nine days to fill the reservoir of the Atatürk dam, Iraq massed troops on its border and threatened to bomb the dam. Nowadays, tensions remain high as yet another Turkish mega-dam is about to be completed — the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river — which will severely reduce the water flow to Iraq and destroy thousands of years of cultural and historical heritage at home.

Water is cause for conflict in many instances, but it also has the potential to bring communities together to build the necessary foundations for lasting peace in the Middle East.

Hasankeyf under threat

Topping the list of concerns of many local and international campaigns against the construction of the Ilisu dam is the fate of the town of Hasankeyf. The town and its surroundings are home to numerous archaeological sites — some of which remain unexplored — that date back more than 12,000 years. The ruins of an 11th century bridge mark the spot where the Silk Road once crossed the river Tigris and the thousands of human-made caves that dot the mountains bare witness to the unique culture of the region. All of this is set to disappear below the surface of the water once the inundation of the dam reservoir begins.

Immediately after the announcement of the project in 1997, a social movement emerged. Civil society groups, local professionals and international NGOs joined forces to oppose the project and raise awareness about the potential destruction of the natural environment, the cultural heritage and the displacement of up to 78,000 people from their homes in and around Hasankeyf.

A successful international campaign temporarily halted the project in 2009, when a number of European financiers withdrew their support after it was exposed that Turkey failed to meet the international standards of dam-building set by the World Bank to protect the environment, affected people, riparian states and cultural heritage. However, after Turkey turned to its national banks to provide the necessary funding, the project is now back on track and is set for completion this year.

Once completed, the Ilisu dam will provide approximately 2 percent of the national electricity requirements — an amount that can easily be provided by other, less destructive means, such as the upgrading of the country’s outdated transmission lines. Also, in combination with the nearby Cizre dam the Ilisu dam will serve to irrigate agricultural land, bringing much needed development to the region and providing employment opportunities for the impoverished population.

At least, that is what the Turkish government would have us believe.

More skeptical minds see a correlation between the large number of mega-developmental projects that have a devastating effect on local culture, society and the environment; the fact that a large number of these project take place in Kurdish dominated areas; and the neo-Ottoman aspirations of the current government that dreams of reinstalling Turkey as the dominant power in the region.

Development as political instrument

The Ilisu dam is part of the giant Southeast Anatolia Regional Development Project (GAP, after its Turkish acronym) which was launched in 1977 and aims to built a total of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants by 2015, covering nine provinces in southeastern Turkey. The GAP project is presented by the government as bringing development to the traditionally impoverished and underdeveloped regions where poor living standards have caused the local Kurds to rise up against the central state for many decades.

For years, the Turkish central government, led by the former prime minister and current president Erdogan, has claimed that there is no such thing as a “Kurdish problem”, denying the fact that the country’s Kurdish population has been discriminated against on the basis of its ethnic background, and arguing that the Kurds’ hardships stem from the underdevelopment of their traditional homelands in southeastern Turkey.

The logical conclusion following this line of thought is that economic development of the predominantly Kurdish regions in the southeast of the country automatically eliminates all grudges the Kurds could possibly hold against the Turkish government.

In its pursuit to pacify the country’s Kurdish population, the GAP project is only partially successful — and not because it has brought the supposedly much-demanded development to the region. Many locals in the affected areas perceive the GAP project in general, and the Ilisu Dam in particular, as a well-thought-out scheme designed to undermine social cohesion, relocate farmers and villagers to regional urban centers, and form a “natural” barricade against the Kurdish militants of the PKK.

Across the region it is common policy for the government to pay the forcefully displaced locals the market value of their houses and plots of lands in compensation. People are then offered alternative housing in nearby settlements, newly constructed for the purpose of relocation. However, rather than being offered these houses as compensation for the loss of their homes and livelihoods, they are sold to the locals for as much as 7 or 8 times the price of their old homes.

Displaced locals are then left with no choice but to either indebt themselves to the government for the next twenty years or more to pay for these new homes — which they never wanted in the first place — or to leave for the urban centers where families end up on the outskirts of town, in municipal housing projects forced to make a precarious living from underpaid day jobs.

The GAP project has so far displaced hundreds of thousands of people who have been silenced, pacified and left powerless, their demands for fair compensation ignored and their voices silenced as they joined the precarious masses in the urban centers, competing for the chance to be exploited because an unfair wage is better than no wage at all when you have hungry mouths to feed.

