Obama, Republicans push anti-China trade pact

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By Patrick Martin
23 April 2015

Both the US Senate and House of Representatives have begun action on legislation to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, also known as “fast-track” authority, which would enable the US government to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with 11 other countries in Asia and the Americas.

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, in a 20-6 vote, approved the measure and sent it to the Senate floor, where it will likely face stronger opposition in advance of a vote in the coming weeks. Five Democrats and one Republican on the committee voted “no.”

The Finance Committee vote followed an agreement last week between Republicans and a section of committee Democrats on the terms of the TPA legislation after protracted talks between the committee chairman, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and the ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon.

The House Ways and Means Committee was to begin work on the legislation Thursday, its chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, announced. Ryan participated in the talks with Hatch and Wyden and signed off on the deal.

The bill would give the president authority to negotiate trade agreements under provisions for fast-track congressional approval–the House and Senate would each have up-or-down votes without amendments or procedural delays–for the next three years.

As a practical matter, congressional approval of Trade Promotion Authority is both necessary to reach a trade deal and tantamount to approval of it. No country will sign a trade agreement with the United States if Congress can amend it at will or filibuster it. Congress has never rejected such an agreement in a straight up-or-down vote.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an economic and trade component of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, which involves the mobilization of US military, political and economic assets against the rising power of China. The 11 other nations now engaged in the TPP talks include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Canada.

If the 12-nation trading area is established, it will be the world’s largest; comprising 40 percent of the world’s economy- a bigger proportion than is covered by the European Union. Other Asian countries are expected to sign on if the TPP materializes. South Korea has indicated interest and the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are also potential candidates.

Discussion of TPP in official Washington has proceeded on two separate tracks, one for the corporate elite and its military-intelligence apparatus, and one for those posturing demagogically–and entirely falsely–as defenders of American workers.

Within decisive circles of the ruling elite, the main discussions have revolved around the strategic value of TPP as a means of putting pressure on China and forestalling its rise to a preeminent economic position in the Asia-Pacific region. The central question is the incorporation of Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, into the future bloc, since without Japan the TPP would be little more than an expanded NAFTA: the US, Canada and Mexico, plus a handful of second-tier Asian economies.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due in Washington April 28 for talks at the White House. He will also address a joint session of Congress. The Obama-Abe talks are expected to deal with the main roadblocks to completion of the TPP, particularly US-Japanese conflicts over agricultural and automobile trade.

The Washington Post, in an editorial that left no doubt about the real purpose of the TPP talks, called on the Obama administration to make sure the deal is finalized with Japan and Congress. The newspaper declared that “the TPP is about geopolitics as well as economics.” It added, “The key here is Japan. Aging and economically troubled, the Asian giant is looking to forge a deeper political and security commitment with the United States to offset a rising China.”

The editorial concluded with this warning: “If the TPP fails, there won’t be much left of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia.”

Vice President Joseph Biden made a similar argument April 17, addressing a group of 29 right-wing congressional Democrats, most of whom are expected to back Trade Promotion Authority. “China is a gigantic force sitting on top of all nations smaller, except India, in the region and is able to do what Russia is able to do in Europe with regard to oil,” he said. “They have significant economic power to deny access to their markets or open access to their markets for all of those regional powers.”

Promotion of the TPP is thus tied to the increasingly frenzied efforts of American imperialism to provoke regional conflicts with China and North Korea, effectively a client state of Beijing: with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyou islets; with the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, in the South China Sea; on the Burmese border with China; and between India and China.

In the media coverage of TPP, however, such considerations have been overshadowed by the fake-populist posturing of a large section of the congressional Democratic Party, along with Democratic Party-aligned groups, including the AFL-CIO, environmental groups, the Nation magazine and the pseudo-left International Socialist Organization.

These forces are opposing the trade pact on the basis of anti-Chinese chauvinism and American nationalism, seeking once again to promote the lie that US workers’ jobs and wages can be defended at the expense of the jobs and conditions of workers of other countries. Their attempt to divert working class anger over unemployment and wage cuts along reactionary nationalist channels is linked to the promotion of militarism.

On April 15, four congressional Democrats addressed a rally of more than 1,000 union officials and their supporters, chaired by United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, fresh from his betrayal of the strike by oil refinery workers.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts performed her fist-pumping ritual, shouting into the microphone, “No more secret trade deals! Are you ready to fight? No more special deals for multinational corporations! Are you ready to fight?”

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who may carry out a token challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, declared that Congress was “totally owned by billionaires and their lobbyists.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, another veteran of countless betrayals of struggles of the working class, both as president of the nearly defunct United Mineworkers of America and now as head of the labor federation, testified against the trade agreement at a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee.

Trumka had previously announced a “massive” six-figure ad campaign to lobby Congress against fast-track authority. “We can’t afford to pass fast-track, which would lead to more lost jobs and lower wages,” he declared. “We want Congress to keep its leverage over trade negotiations- not rubber-stamp a deal that delivers profits for global corporations, but not good jobs for working people.”

This demagogic rhetoric covers up the AFL-CIO’s long record of helping corporate America impose “lost jobs and lower wages” on millions of workers. The unions are not defending the interests of the working class, but rather the profits of less competitive sections of the American capitalist class, particularly in manufacturing, which fear they will lose out to foreign rivals in Japan, Mexico and other countries in the TPP talks.

