Chronicle of a Riot Foretold

FERGUSON, Missouri—For a hundred and eight days, through the suffocating heat that turned the city into a kiln, through summer thunderstorms and the onset of an early winter, through bureaucratic callousness and the barbs of cynics who held that the effort was of no use and the prickly fear that they might be right, a community in Ferguson, Missouri, held vigil nightly, driven by the need to validate a simple principle: black lives matter. On November 24, 2014, we learned that they do indeed matter, just less than others—less than the prerogatives of those who wield power here, less than even the cynics may have suspected.

Last night, the streets of Ferguson were congested with smoke and anger and disillusionment and disbelief, and also with batons and the malevolent percussion of gunfire and the hundreds of uniformed men brought here to marshal and display force. Just after eight on Monday evening, after a rambling dissertation from the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, that placed blame for tensions on social media and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, and ended with the announcement that the police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting Michael Brown six times, the crowd that gathered in front of the police headquarters, on South Florissant Road, began to swell. Their mood was sombre at first, but some other sentiment came to the fore, and their restraint came unmoored. A handful of men began chanting “Fuck the police!” in front of the line of officers in riot gear that had gathered in front of the headquarters. Gunshots, the first I heard that night, cut through the air, and a hundred people began drifting in the direction of the bullets. One man ripped down a small camera mounted on a telephone pole. A quarter mile away, the crowd encountered an empty police car and within moments it was aflame. A line of police officers in military fatigues and gas masks turned a corner and began moving north toward the police building. There were four hundred protesters and nearly that many police officers filling an American street, one side demanding justice, one side demanding order, both recognizing that neither of those things was in the offing that night.

What transpired in Ferguson last night was entirely predictable, widely anticipated, and, yet, seemingly inevitable. Late last week, Michael Brown, Sr., released a video pleading for calm, his forlorn eyes conveying exhaustion born of not only shouldering grief but also of insisting on civic calm in the wake of his son’s death. One of the Brown family’s attorneys, Anthony Gray, held a press conference making the same request, and announced that a team of citizen peacekeepers would be present at any subsequent protests. Ninety minutes later, the St. Louis mayor, Francis Slay, held a press conference in which he pledged that the police would show restraint in the event of protests following the grand-jury decision. He promised that tear gas and armored vehicles would not be deployed to manage protests. The two conferences bore a disturbing symmetry, an inversion of pre-fight hype in which each side deprecated about possible violence but expressed skepticism that the other side was capable of doing the same. It’s possible that, recognizing that violence was all but certain, both sides were seeking to deflect the charge that they had encouraged it. Others offered no such pretense. Days ahead of the announcement, local businesses began boarding up their doors and windows like a coastal town anticipating a hurricane. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a preëmptive state of emergency a week before the grand jury concluded its work. His announcement was roughly akin to declaring it daytime at 3 A.M. because the sun will rise eventually.

From the outset, the great difficulty has been discerning whether the authorities are driven by malevolence or incompetence. The Ferguson police let Brown’s body lie in the street for four and a half hours, an act that either reflected callous disregard for him as a human being or an inability to manage the situation. The release of Darren Wilson’s name was paired with the release of a video purportedly showing Brown stealing a box of cigarillos from a convenience store, although Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson later admitted that Wilson was unaware of the incident when he confronted the young man. (McCulloch contradicted this in his statement on the non-indictment.) Last night, McCulloch made the inscrutable choice to announce the grand jury’s decision after darkness had fallen and the crowds had amassed in the streets, factors that many felt could only increase the risk of violence. Despite the sizable police presence, few officers were positioned on the stretch of West Florissant Avenue where Brown was killed. The result was that damage to the area around the police station was sporadic and short-lived, but Brown’s neighborhood burned. This was either bad strategy or further confirmation of the unimportance of that community in the eyes of Ferguson’s authorities.

The pleas of Michael Brown’s father and Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, were ultimately incapable of containing the violence that erupted last night, because in so many ways what happened here extended beyond their son. His death was a punctuation to a long, profane sentence, one which has insulted a great many, and with damning frequency of late. In his statement after the decision was announced, President Barack Obama took pains to point out that “there is never an excuse for violence.” The man who once told us that there was no black America or white America but only the United States of America has become a President whose statements on unpunished racial injustices are a genre unto themselves. Perhaps it only seems contradictory that the deaths of Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and John Crawford and Michael Brown—all unarmed black men shot by men who faced no official sanction for their actions—came during the first black Presidency.* Or perhaps the message here is that American democracy has reached the limits of its elasticity—that the symbolic empowerment of individuals, while the great many remain citizen-outsiders, is the best that we can hope for. The air last night, thick with smoke and gunfire, suggested something damning of the President.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post conflated the names of Ezell Ford and John Crawford.

Monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors — they’re the central part of the problem.

Tech Companies Are Peddling a Phony Version of Security, Using the Govt. as the Bogeyman

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This week the USA Freedom Act was blocked in the Senate as it failed to garner the 60 votes required to move forward. Presumably the bill would have imposed limits on NSA surveillance. Careful scrutiny of the bill’s text however reveals yet another mere gesture of reform, one that would codify and entrench existing surveillance capabilities rather than eliminate them.

Glenn Greenwald, commenting from his perch at the Intercept, opined:

“All of that illustrates what is, to me, the most important point from all of this: the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the U.S. government is . . . the U.S. government. Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power, and that’s particularly true of empires.”

Anyone who followed the sweeping deregulation of the financial industry during the Clinton era, the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999 which effectively repealed Glass-Steagall and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, immediately sees through Greenwald’s impromptu dogma. Let’s not forget the energy market deregulation in California and subsequent manipulation that resulted in blackouts throughout the state. Ditto that for the latest roll back of arms export controls that opened up markets for the defense industry. And never mind all those hi-tech companies that want to loosen H1-B restrictions.

The truth is that the government is more than happy to cede power and authority… just as long as doing so serves the corporate factions that have achieved state capture. The “empire” Greenwald speaks of is a corporate empire. In concrete analytic results that affirm Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Party Competition, researchers from Princeton and Northwestern University conclude that:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Glenn’s stance reveals a broader libertarian theme. One that the Koch brothers would no doubt find amenable: the government is suspect and efforts to rein in mass interception must therefore arise from the corporate entities. Greenwald appears to believe that the market will solve everything. Specifically, he postulates that consumer demand for security will drive companies to offer products that protect user privacy, adopt “strong” encryption, etc.

The Primacy of Security Theater

Certainly large hi-tech companies care about quarterly earnings. That definitely explains all of the tax evasion, wage ceilings, and the slave labor. But these same companies would be hard pressed to actually protect user privacy because spying on users is a fundamental part of their business model. Like government spies, corporate spies collect and monetize oceans of data.

Furthermore hi-tech players don’t need to actually bullet-proof their products to win back customers. It’s far more cost effective to simply manufacture the perception of better security: slap on some crypto, flood the news with public relation pieces, and get some government officials (e.g. James ComeyRobert Hannigan, and Stewart Baker) to whine visibly about the purported enhancements in order to lend the marketing campaign credibility. The techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley are masters of Security Theater.

Witness, if you will, Microsoft’s litany of assurances about security over the years, followed predictably by an endless train of critical zero-day bugs. Faced with such dissonance it becomes clear that “security” in high-tech is viewed as a public relations issue, a branding mechanism to boost profits. Greenwald is underestimating the contempt that CEOs have for the credulity of their user base, much less their own workers.

Does allegedly “strong” cryptography offer salvation? Cryptome’s John Young thinks otherwise:

“Encryption is a citizen fraud, bastard progeny of national security, which offers malware insecurity requiring endless ‘improvements’ to correct the innately incorrigible. Its advocates presume it will empower users rather than subject them to ever more vulnerability to shady digital coders complicit with dark coders of law in exploiting fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Business interests, having lured customers in droves with a myriad of false promises, will go back to secretly cooperating with government spies as they always have: introducing subtle weaknesses into cryptographic protocols, designing backdoors that double as accidental zero-day bugs, building rootkits which hide in plain sight, and handing over user data. In other words all of the behavior that was described by Edward Snowden’s documents. Like a jilted lover, consumers will be pacified with a clever sales pitch that conceals deeper corporate subterfuge.