Regional water wars

It’s not just within Turkey’s national boundaries that the GAP project has caused consternation. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers both originate in Turkey, but whereas Ankara considers them to be a source of national wealth and an instrument for regional development, they are the very sources of life for its southern neighbors Syria and Iraq. International law requires Turkey to consult its co-riparian states before starting the construction of big dams that will affect the flow of water, but on many occasions it has failed to do so.

The first disputes between the three nations date back to the 1960s, with the start of large-scale water development projects in the region. In 1975 Iraq and Syria massed their respective troops on the border after the completion of the Syrian Tabqua dam on the Euphrates, and in 1990 Turkey cut off the flow of the river for nine days to fill the Atatürk dam reservoir, leading to protests and threats from both Syria and Iraq who claimed that they hadn’t been informed of the plans.

The finished GAP project will reduce water flows to Syria by 40 percent, and to Iraq by a shocking 80 percent. This, in combination with the severe droughts that have hit the region over the past few years, the ongoing conflict between the Iraqi state and it allies and the militants of the so-called Islamic State, and the millions of (internally) displaced people in the region, has the potential to unleash an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe that could cause a serious food security problem, destabilizing the region for years to come.

The case of the Ilisu dam represents in a nutshell the importance of water and the many different shapes that political issues can take when it comes to question of ownership, access and control of natural resources and river flows.

The Euphrates and Tigris rivers, as many of their tributaries, are a source of life as well as conflict. They irrigate arid plains and make life possible where otherwise none could have flourished. At the same time, they can be exploited to push certain agendas, break up communities, and use as leverage in political negotiations. Most importantly, however, they have the potential to bring sustainable peace to the region.

With the region in flames, the Syrian civil war continuing unabated, the militants of the Islamic State proceeding to launch attacks on multiple fronts — most recently with the capture of Ramadi, a city on the banks of the Euphrates in Iraq’s central Anbar province — and the Kurdish peace process in Turkey threatening to derail, the need for cooperation between states, and more importantly, between communities, is now more urgent than ever.

From the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to the Kurds in Turkey, the struggle for equal access to the Earth’s resources is connected across ethnic, religious and national boundaries. As such, it provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the interdependence of the region’s communities, forging bonds that transcend the interests of central governments and international powers.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, an editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English. This article was originally written for TeleSUR English.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/08/water-conflict-turkey-middle-east/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Hillary Clinton and secret Swiss bank accounts

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By Patrick Martin
31 July 2015

A lengthy report in the Wall Street Journal Thursday details Hillary Clinton’s actions while US secretary of state,on behalf of the Swiss banking giant UBS. The bank reciprocated by means of large contributions to the Clinton Foundation and a fat paycheck for Bill Clinton to participate in a question-and-answer session with UBS executives.

The article examines the type of exchange of services for cash payment that is standard operating procedure for capitalist politicians and their corporate masters worldwide. The only unusual aspect of the transactions is the detailed record, supplied in part thanks to the publication of US State Department cables from Switzerland by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

In 2008, an American employee of the bank, working in Switzerland, revealed that UBS had thousands of US customers who had opened accounts to avoid paying US taxes. The bank signed a consent agreement in 2009, agreeing to pay a $780 million fine and give the names of 250 account holders. But the IRS was pressing for a broader disclosure—the names of US citizens who held 52,000 numbered accounts worth an estimated $18 billion.

At Clinton’s first meeting with her Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, there was a list of pressing issues, several relating to Iran, where the Swiss embassy has represented US interests since 1979. The Obama administration wanted Switzerland to accept some Guantanamo detainees, to curtail business by a Swiss-based energy company in Iran, and to intervene on behalf of a US journalist detained in Iran. The Swiss government, serving as the political agent of the Swiss banks, wanted to curb the forced disclosure of information by UBS.

A deal was worked out. In return for Swiss action on its concerns, the US government agreed to a legal settlement with UBS that limited disclosure to information on 4,450 accounts, less than 10 percent of the 52,000 sought by the IRS.

It was at this point that the arrangement moved beyond the routine horse-trading between capitalist governments, into direct financial kickbacks. UBS began to step up its donations to the Clinton Foundation, from less than $60,000 through 2008 to more than $600,000 in total by the end of 2014.