As for the opposition by congressional Democrats, it is largely for show, to keep the campaign dollars flowing from the unions. When push comes to shove, a sufficient number of Democratic votes will likely be found in both the Senate and the House to offset any potential Republican defections.

Obama is playing his part in the charade, highlighting opposition among congressional Democrats while declaring them wrong on the issue. Like Warren and Sanders, Obama claims to be defending the interests of working people. “I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class,” he said in an interview Tuesday with MSNBC.

He went so far as to claim that his six-year record in office was proof that any trade deal would be good for working people–as though the slashing of wages in the auto industry, the destruction of millions of decent-paying jobs, and an economic “recovery” based on low-wage, part-time labor, enforced by drastic cuts in social benefits, had never happened.

Both factions in the ruling class “debate,” the advocates of “free trade” and the advocates of protectionism, represent sections of the capitalist class. Both are implacably hostile to the interests of working people.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/23/trad-a23.html

The Big Shift Needed for Humanity to Protect the Earth: Restore the Commons

On Earth Day, let’s talk about making the commons the organizing principle of social, economic and cultural life.

Photo Credit: Garry Knight/Flickr

At a time when ecological destruction is more dire than ever, the work of protecting the planet depends on dreamers just as much as of scientists, activists, public officials and business leaders.

Earth Day, when millions of people voice support for environmental causes, is the perfect time to recognize this. While it’s critical to wrestle power away from those who believe that corporate profits are all that matter, we won’t achieve a sustainable, just future without serious attention to imagining a different kind of world. That’s why it’s great to see artists playing an increasingly active role in the climate justice movement today.

What bold blueprints for a green planet will arise if we unleash the full power of our idealism and ingenuity? What visions of new ways to lead our lives would turn the public’s indifference about climate change into enthusiasm for building a society that is more sustainable and fair for all?

The focus for most people’s dreams would be the familiar places they love—neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, villages and countryside. Think what could happen if we declared these places commons, which belong to all of us and need to be improved for future generations. Citizens would stand up, lock arms with their neighbors and demand new political and economic directions for our society. They would open discussions with business leaders, government officials, scientists and design professionals on how to create resilient, equitable, greener communities. But the conversation wouldn’t stop there. We’d plan for less carbon and waste and poverty, but also for more fun and joy and conviviality—which are equally strategic goals.

The chief obstacle to taking action on climate change and global inequality is fear of the economic sacrifices involved for people who are relatively well off today. The decline in the West’s material consumption could be more than compensated for by a richer life filled more human connections and natural splendor. We can look forward to a world with more congenial gathering places like parks, plazas, museums, playing fields, ice cream parlors and cafes—lots and lots of cafes. Millions of acres and hectares of pavement would be torn up and transformed into gardens, performance spaces, amusement parks and affordable housing.

Cities would be greener. Suburbs would be livelier. Rural communities would be more robust. You’d see folks of all ages, incomes, and ethnicities as well as social and political inclinations sharing the same spaces, talking with one another even if not always agreeing. In short, the world would be a lot more interesting for everyone. I can’t think of many folks—from free market zealots to ardent political organizers, religious fundamentalists to confirmed hedonists—who wouldn’t jump at the chance to experience more pizzazz and spirit of community in their lives.

But the biggest change we’d see if the commons became the organizing principle of social, economic and cultural life would be felt in our own hearts and imaginations. These days, most of us experience modern life as a fragmented and alienating, which makes us retreat into ourselves as a defensive posture. We feel a growing sense of loneliness—quiet desperation in Thoreau’s phrase—that renders us passive and withdrawn at a time when it’s more important than ever to reach out.

Creating stronger, friendlier, more engaged communities is not a sideshow in the urgent cause of saving the planet. It is a central strategy. Because when people connect, roll up their sleeves and get down to work protecting the places they care about, anything is possible. There’s a whole world of people out there ready to dream big and then put it into action.

Jay Walljasper is a writer and speaker who explores how new ideas in urban planning, tourism, community development, sustainability, politics and culture can improve our lives as well as the world.

http://www.alternet.org/environment/earth-day-commons-dream?akid=13026.265072.J60ngo&rd=1&src=newsletter1035195&t=7

US troops arrive in Ukraine

US troops arrive at western Ukraine training camp

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By Patrick Martin
22 April 2015

After a convoy across Eastern Europe from their base in Vicenza, Italy, nearly 300 soldiers from the US 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in Ukraine Monday, to begin training members of the Ukrainian National Guard. They took up positions at a camp in Yavoriv, a few miles outside of the city of Lviv, the main center of western Ukraine.

The Ukrainian troops working with the Americans include members of the Azov Battalion and other units notorious for their links to neo-Nazi groups. They have marched with modified swastikas and other insignia modeled on the Waffen SS forces that fought alongside Ukrainian nationalists against the Soviet Red Army during World War II.

Operation Fearless Guardian, as the six-month US-Ukraine exercise is called, began with welcoming speeches in the pouring rain delivered by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and other officials. The US is paying the $19 million cost of the exercise as part of a billion-dollar commitment to building up the Ukrainian military against Russia.