Ultimately it’s a matter of shared class interest. The private sector almost always cooperates with the intelligence services because American spies pursue the long-term prerogatives of neoliberal capitalism; open markets and access to resources the world over. Or perhaps someone has forgotten the taped phone call of Victoria Nuland selecting the next prime minister of Ukraine as the IMF salivates over austerity measures? POTUS caters to his constituents, the corporate ruling class, which transitively convey their wishes to clandestine services like the CIA. Recall Ed Snowden’s open letter to Brazil:

“These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

To confront the Deep State Greenwald is essentially advocating that we elicit change by acting like consumers instead of constitutionally endowed citizens. This is a grave mistake because profits can be decoupled from genuine security in a society defined by secrecy, propaganda, and state capture. Large monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors. They’re the central part of the problem. We shouldn’t run to the corporate elite to protect us. We should engage politically to retake and remake our republic.

 

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis.

http://www.alternet.org/tech-companies-are-peddling-phony-version-security-using-govt-bogeyman?akid=12501.265072.yCLOb-&rd=1&src=newsletter1027620&t=29&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

One of Largest Transfers of Public Wealth to Private Hands: Our Staggering War Economy

The cost of our massive military and endless wars is almost beyond comprehension, and non stop

The money should stagger you. Journalist James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, a revelatory new book about the scammers, counterterrorism grifters, careerist bureaucrats, torture con artists, and on-the-make privatizers of our post-9/11 national security state, suggests that the best figure for money spent on Washington’s war on terror, including the Iraq and Afghan wars, is four trillion dollars. If you add in the bills still to come for the care of American soldiers damaged in that global war, the figure is undoubtedly significantly higher. In the process, an array of warrior corporations were mobilized to go into battle alongside the Pentagon and the country’s intelligence and homeland security outfits. This, in turn, transformed the global struggle into a highly privatized affair and resulted, as Risen vividly documents, in “one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history.” Halliburton offshoot KBR, for instance, took remarkable advantage of the opportunity and became “the largest single Pentagon contractor of the entire war,” more or less monopolizing the Iraq war zone from 2003 to 2011 and “receiving a combined total of $39.5 billion in contracts.”

So our four trillion dollar-plus investment gave rise to a crew of war profiteers that Risen dubs “the oligarchs of 9/11” and who are now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.  And how has it gone for the rest of us? If you remember, the goal of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (or, in one of the worst acronyms of the new century, GWOT) was initially to wipe out terror outfits across the planet. At the time, enemy number one, al-Qaeda, was the most modest of organizations with thousands of followers in Afghanistan and scattered groups of supporters elsewhere. Thirteen years and all those dollars later, Islamic jihadist outfits that qualify as al-Qaeda branches, wannabes, look-alikes, or offshoots have run rampant. Undoubtedly, far more foreign jihadis — an estimated 15,000 — have traveled to Syria alone to fight for the Islamic State and its new “caliphate” than existed globally in 2001.

Some recent figures from the Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace give us a basis for thinking about what’s happened in these years.  In 2013 alone, deaths related to “terrorism” — that is, civil/sectarian conflict in areas significantly destabilized directly or indirectly by U.S. military action (mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria) — rose by a soaring 61%.  The number of countries that saw more than 50 such fatalities (the U.S. not among them) expanded from 15 to 24 in the same period. So raise your glass to GWOT.  If nothing else, it’s managed to ensure its own profitable, privatized future for years to come.

But here’s a question: After 13 years of the war on terror, with terror running rampant, isn’t a name change in order? A simple transformation of a single preposition would bring that name into greater sync with reality: the war for terror.

And here’s a seldom-mentioned guarantee that leaps directly from a post by TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. Given Washington’s bedrock assumptions about the Greater Middle East, we should have no problem kissing another four trillion taxpayer dollars goodbye in the years to come. Eight trillion? If that isn’t a record, what is?  Some “USA! USA!” chants might be in order.

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/one-largest-transfers-public-wealth-private-hands-our-staggering-war-economy?akid=12500.265072.NVAXH0&rd=1&src=newsletter1027589&t=19&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

“An injury to all”: the class struggle is back in Italy

by Alfredo Mazzamauro on November 24, 2014

Post image for “An injury to all”: the class struggle is back in Italy

As Renzi’s center-left government intensifies the project of neoliberal restructuring, a wave of self-organized class struggle takes off across Italy.

Back in 2006, Warren Buffet, the notorious billionaire speculator, confessed during an interview that: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Since then, that class warfare has been ever tougher in Italy. Since 2000, real wages have been decreasing, registering an even sharper downturn since the beginning of the crisis in 2007-’08. In real terms, wages nowadays are as high as in 1990.