The Journal report continues: “The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former president Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House.”

The newspaper then adds the disclaimer, “There is no evidence of any link between Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the case and the bank’s donations to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, or its hiring of Mr. Clinton.”

But of course, no such link is required in the elevated circles in which the Clintons move. Rarely is it a matter of cash in envelopes. Actions on behalf of corporate benefactors and expressions of “gratitude” and “support” follow like night follows day.

UBS officials vociferously denied any such crass exchange. “Any insinuation that any of our philanthropic or business initiatives stems from support received from any current or former government official is ludicrous and without merit,” a bank spokeswoman told the Journal .

By 2012, a UBS-sponsored program it called Elevating Entrepreneurs was listed by the Clinton Foundation as one of its most important projects, featuring 11 appearances by Bill Clinton with former President George W. Bush playing the role of second banana at a number of locations, for an undisclosed fee.

Given the Journal ’s hostility to Clinton and the Democratic Party, there is little doubt that the newspaper’s decision to publish the report was politically motivated and intended to damage the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The facts uncovered, however, are nonetheless damning.

It should also be pointed out that Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire who owns theJournal and dozens of other media properties, including Fox News, is a longtime practitioner of the tax avoidance that Swiss banks like UBS facilitate. Murdoch has changed his citizenship from Australia to Great Britain to the United States to further the expansion of his corporate empire by taking advantage of favorable tax treatment.

As for Hillary Clinton, the report on UBS is only a further demonstration of her decades of hobnobbing with the bankers and billionaires.

One of the grosser expressions of this was reported earlier this week byPolitico.com, which detailed Bill and Hillary Clintons’ attendance at the 2005 wedding (his third) of billionaire Donald Trump to Slovenian model Melania Knauss, at Trump’s Palm Beach estate.

According to this account, based on tabloid reports of the $1 million celebrity-studded event, the groom wore a black Brioni tuxedo, while the bride “wore a $200,000 Christian Dior dress, replete with 300 feet of satin, 1,500 crystals and pearls and a 13-foot, 50-pound train. The strapless gown reportedly took 1,000 hours to make. The reception and after-party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion featured song and dance facilitated by Tony Bennett and Billy Joel; lobster, caviar and filet mignon; and a 5-foot-tall wedding cake covered with buttercream frosting and 3,000 roses made of white icing.”

Trump is today leading in polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Ten years ago he called himself a Democrat, praised Hillary Clinton extravagantly and donated to her campaigns. This history only demonstrates the vanishingly small differences between the Democrats and Republicans, both controlled lock, stock and barrel by the financial oligarchy.

 

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/31/clin-j31.html

Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?

By Thomas Swann On July 31, 2015

Post image for Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?Social media are monitored and controlled by large corporations. Can they also facilitate the kind of self-organization that defines radical politics?

When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.

At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.

Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.

Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.

But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.

Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.

Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.

But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.

The promise of social media

Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.

In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.

What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.

While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.

These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.

This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.

Internal and external communication practices

As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.

Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.

In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.

While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.

Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.

The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.

Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.

Institutionalizing autonomy

The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.

It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.

But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.

In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.

Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).

In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.

Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.

Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.

Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/social-media-organization-movements/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Fifty years on: Medicare under assault

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31 July 2015

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare, the national health insurance program for Americans 65 years of age and older, into law on July 30, 1965. Medicare and the accompanying Medicaid health program for the poor were the last major social reforms enacted in the US and came at a time of intense crisis for American capitalism.

The mid-1960s saw a nation gripped by the civil rights movement and militant struggles by workers for higher wages and improved social conditions. Two weeks before Johnson signed the Medicare bill, a riot broke out in Harlem, New York following the shooting of a black teenager, one of the earliest of the numerous urban rebellions that would erupt over the next three years.

In the US pursuit of global domination, on March 8, 1965, 3,500 US Marines were dispatched to South Vietnam, marking the beginning of the US ground war in Southeast Asia. Only two days before signing Medicare into law, Johnson announced the doubling of draft quotas and the dispatch of another 50,000 troops to Vietnam. The war would end in a humiliating defeat for US imperialism a decade later, after the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese.

As with the Social Security Act under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and the establishment of industrial unions, Medicare was not granted out of the kindness of the hearts of the ruling class. It came as a concession to mass struggles carried out by the working class.