More than 180 journalists attended the opening ceremony—a propaganda contingent nearly the size of the American military force—indicating the political context of the training mission, which pits US imperialism and NATO against Russia in an increasingly tense military-diplomatic confrontation.

Poroshenko claimed that the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine was “not only a battle for independent Ukraine, it is also a battle for freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide.” He hailed Fearless Guardian as the largest joint US-Ukrainian military exercises ever held on Ukrainian soil, declaring, “I am sure the exercises we are launching here today will be effective in reinforcing and stabilizing the situation.”

The Ukrainian president pointed to the other NATO countries participating in the exercises, including 75 British troops who are already there, 200 Canadians scheduled to arrive this summer, as well as hundreds more soldiers from neighboring Poland.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that American soldiers would share the lessons of their military operations fighting insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, which could be put to use against pro-Russian separatists. “The US special task force has experience received in operations worldwide, and we want to use this experience,” he said.

US and Ukrainian officials briefed the press about the training program, which will involve three Ukrainian battalions, each working for two months with their American trainers, bringing the total number of Ukrainian troops engaged in the exercise to 900.

US brigade operations officer Major Jose Mendez said, “We will be conducting classes on war-fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs.”

A spokesman for Ukrainian’s anti-terrorist operations command (ATO), Andriy Lysenko, said that the US troops would transfer a large quantity of military equipment in the course of the exercise, including uniforms, bullet-proof jackets, helmets, night-vision devices and communications gear.

He indicated that in addition to artillery and small-unit tactics, the training would include “tactical reconnaissance and information warfare, which includes contacts with civilians in the conflict zone and measures to counter the enemy’s information aggression.” This suggests that the US side will discuss how to deal with a hostile local population, such as that encountered by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and by Ukrainian troops in the eastern districts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

A detailed account of the training mission, published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, claimed that the US side would push for decision-making during military operations at the small-unit level, as opposed to what the newspaper described as “a top-down command structure” in place in Ukraine because of Soviet-era military training.

This suggests that the US trainers will favor the more aggressive methods of the Azov battalion and other fascist-led units. There have been repeated conflicts during the fighting in the east, because the fascist units opposed any negotiated settlement with the pro-Russian separatists, while the Poroshenko government was concerned over possible international backlash against a too-blatant display of neo-Nazi regalia.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the entry of NATO forces into Ukraine could destabilize the precarious ceasefire.

The role of the neo-Nazis has become a subject of public discussion in Canada, even before Canadian troops arrive in Ukraine for training. Some 200 soldiers from the Petawawa Garrison in Ottawa Valley will be sent to Ukraine during the summer.

At a briefing last week, Defense Minister Jason Kenney admitted that there had been discussion in the military staff about how to avoid training extremists during the exercise in Ukraine. “We’re not going to be in the business of training ad hoc militias,” he claimed. “We will only be training units of the Ukrainian National Guard and army recognized by the government of Ukraine.”

Since the neo-Nazi outfits like the Azov Battalion have been incorporated into the National Guard and are recognized by the Poroshenko regime, this assurance means nothing. A former Canadian diplomat, James Bissett, told the Canadian media, “These militias are being merged with Ukraine’s military so we won’t be able to determine who we are training.” He went on to describe the fascists as “unsavory groups that Canadian soldiers should not be associated with.”

Far from disavowing the fascist militias, Poroshenko is completely dependent on them, not merely to fight the pro-Russian forces in the east, but to serve as the shock troops for his government as it imposes right-wing austerity policies on the Ukrainian working class as a whole, as demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Ukraine’s defense ministry has named Dmitri Yarosh, head of the fascist Right Sector party, as an adviser to the military chiefs.

Meanwhile, the head of the Central Investigation Department of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Vasily Vovk, told Ukraine’s ICTV channel that there were no fascist or ultra-right parties in Ukraine at all, only individuals. “We have no information available about any kind of radical far-right parties, organizations or groups,” he claimed. “Ultra-radical groups and organizations are neither registered, nor identified.”

Vovk was attempting to walk back a statement he made April 18, noting that a group calling itself the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) had taken responsibility for the murders of pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzyna and pro-Russian former member of parliament Oleg Kalashnikov, who were both assassinated last week in Kiev.

 

The author also recommends:

Canada sending troops to Ukraine on two-year training mission
[18 April 2015]

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[1 April 2015]

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/22/ukra-a22.html

The Richest 0.01 Percent of Americans Gave 42 Percent of Political Donations in 2012

It should come as no surprise that policymakers look after the ultra-wealthy instead of the rest of us.

The top 0.01 percent of Americans gave nearly 42 percent of all political donation dollars in the 2012 election cycle.
Photo Credit: 
crowdpac

Forget the top one percent, the top 0.01 percent of Americans gave nearly 42 percent of all political donation dollars in the 2012 election cycle. Just over 30,000 individuals contributed nearly half of all money. It is no coincidence that this proportion has increased steadily as economic inequality has increased. In 1990 when I was born, the figure was just under 13 percent. If we expanded the scope to the full one percent, you can be damn sure they gave the overwhelming majority of dollars in recent years.