At the same time, unemployment has skyrocketed. The number of unemployed people was registered at 3.23 million in September 2014. Italy’s jobless rate increased to 12.6 percent in the same month, while its youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 42.9 percent. In September 1983, the two rates were respectively 7.5 and 25.9 percent, respectively. The Gini coefficient, the most common measure of economic inequality, has gone back to the same levels of the 1970s. In 2012 it averaged out at 34.9 per cent, a level as high as in 1979.

But probably, since the beginning of the last economic crisis (2007-08), the most evident indicator of the ongoing class war in Italy has been the increasing disposal income of the bourgeoisie and the steadily decreasing income of the working class, which shows to what extent the crisis has been an opportunity for the rich to privatize profits and socialize losses.

A Clear Political Project

The ongoing class war in Italy is not a byproduct of “natural” global economic developments. On the contrary, it is a clear political project carried out by the center-right and center-left governments that have ruled Italy for the last thirty years. The aim of this project has been to consistently deteriorate the improvements in the living and working conditions that the working-class movement obtained during the revolutionary wave of the 1970s, with the goal recreating the bosses’ mirage of cheap and disciplined labor that could attract international capital to Italy.

Particularly, since the beginning of the last economic crisis, the neoliberal project set up by the Italian bourgeoisie along with its European partners in the 2011 memorandum has become the political agenda of the last three governments, led respectively by Monti, Letta and Renzi (none of whom, incidentally, were elected by the Italian people).

The first of the three sections which composed the memorandum has been the enforcement of austerity measures meant to drastically reduce the state’s expenses for local administrations, infrastructure, welfare, schools and healthcare. These measures triggered the fierce resistance of the student movement back in 2008-’11 against the Gelmini school reform, and the outburst of the anti-austerity protests more recently focused on the housing problem.

The second section has consisted in a wave of privatization, which has involved mainly the transport, telecommunication, and post services against which, last winter, tough protests were organized by workers and users — protests that are likely to rise up again very soon.

The third and final section of the memorandum deals with the labor market and aims to entirely deregulate it. At the moment the current government is trying to enforce this labor policy through a package of laws called the Jobs Act. This agenda constitutes the political manifesto of the Italian bourgeoisie — to the extent that the President of the Italian Industrialists Association (Confindustria), Giorgio Squinzi, recently referred to Renzi’s labor policy as “a dream come true.”

A Wave of Mobilization

The effort to pass the Jobs Act in Parliament has triggered a wave of mobilization in the working class all over the country. Even the until-recently innocuous trade union CGIL was forced to step in and call for a huge demonstration in Rome at the end of October and a general strike on December 5. In the meantime, workers are striking and protesting as they have not done for many years, against the Jobs Act and in defense of their jobs.

This violent attack against workers is rightly understood as the next step of a political project aimed to impose precarity as the standard living condition for all the lower classes — “all those who produce and reproduce urban life.” That is why it was possible to unify the struggles which cross society against the school reform and the austerity measures, particularly the right to housing, on November 14.

On that date, along with the general strike called by most of the main rank-and-file unions and by the biggest metalworker union, FIOM, thousands and thousands of people took the streets with the goal of blocking the circulation of goods and people in the main Italian cities. The day of mobilization started early in the morning with blockades at the entrance of several warehouses and working places.

In Pisa, the workers of AVR blocked the entrance to the offices of the subcontracted cleaning company which is seeking to worsen the working conditions and reduce the wages. Later on, the same workers along with local activists joined the workers of GB at the local airport where they had to clash with cops to win the right to protest against the working conditions imposed by a company which is gaining millions of euros out of the management of the airport.

As for the students, lessons were interrupted in many universities, including the Federico II University in Naples. In Rome, the housing action movement occupied the offices of the local water provider, ACEA, to protest against the interruption of water service for users who are insolvent, while other activists along with many families in need of housing squatted a huge empty building, the former headquarters of a big Italian banking group, BNL.

At the same time, in Naples the registry offices were occupied against the Lupi plan which refuses to grant legal residence to those living in squatted houses. The Florentine housing action movement occupied a central junction paralyzing all traffic in the north of the city, the area with the highest percentage of squatted spaces.