However, by today’s standards, passages from the Democratic Party platform on which Johnson ran in 1964 sound radical. In a section titled “The Individual,” the platform reads: “The health of the people is important to the strength and purpose of our country and is a proper part of our common concern. In a nation that lacks neither compassion nor resources, the needless suffering of people who cannot afford adequate medical care is intolerable.”

From the start, Medicare fell far short of providing free and comprehensive medical care for all seniors. As originally enacted, the program provided for inpatient hospital care (Part A) as well as certain outpatient services (Part B), including preventive services, ambulance transport, mental health and other medical services. Part B has always required a premium payment.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed legislation expanding coverage for those under age 65 with long-term disabilities and end-stage renal disease. Since 1997, enrollees had the option to enroll in Medicare Advantage (Part C), managed care programs administered by private companies. It was not until 2002 that optional prescription drug benefits (Part D), exclusively provided through private plans, were added under George W. Bush.

It is important to note that all components of Medicare, except for Part A in certain instances, carry premiums and deductibles. Despite these shortcomings, Medicare represented an important, albeit limited, advance in health care for seniors that was denounced as “socialism” in many ruling class circles.

The Medicare legislation faced significant opposition in both big business parties. The Democratic vote in favor of the bill was 57-7 in the Senate and 237-48 in the House. The Republicans opposed the bill 13-17 in the Senate and narrowly approved it in the House, 70-68.

Hostility to the legislation among leading Republicans was vociferous. Senator Barry Goldwater commented in 1964: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?”

In 1964, future president George H.W. Bush denounced the impending Medicare bill as “socialized medicine.” While it was nothing of the sort, it was seen by many supporters as a first step toward the establishment of universal health care.

Despite its limitations, it is undisputable that the program has had an immense impact on the health and social wellbeing of the elderly population.

Largely as a result of Medicare and improved medical technologies, life expectancy at age 60 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 19.3 years in 2012. Prior to Medicare, about half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance, more than one in four elderly went without medical care due to cost, and one in three seniors lived in poverty.

Some 53 million elderly are currently enrolled in Medicare. Today, virtually all seniors have access to health care and only about 14 percent live below the poverty line. Despite a relentless attack on Medicare services in recent years, Medicare is extremely popular—with 77 percent of Americans viewing it as a “very important” program that needs to be defended, according to a recentpoll.

The program has been under assault from sections of the political establishment and corporate America since its inception. In 1995, under the leadership of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republicans proposed cutting 14 percent from projected Medicare spending and forcing millions of elderly recipients into managed health programs. The aim, in Gingrich’s words, was to ensure that Medicare was “going to wither on the vine.”

In the most open threat to privatize Medicare, in the spring of 2014, Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, released a “Path to Prosperity” budget plan that slashed $5.1 trillion over 10 years. Key to his blueprint was the institution of “premium support” in health care for seniors, essentially a voucher plan under which seniors could purchase either private insurance or Medicare coverage.

Fast-forward to the current presidential campaign. Republican candidate Jeb Bush, speaking at an event last week in New Hampshire sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers, said of Medicare: “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program … and move to a new system that allows them [those over 65] to have something—because they’re not going to have anything.”

Bush and others justify their proposals to privatize or outright abolish Medicare with claims that the program will be bankrupt in the near future. But a recent report shows that projected Medicare spending will account for 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2090, down from earlier projections that it would make up 13 percent of GDP in 2080.

This is hardly an unreasonable amount to spend on the health of the nation’s elderly population. This spending is also not a gift from the government, but is funded through deductions from the paychecks of workers all their working lives. However, the policy decisions of politicians in Washington are not driven by preserving the health and welfare of America’s older citizens, but by the defense of the capitalist profit system.

While President Obama and the Democrats seek to distance themselves from proposals to privatize Medicare, Ryan and Bush only openly express what many Democrats are thinking. The Obama administration, with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) leading the charge, is working to gut Medicare and transform it into a poverty program with barebones coverage for the majority of working class and middle class seniors.

In 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the ACA would reduce Medicare spending by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. Under the first four years of the ACA, home health care under Medicare is being cut by 14 percent, including $60 million in 2015 and $350 million in 2016. While doing nothing to rein in the outrageous charges by pharmaceutical companies for cancer and other life-saving drugs, the Obama administration’s proposed 2016 budget includes $126 billion in cuts from what Medicare will pay for these drugs.