Candidates devote 80 percent of their time to begging rich people for money. Any extremist Republican can get a billionaire sugar daddy. The world’s eighth richest man can summon the entire Republican primary field to kiss his ring. Millionaires are now complaining about being ignored in favor of billionaires. The average member of Congress is a millionaire.

It should come as no surprise that policymakers look after the ultra-wealthy instead of the rest of us. This trend of increasing economic and political inequality shows no sign of abating. Inequality is incompatible with democracy and it has created a plutocracy. Republicans like Marco Rubio are even proposing abolishing capital gains taxes in an all-out assault on those who actually earn their income.

Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, brought to you by the Supreme Court. Honest Abe must be spinning in his grave over what his party has become.

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/richest-001-percent-americans-gave-42-percent-political-donations-2012?akid=13023.265072.igkN3U&rd=1&src=newsletter1035128&t=17

California governor’s emergency drought measures leave agribusiness giants untouched

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By Evan Blake and Glenn Ricketts
20 April 2015

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order mandating that the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) implement water rationing guidelines that must lead to “a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage through February 28th, 2016.” On Saturday, the State Water Board released draft regulations to meet this standard, which will be finalized after its May 5-6 business meeting.

The emergency regulations, taken in response to severe drought conditions, place the burden of water conservation primarily on the shoulders of working class residents, while leaving the vast agribusiness giants and other large corporate interests–which consume the overwhelming majority of the state’s water resources–untouched.

The restrictions come in response to Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimates of record low levels of mountain snow, which supply rivers and streams as it melts. On the Sierra Nevada mountain range, whose snowpack normally provides the largest yearly source of freshwater, there is a mere 1.4 inches of water content, five percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches for April 1 and 80 percent lower than the previous lows for the date in 2014 and 1977.

The State Water Board regulations released on Saturday set conservation benchmarks for the state’s 411 local water districts ranging from 8-36 percent, proportional to water usage measured last summer, and will take effect on June 1. Beginning in July, local districts that fail to meet their conservation requirement face fines of up to $10,000 per day. Under previous emergency legislation, local districts also have the authority to fine individual residents caught violating the measures up to $500 daily, effectively pitting neighbors against one another by encouraging reporting of wasteful consumers.

This is essentially a regressive and punitive consumption tax placed on working class families. A recent UCLA study found that wealthy neighborhoods in California on average use three times more water than working class communities, a discrepancy directly attributable to the acres of lawns and landscaping that adorn the properties of the rich who will have little problem absorbing any fines.

California’s agricultural industries account for roughly 80 percent of all potable water usage in the state, or 27 of the total 34 million acre feet of water used in California each year. However, Brown’s order only mentions agriculture in sections 12 and 13 and imposes no restrictions, let alone consumption fines or taxes on the largest enterprises.

Agricultural water suppliers responsible for farms 25,000 acres or larger are told to submit a “detailed drought management plan that describes the actions and measures the supplier will take to manage water demand during drought.” Those supplying water to farmland 10,000 to 25,000 acres do not need to “submit the plans to the Department until July 1st, 2016.”

The order does not require any usage reductions from agribusiness, and any measures taken by growers as part of their “drought management plan” are strictly voluntary.

When asked in an interview about the need to curtail agricultural water usage, Brown responded, “Then you’re putting government in a role of picking and choosing, maybe almonds instead of walnuts or tomatoes instead of rice. That is a big brother that outside of war or some unprecedented catastrophe shouldn’t even be considered.”

Brown has no trouble acting as “big brother” when it comes to regulating the water usage of working class residents. The governor refuses, however, to impinge in the slightest fashion on the profit interests of big business, and justifies this by insisting the present situation does not qualify as an “unprecedented catastrophe.”

In reality, it is the big agribusinesses that are holding the people of California hostage and sacrificing the needs of society to the single-minded drive to produce profits for top executives and wealthy investors. For all of Brown’s “environmentally progressive” posturing, he is nothing more than a tool of these corporate interests.

In response to the water shortage, growers are spending millions to drill ever-deeper groundwater wells, in order to gain access to the state’s natural aquifers, upon which they then draw water free of charge. As a result, naturally occurring arsenic is increasingly released from underground rock formations as the water level drops. The rising concentration of this cancer-causing element has rendered the drinking water unsafe for at least 255,000 people in 341 separate local water systems across the state, mostly in rural areas of the Central Valley.

Groundwater aquifers throughout the Central Valley, the breadbasket of California, also show high levels of carcinogenic nitrates, which stem from farming chemicals and animal waste and are linked to thyroid cancer, skin rashes, hair loss and birth defects. The region’s working class, largely Latino immigrant families, are hardest hit by aquifer contamination and spend as much as 10 percent of their already meager income on bottled water.

Governor Brown’s Executive Order absolves agribusiness for their past and ongoing crimes because he and the entire political establishment directly benefit from their patronage. Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the largest almond, pomegranate, pistachio and mandarin orange farms in the state, and who possess a combined net worth of over $4.2 billion dollars, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign coffers of each of the last three governors.

Governor Brown directly rewarded agribusiness for their support last year, when the Super PAC raising funds for his election, “Brown for Governor 2014,” donated over $5 million to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign. Proposition 1 cut the total budget for all state agencies managing and overseeing water resources from $11.14 billion down to $7.12 billion. It furthermore allows the agribusinesses to use inefficient, but largely cheaper irrigation systems, and ignore more sustainable watering or farm management practices that would produce the most substantial reductions in water usage over time.