In the middle of the morning, rallies and marches took place all over the country. Turin, Milan, Bergamo, Brescia, Genoa, Padua, Verona, Treviso, Venice, Bologna, Rimini, Florence, Pisa, Massa, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Olbia are only some of the many cities which were crossed by thousands of students, workers and activists throughout the country. All the demonstrations marched through the main roads to block the circulation of goods and workers over urban space as much as possible.

Clashes with riot police occurred in many cities, the harshest in Milan, Pisa and Padua. In several cases, such as Naples and Florence, the demonstrations ended or passed by the offices of the Industrialist Association, which was targeted by the demonstrators. This association has been rightly understood by the class movement as the real enemy which, along with Renzi’s government, is responsible for the current labor policy and precarity in every aspect of the life of the lower classes.

Resistance, Unity, Organization

Three words capture the political agenda that the working class and the social movements are currently trying to put into practice. The first one is resistance. Resistance against the political project that the Italian and European ruling class is enforcing over our lives. The laboring classes need to be faithful in their means of opposition, and not to think that the battle is already lost.

The second one is unity. Unity among those “whose only possession of significant material value is their labor-power.” This is the strong message which comes up from the November 14 day of mobilization, as the decision of the main rank-and-file union of the logistic sector, SiCobas, to march along with the metalworkers in a huge demonstration in Milan clearly shows.

The third is organization. The current enthusiasm cannot be enough to win the battle against Renzi’s government and its policy of enforced precarity. There is a need to organize the action of the subaltern classes in the long run and take advantage of different forms of direct action.

A concrete example of this political counter-project was put in place in Livorno where the recently formed Coordination of Workers of Livorno has been able to mobilize the whole city in support of their struggle against the loss of more than 2.000 jobs in the wider urban area. Last Saturday, notwithstanding the heavy rain, more than 3.000 workers, students, football supporters, housing-action activists and common people took to the street in an outstanding march which crossed the city, while most of the small retailers were closed in solidarity with the workers.

The Coordination in Livorno is a self-organized initiative which brings together hundreds of workers, mostly rank-and-file union representatives, from all over the urban area of Livorno. The concept behind this project is as simple as it is powerful: workers have common interests and their struggles are stronger when they are united regardless of who their employer is and which economic sector they are employed in. Despite the fact that the Coordination is only a few months old, it has already been able to put the labor issue at the forefront of the political agenda of the city.

The Livorno experience has proven that grassroots movements of workers, students and common people can be effective and can become the voice of the majority of the population. However, obstacles and enemies are opposing this possible development. A growing racist anger, which tends to divide migrants from the rest of the class, is growing in the suburbs of the Italian metropolises promoted by fascist groups, such as Casa Pound, and xenophobic parties, such us the Lega Nord, all over Italy, as the recent cases of Bologna and Rome demonstrate.

Nonetheless, the days of mobilization of November 14 and 15 open a path to be followed in the “everyday gray labor” in the working places and in the neighborhoods, and at a national level in the coming days of countrywide struggle — such as the general strike called by the CGIL on December 12. The class struggle is back in Italy and will shake our country for some time to come.

Alfredo Mazzamauro is a PhD researcher in History at the European University Institute in Florence.

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Obama announces right-wing immigration “reform” in national address

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By Patrick Martin
21 November 2014

US President Barack Obama delivered a nationally televised address on Thursday night, giving a preview of an executive order on immigration to be signed and made public on Friday.

As with most speeches by Obama, Thursday’s remarks exuded hypocrisy and cynicism. The proposal that Obama is implementing is thoroughly right-wing. His comments combined empty homilies describing the United States as a “nation of immigrants” with proclamations that the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrant workers must “play by the rules” and be held “accountable.”

The program outlined by Obama would cover less than half of the 11-12 million undocumented immigrant workers and children now in the US, with the remainder subject to immediate detention and deportation as “illegals.” In its six years in office, the Obama administration has already deported more immigrants than any government in US history.

Despite the howls of “amnesty” from sections of the Republican Party, and praise for the White House from its media backers and Democratic Party-affiliated Latino groups, Obama’s executive order is anything but a green light for immigrant workers seeking legal status, economic security and recognition of their human rights.

As Obama explained in his speech, the bulk of the 5 million or so immigrants who qualify for non-deportation and work permits must have lived in the United States more than five years and have children who are American citizens or legal residents. They must register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), pass a criminal background check, and pay any back taxes. In return, they will “be able to stay temporarily,” Obama said.