In what constitutes a historic attack on the program, Obama hailed as a “bipartisan achievement” passage of a bill in April that expands means testing for Medicare and establishes a new payment system in which doctors will be rewarded for cutting costs, while being punished for the volume and frequency of the health care services they provide.

It is telling that an article in the right-wing National Review, headlined “A Medicare Bill Conservatives Need to Embrace,” hailed the legislation and said the effects of its structural reforms would be “permanent and cumulative.”

The bipartisan backing for the Medicare bill is based on common agreement that Medicare spending must be slashed and a radical shift instituted away from the “lavish” fee-for-service system, in which supposed “unnecessary” tests and procedures are performed on Medicare patients, needlessly treating disease and extending their lives.

The president has claimed that the enactment of the program commonly known as Obamacare is the most sweeping social reform since Medicare was signed into law. This is a cynical lie. The ACA is, in fact, a social counter-reform that was aimed from the start at cutting costs for the government and corporations and reducing and rationing health care for the majority of Americans.

The ACA is designed to encourage employers to slash or end their employee insurance plans, forcing workers to individually purchase plans from private companies on government-run exchanges. The result will be the dismantling of the employer-provided health insurance system that has existed since the early 1950s, a vast increase in workers’ out-of-pocket costs, and a decrease in the care they receive.

Medicare, one of the last vestiges of social reform from a previous era, along with Social Security, is being undermined. The social right to health care—along with the right to a livable income, education, housing, and a secure retirement—is incompatible with a society subordinated to capitalist forces.

True reform of the health care system requires that it be reorganized based on a socialist program that proceeds from the fulfillment of human needs, not the enrichment of a parasitic elite.

Kate Randall

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/31/pers-j31.html

Tracking the Lion Killers Back to the Oval Office

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Palmers’ bloodlust is just the latest exercise in expensive animal sadism to hit the news. Last year a woman posing with a lion she killed provoked internet outrage. In 2012 the King of Spain enjoyed killing an elephant (to the horror of his subject) and the year before CEO of Godaddy.com Bob Parsons videotaped his murder of an elephant. Nice.

In 2006, Country and Western musician Troy Lee Gentry killed a penned pet bear named Cubby on videotape to appear the tough guy. Music critic Peter Grumbine asked if  Cubby had “rolled on his back expecting his usual belly rub that followed his afternoon nap” before the
killing. Others called Gentry a “sad pantywaist” who “shoots caged animals.”

Some try to defend trophy hunting, canned hunting and killing exotic animals as producing money that goes to the conservation of other animals–but most (including hunters who eat what they kill) think it is sick, sick, sick.

There are some laws against the warped acts of big game hunters like Palmer, but groups like Safari Club International (SCI) still flourish.  And some of the world’s top leaders are members.

Few realize that President George H.W. Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle and the late Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. were proud members of  SCI and pleaded with the Botswana government to keep trophy lion hunts available, for trophy hunters like them. There were reports of lions that Bush and Quayle personally killed in Africa but they remain unconfirmed.

Safari Club International offers a “Bears of the World” award, a kind of National Geographic for the bloodthirsty, in which hunters have to kill four of the world’s eight bear species which include imperiled polar bears. In 2006, SCI defeated an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House of Representatives that would have banned the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.

In an attempt to humanize its image, SCI has run programs like Sportsmen Against Hunger and Sportsmen Against Cancer hoping someone will eat the meat the “hunters” don’t want.

Safari Club International also has Disabled Hunter, Sensory Safari and Safari Wish programs to extend the fun of killing to the disadvantaged. On it web site, SCI showed how the Safari Wish program enabled a spina bifida patient to kill a young doe from his wheelchair at a Florida hunt club. The young man missed two hogs eating at the feeder but succeeded in shooting a greyhound-sized doe because “the Hunt Club suspended the deer harvest rules for his hunt” SCI wrote breathlessly. Did someone hold the deer for him while he shot it as is done with blind “sportsmen”?

At the risk of stating the obvious, such “sport” or “hunting” is a mental illness.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/30/tracking-the-lion-killers-back-to-the-old-oval-office/