The Resnicks donated $150,000 to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign, while the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Western Growers Service Association each donated $250,000. Prop 1 passed in November last year after its proponents spent nearly $22 million, compared to opponents of Prop. 1 who only raised $101,149.

The entire framework for attempting to achieve water savings under capitalism turns reality on its head. The State Water Board has proposed an addition to Brown’s restrictions, mandating that “The use of potable water outside of newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or micro-spray systems will be prohibited.”

If the same principle of adopting universal drip irrigation and other more efficient technologies were applied where appropriate to agriculture, the water savings would dwarf any potential savings through urban conservation. Instead, these giant and obscenely wasteful monopolies are untouchable.

As water has become scarce over the duration of the ongoing drought, agribusiness has responded by concentrating production on high value cash crops such as fruits, nuts and hay. Almonds alone use roughly 3.4 million acre feet of water per year, 10 percent of the state’s total usage, while alfalfa consumes roughly 6.8 million acre feet, or 20 percent of the state’s total usage.

Alfalfa is by far the most water intensive crop, as a majority goes toward feeding the state’s 1.8 million dairy cows, while the state’s horses come in close second. The most recent DWR data shows that 77.1 percent of all alfalfa is grown using the least efficient flood, or furrow, irrigation methods, while 17.9 percent is grown using inefficient sprinkler systems. A paltry 2.5 percent of alfalfa grown in the state uses the most water efficient drip irrigation methods. Transitioning to drip irrigation for this single crop would account for vastly more savings than those that will be realized by Brown’s Executive Order.

Statewide, 43 percent of all crops are grown using the least efficient flood irrigation, 15.4 percent using slightly more efficient sprinkler systems, and 38.4 using the most efficient drip irrigation methods. The majority of crops grown in the state would grow as well or better using drip irrigation, and shifting all applicable crops to these highly efficient watering systems would yield immense water savings.

To fundamentally address the unprecedented drought crisis requires multiple, massive public works programs for both agricultural and urban sectors. Techniques exist to sustainably produce more food while using exponentially less water, including hydroponics and aquaponics, drip irrigation for applicable crops and remote sensing farm management technologies. At the same time, the universal use of water efficient showers and toilets, drought resistant lawns composed of native species, advanced water capture and recycling systems that span entire cities and modern pipe and sewage systems would greatly improve water usage.

Far from investing the necessary resources for the repair and renovation of the country’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure, however, both Democrats and Republicans continue to starve it of necessary funds. The annual Pentagon budget- $360 billion- is 6.3 times the amount of federal funding for infrastructure even as cities across the country are plagued with bursting water pipes and drainage systems dating back to the early 20th, if not late 19th centuries.

To give precedence to the needs of society–for modern infrastructure and the application of the latest developments in science and technology to address water usage, climate change and the preservation of the planet–the outmoded capitalist system must be abolished and economic and political life reorganized based on the socialist principle of production for human need, not profit. This includes the nationalization of the major agricultural monopolies and other large corporations under the democratic control of working people. For this, a mass political movement of the working class, independent of both big business parties, fighting for a workers’ government and socialism, must be built.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/20/drou-a20.html

The banker behind Hitler’s shadow empire

Hjalmar Schacht was the most powerful minister in Germany, an economic “wizard” with a destructive plan for growth

The banker behind Hitler's shadow empire

Adolf Hitler and Hjalmar Schacht in Berlin, May 5, 1934. (Credit: AP)

By mid-1936 Spain was economically backward, socially volatile, and politically explosive. After a rebellion’s coup failed and with a dawning civil war on their hands, it was unsurprising that the two Spains sought supplies from the great powers to make up for their deficits in armaments and technology. Foreign supplies were, as of the coup, a necessary—if not sufficient—element of victory in the dawning civil war. But only one side received the decisive support that allowed it to overcome its initial material, territorial, and financial inferiority, and it was not the side that had the initial economic, geographic, and strategic advantage. Eventually fascist intervention allowed Franco to undertake another Reconquista, cleansing Spain not of Moors but of Reds. In the thirty-two months of protracted war, all powers would somehow change their original strategic stance toward the “Spanish question,” but not enough to alter the strategic decisions at the dawn of the conflict. The course of great power diplomacy was dictated, through a web of interlocked and synchronized decision making, on a momentous day: July 25, 1936.

Intentions notwithstanding, Premier Léon Blum ultimately gave in to domestic and foreign political pressures by declining José Giral’s “fraternal” aid request and choosing to preserve his own Front Populaire at the expense of the Spanish one. This sequence of events proved harmful both in terms of fact and appearance. The French did not supply the Republic but provided plenty of excuses for others to arm the Nationalists. Britain’s formal neutrality fi t its policy objective of localizing the war in Spain while containing political and naval strategic considerations. The “continental arrangement” sought by Anthony Eden’s Foreign Office would not come, yet appeasement of the dictators with an eye to Moscow had already fundamentally altered Britain’s centuries-old strategy of balancing continental hegemons. Through official inaction and selective favors to the Nationalists, the British too undermined the Republic. A similar conclusion can be reached about the behavior of the United States: FDR’s government prioritized the protection of its investments in Spain, choosing a middle path that only further isolated moderate Republicans. The Soviet Union did sell war material to Madrid, but Soviet involvement often contributed to important rifts within the Republican government. All in all, Moscow ultimately contributed less to the Republican cause than originally believed. Foreign investors understood the implications of these diplomatic decisions very early in the war, and, fearing both Republican defeat and Communist victory, lacked trust in the Republican peseta for the remainder of the conflict.