Obama’s speech was entirely within the right-wing framework of official American politics, in which workers who come to the United States fleeing poverty and dictatorship—for which American imperialism is principally responsible—and take the hardest and worst-paid jobs are demonized as criminals who must be “held accountable.” Meanwhile, the true criminal class in America, the financial aristocracy that controls both the Democratic and Republican parties, amasses untold and unearned wealth.

Referring to immigrant workers, Obama said, “All of us take offense at anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America.” Who is he talking about? Who is reaping rewards without taking responsibility?

Such terms apply with much greater justice to the parasitic ruling elite that Obama and the congressional Republicans and Democrats represent. These gentlemen were bailed out to the tune of trillions following the 2008 financial crash. But no banker or hedge fund mogul has had to repay these infusions of taxpayers’ money or been held accountable for the financial manipulations and fraud that wiped out the jobs and living standards of tens of millions of working people.

“Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable,” Obama declared. The Obama administration has refused to apply this standard to bankers and speculators who broke laws against swindling, or CIA agents who broke laws against torture, or top officials of the Bush administration who waged illegal wars and lied to the American people. And, of course, the Obama administration itself operates outside the law, trampling on the US constitution in its assertion of unlimited presidential powers to spy on, arrest, detain and even assassinate American citizens.

Under the Obama plan, the majority of workers who have entered the country without legal documents will still be treated as criminals, to be expelled from the country as soon as they are discovered. The four million to five million covered by the executive order will become a federally regimented cheap labor force. Those who register with the DHS will gain only temporary security, subject to the decisions of the next president—or Obama himself if circumstances change in the next two years—in which case the DHS database will become an invaluable resource for the resumption of mass roundups, detentions and deportations.

Obama hailed as a model the reactionary immigration bill passed last year by a bipartisan majority in the US Senate, while complaining that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had refused to bring it to a vote. This bill placed its main emphasis on border security while establishing a draconian 17-year-long process through which some undocumented workers could gain citizenship.

The administration has already implemented many of the Senate bill’s border security measures. Obama boasted of the record number of federal agents, sensors and drones mobilized on the US-Mexico border and announced, as the first part of his executive order, even further militarization: “We’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.”

White House officials said that some provisions of the Senate bill, such as the citizenship process and special provisions for temporary agricultural workers, were beyond the president’s legal authority to enact in an executive order. The immigration measure was drafted under the rubric of “prosecutorial discretion,” in which the president, as chief executive, can decide to prioritize enforcement of immigration laws against particular categories of immigrants, given that the federal government lacks the resources to immediately round up 12 million people.

Obama spent a considerable portion of his speech defining how narrow the executive order would be, including denying Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits to immigrants given work permits.

“This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently,” he said. “It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive—only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”

As in many of his policy statements, Obama sought to present his immigration order as a happy medium between two extremes. “Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he claimed. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability—a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

“Mass amnesty” is, in fact, the only policy compatible with democratic principles. All workers should have the right to live in whatever country they choose with full citizenship rights. But under the capitalist system, capital is globally mobile while the working class is imprisoned within the borders of the nation-state.

Obama’s claim that mass deportation is “contrary to our character” conceals a contradiction. Certainly, for the vast majority of working people, the police state measures that would be required to round up and deport 12 million people, ripping apart millions of families, would be abhorrent. (By one estimate, 13 percent of all school children in California and Texas have at least one undocumented parent).

But for the US ruling elite, and for the Obama administration in particular, “rounding up millions” is perfectly conceivable. In its six years in office, the Obama administration has rounded up nearly three million immigrants already. Large sections of the Republican Party advocate detention and expulsion of millions more.

The dispute between the parties, insofar as it exists, reflects divisions within the ruling elite over how politically explosive such an operation would be and how disruptive of the functioning of large sections of the US economy that depend on superexploited immigrant labor.

Sections of the Republican Party, particularly those linked to the ultra-right Tea Party groups, have long used demagogic attacks on immigrants as a political weapon. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma suggested that any action by Obama perceived as pro-immigrant could touch off vigilante-style actions.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” he told USA Today. “You’re going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. You could see violence.”

Obama made repeated appeals to ultra-right sentiment in the course of his television speech, pleading with Republicans that disagreement over immigration should not prevent collaboration in other policy areas once they take full control of Congress in January.