After the fateful July 25 the two decisive intervening powers in the Spanish Civil War were therefore Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Hitler and Mussolini decided on intervention in favor of Franco’s Nationalists independently, yet within hours of each other. Their analogous answer to the Spanish question would bring them closer together; but whereas Mussolini merely continued his foreign policy objective of ending the left-leaning Spanish Republic, Hitler challenged his traditional Reich diplomatic service by betting on Francisco Franco.

It would prove to be a lucrative gamble. The contrast between the two decisive fascist interventions on behalf of the Nationalists will serve to highlight the uniqueness of Nazi designs. As will become clear, Nazi intervention was not driven by ideology. While Italian leadership worried primarily about international appearances, the Germans—often ruthlessly—played their hand differently, obtaining concessions fully compatible with their domestic economic needs. In a matter of months Spain would move decisively toward becoming an informal German colony. Unlike the Führer’s daring foreign policy, Germany’s grand economic strategy did not originate with Hitler—who was uninterested and largely incompetent in financial affairs—but with a man who was, at the time of the Civil War’s outbreak, his most independent and powerful minister: Dr. Hjalmar Schacht.

The macroeconomic quandary was anything but straightforward. Although employment had seen a marked improvement since early 1933, with such depressed exports in the context of low international trade it seemed impossible to reduce the large (and growing) trade deficit. The problem was compounded by two interwoven, politically driven obsessions: maintaining the international value of the Reichsmark and resisting inflation, lest it remind the German public of bleaker Weimar days. At the time Germany’s closest trading partners were competing to see how swiftly they could abandon the “fetters” of the international gold standard of pegged exchange rates, gaining world export market share through cheaper currencies. If there was ever a currency war, this was it.Hitler’s decision on July 25, 1936, to back Franco was not the only one he took while at the Bayreuth Festival – the yearly Richard Wagner extravaganza he never missed – that shaped German involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Two years before, on July 26, 1934, he had summoned Schacht, president of Germany’s central bank, the Reichsbank, to Bayreuth for a private audience. The chancellor could ill afford to immerse himself in Wagner; the strains of a foreign exchange crisis had almost claimed the life of Minister of Economics Kurt Schmitt, who had suffered a stroke while delivering a speech. Schmitt’s subsequent leave of absence extended beyond the necessary recovery time; it appears that he was eager to find a way out of a seemingly impossible job. If this was so, one cannot blame him. Few within the Nazi regime liked the former head of insurance giant Allianz. They derided him as a symbol of outdated conservatism, a bulwark against the populist revolution so many Nazi “old fighters” hoped for. The paramilitary SAs (Sturmabteilung), for instance, sang sarcastically, “The stockbrokers are party members / and capital’s protector is Herr Schmitt.” Meanwhile Hitler and his Cabinet pressured Schmitt to deliver on their economic priorities. By mid-1934 only a few economies had begun pulling out of the Depression. German growth and employment were improving from the economic trough, but exports languished. During a publicized national tour, Schmitt called this a problem of “export fatigue”; he promoted “exports as national duty”—even if that involved “dumping” or selling abroad below cost.

Yet international markets did not buy Nazi promises; they expected a Reichsmark devaluation against the U.S. dollar and British sterling. It was neither the first nor the last time they would be disappointed. There was no way around it: in the summer of 1934 Nazi Germany faced a financial dilemma. Summoning the successful president of the Reichsbank to Bayreuth was part of Hitler’s plan to solve the crisis so that he could focus on other pressing political issues. A few weeks earlier, he had unleashed the Gestapo on his own SAs and other political rivals, including a former chancellor. The bloodbath, in what became known as the “Night of the Long Knives,” gave Hitler more power, while pleasing the conservative armed forces, the Wehrmacht. Yet managing the domestic and international backlash required the chancellor’s full attention. With Schmitt out and the financial crisis unresolved, it was time for a new face: at Bayreuth Hitler offered Schacht the Economics Ministry.

In his unashamedly unapologetic autobiography, Schacht claimed he already foresaw the dangers inherent in Hitler’s unchecked power, yet the evidence suggests that, if he did, Schacht did not let it interfere with his accumulation of power. He wanted the new portfolio to complement his second coming at the Reichsbank, and it is plausible that he had been working behind the scenes to oust Schmitt, a man he never considered his intellectual equal. But then again, who was?

The Reichsbank president was not known for his humility. It was Schacht who was credited internationally for pulling Weimar back from hyperinflationary chaos in 1924; it was Schacht who had given legitimacy to many a German delegation in 1920s and 1930s international economic conferences; it was Schacht who was a member sine qua non of the transatlantic financial establishment. The press lauded him as the “the wizard of international finance,” an epithet that he embraced wholeheartedly.

The result of the Bayreuth meeting was the financial equivalent of the papal union of temporal and spiritual power: henceforth Schacht wielded unprecedented power over both monetary and fiscal affairs. Within months foreign media began addressing him as “Germany’s economic dictator,” while expressing confidence in his able management. Markets agreed, reacting positively to his appointment. The domestic media was no less exultant. But given the many constraints on Depression-era German economics, which path was right? The answer had escaped Schmitt and his predecessor, Alfred Hugenberg. To Schacht, however, it seemed clear: the Reich’s salvation required the emphatic— or, rather, ruthless—application of nationalist economic principles he had developed throughout his meteoric career. Schacht was not the only successful economic nationalist in the Depression. Yet it was his economic framework that changed the face of the German economy, its foreign economic relations, and eventually drove the type of foreign intervention the Nazis brought to warring Spain.

Excerpted from “Hitler’s Shadow Empire: Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War” by Pierpaolo Barbieri. Copyright © 2015 by Pierpaolo Barbieri. Reprinted by arrangement with Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.

http://www.salon.com/2015/04/18/the_banker_behind_hitlers_shadow_empire/?source=newsletter

How ‘420’ Became the Big Day for Weed Smokers Across America

Happy420Mickey

The little known origins of the 4-20 holiday

This story originally ran on huffingtonpost.com and has been reprinted with permission by the author, Ryan Grim. He is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America.

Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist, routinely plays with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, now touring as “The Dead.” Having just finished a Dead show in Washington, D.C., the musician gets a pop quiz from this reporter: Where does “420” come from?

He pauses and thinks, hands on his side.  “I don’t know the real origin.  I know myths and rumors,” he says.  “I’m really confused about the first time I heard it.  It was like a police code for smoking in progress or something.  What’s the real story?” Depending on who you ask, or their state of inebriation, there are as many varieties of answers as strains of medical bud in California: It’s the number of active chemicals in marijuana; it’s tea time in Holland; it’s those numbers in that Bob Dylan song multiplied.

The origin of the term 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers every April 20, has long been obscured by the clouded memories of the folks who made it a phenomenon.

An exhaustive search chased the term back to its roots, where it was found in a lost patch of cannabis in a Point Reyes, Calif., forest.  Just as interesting as its origin, it turns out, is how it spread.

It starts with the Dead.  It was Christmas week in Oakland, 1990.  Steven Bloom was wandering through the Lot – that timeless gathering of hippies that springs up in the parking lot before every Grateful Dead concert – when a Deadhead handed him a yellow flier.

“We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt.  Tamalpais,” reads the message, which Bloom managed to dig up for this story.  Bloom, then a reporter for High Timesmagazine and now the publisher of CelebStoner.com and co-author of Pot Culture, had never heard of “420-ing” before.

The flier came complete with a 420 backstory: “420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late ’70s.  It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress.  After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb: Let’s Go 420, dude!”

Bloom reported his find in the May 1991 issue of High Times, which the magazine found in its archives and courteously offered up for this piece.  The story, though, was only partially right.  It had nothing to do with a police code, though the San Rafael part was dead on.

Indeed, a group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos by virtue of their chosen hangout spot, a wall outside the school, coined the term in 1971.  This reporter spoke with Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave’s older brother, Patrick, and confirmed their full names and identities, which they asked to keep secret for professional reasons.  ( Pot is still, after all, illegal.  )

The Waldos never envisioned that pot smokers the world over would celebrate each April 20 as a result of their foray into the Point Reyes forest.  The day has managed to become something of a national holiday in the face of official condemnation.

The code often creeps into popular culture and mainstream settings.  All of the clocks in Pulp Fiction, for instance, are set to 4:20.  In 2003, when the California legislature codified the medical marijuana law voters had approved, the bill was named SB420.

“We think it was a staffer working for [lead assembly sponsor Mark] Leno, but no one has ever fessed up,” says Steph Sherer, head of Americans for Safe Access, which lobbied on behalf of the bill.  California legislative staffers spoken to for this story say that the 420 designation remains a mystery, but that both Leno and the lead Senate sponsor, John Vasconcellos, are hip enough that they must have known what it meant.

The code pops up in Craigslist postings when fellow smokers search for “420-friendly” roommates.  “It’s just a vaguer way of saying it and it kind of makes it kind of cool,” Bloom says.  “Like, you know you’re in the know, but that does show you how it’s in the mainstream.” The Waldos do have proof, however, that they used the term in the early ’70s in the form of an old 420 flag and numerous letters with 420 references and early ’70s post marks.  They also have a story.

It goes like this: One day, in the fall of 1971 harvest time, the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station.  A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of this free bud.  The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20 p.m., after practice, to begin the hunt.

“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20.  It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis,” Waldo Steve recalls.  The first forays out were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop.  “We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ’66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Point Reyes, and smoke the entire time we were out there.  We did it week after week,” Steve says.  “We never actually found the patch.”

But they did find a useful code word.  “I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, ‘420,’ and it was telepathic.  He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it,” Steve says.  “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about.  Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.” It’s one thing to identify the origin of the term.  Indeed, Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary already include references to the Waldos.  The bigger question: How did 420 spread from a circle of California stoners across the globe?