There is particular concern in Corporate America that the immigration issue could disrupt passage of a federal budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which began October 1. A continuing resolution to fund the government expires December 11, and House and Senate Republican leaders have been at pains to reassure Wall Street that there will be no repetition of the 2013 temporary shutdown of the government and no default on federal debt payments.

The Los Angeles Times, in one of the few press commentaries that cut through the pretense of huge disagreements between the two parties, noted Thursday that “the strong reaction by Republican leaders has less to do with opposition to the nuts and bolts of the president’s immigration policy and more to do with fear and anger that the issue will derail the agenda of the new Republican majority before the next Congress even convenes.” This includes making deals with Obama over pro-business measures on taxes, trade and energy policy.

 

 

US government, corporations preparing new offensive against workers’ pensions

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By Jerry White
20 November 2014

The release of the annual report of the US Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is being seized upon by the media and politicians of both parties to press for a new round of devastating cuts to pension benefits for tens of millions of retired industrial and other private-sector workers.

The PBGC is the government insurer for 24,000 defined benefit pension plans, which cover more than 41 million workers, retirees and their dependents. On Monday, the government-backed corporation released a report showing that the long-term projected deficit of its multiemployer program rose by $34 billion in fiscal year 2014 to a record $42 billion. This was largely due to potential losses from shoring up two large pension funds that could become insolvent in the next decade.

Although they were not named in the report, the two funds are reportedly the Teamsters Central States fund and the United Mine Workers fund, which together cover some 10 million current and retired workers. The precarious position of the funds, which are jointly administered by the two unions and trucking and mining companies, is due to the wiping out of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which has left many companies with more retirees than active workers. The pension funds were also hit by stock market losses.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal zeroed in on a single paragraph in the report warning that the PBGC could go broke over the next eight years if the current rate of premium payments from corporations continues. The “risk of insolvency” would rise over time, the report said, “exceeding 50 percent in 2022 and reaching 90 percent by 2025.” It added, “When the program becomes insolvent, PBGC will be unable to provide financial assistance to pay guaranteed benefits in insolvent plans.”

Nowhere in the media or political commentary on the report was there any suggestion that the government should carry out a Wall Street-style bailout of the pension insurer. The Post noted that that such a bailout was a “political non-starter” in Washington.

Nor was there any suggestion that Congress should mandate a major increase in contributions from the big corporations, which have extracted billions from the labor of workers while deliberately diverting funds from their pension plans and keeping them chronically underfunded.

Instead, in the name of “saving” the pensions, the capitalist media is demanding savage cuts in the workers’ benefits.

The Wall Street Journal wrote Tuesday that any solution to the agency’s “long-running problems” would likely include “sharp benefit cuts for the plans.” The Post concurred on the same day, saying, “Unless Congress makes changes, which could include raising insurance premiums for multiemployer plans or the controversial move of allowing for preemptive pension cuts in struggling plans,” the PBGC will go bankrupt.

One proposal, cited approvingly by the Wall Street Journal, came from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. A 30 percent benefit cut on average for current retirees, the report said, would allow the Teamsters plan “to remain solvent indefinitely and increase the aggregate welfare of plan participants.”

Leading Democrats and Republicans added their voices to the choir demanding action.

The annual report was “a sober reminder that time is running out” said Congressman John Kline (Republican from Minnesota), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The multiemployer pension system “is a ticking time bomb that will inflict a lot of pain on workers, employers, taxpayers and retirees if Congress fails to act,” he added.

Senate Finance Committee leaders Ron Wyden (Democrat from Oregon) and Orrin Hatch (Republican from Utah) issued a joint statement saying they remained “very concerned” about the multiemployer system.

As usual, the trade unions are willing accomplices in the crime being prepared against the working class. According to the Washington Post, “A coalition of unions and businesses has been pushing for reforms, including more flexible coverage structures and pension cuts in financially struggling plans.”

Last year, “a commission made up of representatives from employer and labor organizations,” the Wall Street Journal reported, issued a proposal “that would include the extreme step of cutting pension benefits for some current retirees in the most troubled plans.”

One such joint labor-management body is the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, which includes the presidents of the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO’s construction trades, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It has called for congressional action, warning that employers planned to exit the system and “leave retirees behind.”