As fortune would have it, the collapse of San Francisco’s hippie utopia in the late ’60s set the stage.  As speed freaks, thugs and con artists took over the Haight, San Francisco’s legendary hippie mecca and home to the Grateful Dead, the band picked up and moved to the Marin County hills just blocks from San Rafael High School.  “Marin Country was kind of ground zero for the counterculture,” Steve says.

The Waldos had more than just a geographic connection to the Dead.  Mark Waldo’s father took care of real estate for the Dead.  And Waldo Dave’s older brother, Patrick, managed a Dead sideband and was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh.  Patrick says that he smoked with Lesh on numerous occasions.  He couldn’t recall if he used the term 420 around him, but guessed that he must have.

The Dead, recalls Waldo Steve, “had this rehearsal hall on Front Street in San Rafael, Calif., and they used to practice there.  So we used to go hang out and listen to them play music and get high while they’re practicing for gigs.  But I think it’s possible my brother Patrick might have spread it through Phil Lesh.  And me too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing.”

The band that Patrick managed was called Too Loose to Truck and featured not only Lesh but rock legend David Crosby and acclaimed guitarist Terry Haggerty.  The Waldos also had open access to Dead parties and rehearsals.  “We’d go with [Mark’s] dad, who was a hip dad from the ’60s,” Steve says.  “There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or onstage and, of course, we’re using those phrases.  When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.”

Lesh, walking off the stage after a recent Dead concert, confirmed that Patrick is a friend and said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Waldos had coined 420.  He wasn’t sure, he said, when the first time he heard it was.  “I do not remember.  I’m very sorry.  I wish I could help,” he said.  Wavy-Gravy is a hippie icon with his own ice cream flavor and has been hanging out with the Dead for decades.  Spotted outside the concert, he was asked about the origin of 420 and suggested it began “somewhere in the foggy mists of time.  What time is it now? I say to you: eternity now.”

As the Grateful Dead toured the globe through the ’70s and ’80s, playing hundreds of shows a year, the term spread through the Dead underground.  Once High Timesgot hip to it, the magazine helped take it global.  “I started incorporating it into everything we were doing,” High Times editor Steve Hager said.  “I started doing all these big events – the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and the Cannabis Cup – and we built everything around 420.  The publicity that High Timesgave it is what made it an international thing.  Until then, it was relatively confined to the Grateful Dead subculture.  But we blew it out into an international phenomenon.”

Sometime in the early ’90s, High Times wisely purchased the Web domain 420.com.  Bloom, the reporter who first stumbled on it, gives High Times less credit.  “We posted that flier and then we started to see little references to it.  It wasn’t really much of High Times‘ doing,” he says.  “We weren’t really pushing it that hard, just kind of referencing the phrase.”

The Waldos say that, within a few years, the term had spread throughout San Rafael and was cropping up elsewhere in the state.  By the early ’90s, it had penetrated deep enough that Dave and Steve started hearing people use it in unexpected places – Ohio, Florida, Canada – and spotted it painted on signs and etched into park benches.

In 1997, the Waldos decided to set the record straight and got in touch withHigh Times.  “They said, ‘The fact is, there is no 420 [police] code in California.  You guys ever look it up?'” Blooms recalls.  He had to admit that no, he had never looked it up.  Hager flew out to San Rafael, met the Waldos, examined their evidence, spoke with others in town, and concluded they were telling the truth.  Hager still believes them.  “No one’s ever been able to come up with any use of 420 that predates the 1971 usage, which they had established.  So unless somebody can come up with something that predates them, then I don’t think anybody’s going to get credit for it other than them,” he says.

“We never made a dime on the thing,” says Dave, half boasting, half lamenting.  He does take pride in his role, though.  “I still have a lot of friends who tell their friends that they know one of the guys that started the 420 thing.  So it’s kind of like a cult celebrity thing.  Two years ago I went to the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.  High Times magazine flew me out,” says Dave.  Dave is now a credit analyst and works for Steve, who owns a specialty lending institution and lost money to the con artist Bernie Madoff.  He spends more time today, he says, composing angry letters to the SEC than he does getting high.  The other three Waldos have also been successful, Steve says.  One is head of marketing for a Napa Valley winery.  Another is in printing and graphics.  A third works for a roofing and gutter company.  “He’s like, head of their gutter division,” says Steve, who keeps in close touch with them all.  “I’ve got to run a business.  I’ve got to stay sharp,” says Steve, explaining why he rarely smokes pot anymore.  “Seems like everybody I know who smokes daily, or many times in a week, it seems like there’s always something going wrong with their life, professionally, or in their relationships, or financially or something.  It’s a lot of fun, but it seems like if someone does it too much, there’s some karmic cost to it.” “I never endorsed the use of marijuana.  But, hey, it worked for me,” Waldo Dave says.  “I’m sure on my headstone it’ll say: ‘One of the 420 guys.'”

Ryan Grim is a staff writer for Huffington Post. This story originally ran on huffingtonpost.com and has been reprinted with permission by the author. Grim is also the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-420-became-big-day-weed-smokers-across-america?akid=13020.265072.E_FP1q&rd=1&src=newsletter1035039&t=7