The union executives could care less about their retired members. These unions have spent decades collaborating in gutting pension benefits in order to boost the corporations’ profits. The threatened liquidation of multibillion-dollar pension investment funds, however, threatens the income and portfolios of the aspiring capitalists who control the unions.

There is an element of deliberate crisis mongering in the PBGC report. The shaky position of the agency has long been known and nothing has been done about it.

Over the last three decades, more and more corporations have jettisoned their employer-paid plans—one of the most important gains won by the working class in the mass industrial battles of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. All but a few have forced current workers onto employee-paid 401(K) plans subject to the vagaries of the stock market.

Earlier this year, aerospace and defense giant Boeing worked in tandem with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) to force 33,000 IAM workers onto 401 (K) plans. The company’s top executive, Jim McNerney, has a special retirement plan valued at $42 million, which will provide him with over $270,000 per month after he quits.

It has long been a standard business practice for American corporations to dump their pension obligations onto the PBGC through bankruptcy. Since Congress established the PBGC as part of the 1975 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the government-backed corporation has paid out billions to cover pension plans terminated by giant corporations, particularly in the steel and airline industries.

As millions of workers know through painful, first-hand experience, when the PBGC takes over an insolvent fund, the workers are hit with brutal benefit cuts. Congress limits the amount the agency can pay to retirees to less than $13,000 a year, effectively condemning the workers to poverty. A worker with a very modest annual pension of $20,000 after 30 years of labor stands to lose more than $7,000 a year—a cut of over 35 percent.

The decks are being cleared for the next stage in the relentless, bipartisan assault on the working class. Private-sector pensions will be targeted along with other supposed “ticking bombs” such as Social Security, Medicare and public-sector pensions.

The nationwide offensive against the pensions of state and municipal workers has already been launched with precedent-setting rulings by federal bankruptcy judges in Detroit and Stockton, California declaring null and void provisions of state constitutions guaranteeing the pension benefits of public employees.

Last week, a federal bankruptcy judge gave final approval to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement, which imposes huge cuts in the pensions and health benefits of retired city workers and imposes 401(k) plans on active workers. This week, the PBGC report has signaled the widening of the attack to include the private sector.

The official justification is the claim that society simply cannot afford to keep the “overgenerous promises” made to workers in an earlier, more prosperous period. The situation is supposedly made worse by the problem of workers living too long after retirement and imposing an unsustainable burden on the rest of the population.

These are self-serving lies pumped out by the ruling class through its political servants and media apologists. Since the financial crash of 2008, the Obama administration’s pro-business policies of bank bailouts, virtually free money for the banks from the Federal Reserve, wage and benefit cuts for auto workers, corporate tax cuts and deregulation have transferred trillions from the working class to the super-rich.

The share of the gross domestic product going to corporate profits is at the highest level since World War II, while the share going to workers’ wages is at the lowest. American corporations are sitting on an estimated cash hoard of $1.5 trillion and using it for stock buybacks, executive bonuses and mergers and acquisitions that are occurring at their most frenzied pace since 2007.

The total $60 billion deficit of the PGBC could be wiped out overnight by using only a portion of the $360 billion being hoarded by tech giants Google, Apple, Cisco and Microsoft, or employing one-tenth of the annual Pentagon budget.

Instead, the financial oligarchy that controls the economy and both big-business parties is determined to steal the pensions that tens of millions need to survive and return workers to the dark days when they labored without end until they died.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/20/pbgc-n20.html

The One Party Planet: an analysis of the world today

by James Wan on November 19, 2014

Post image for The One Party Planet: an analysis of the world todayHas the time come to revive the radical political pamphlet? /The Rules’ critique of neoliberalism as presented in The One Part Planet proves that it is.

Back when I was at university and feeling particularly idle one night, I had an idea to test my college magazine’s “we-publish-anything” policy and also have a bit of fun. I decided to make up a bunch of absurd ‘facts’ and submit them under the heading Did You Know?. Chuckling to myself, I made-up ‘facts’ such as: “Bhutan has two national flags: one for when it’s sunny, one for when it’s raining”, “In the Malay language, there are 4 words for ‘fridge magnet’ but none for ‘fridge“, and “There are no mice in Nicaragua”.

The whole thing was clearly silly and my intention was that readers might just about believe the first claim − that “pork is a mild aphrodisiac” − and maybe even the first few, but as the facts got increasingly ludicrous, they would realize the exercise had been a hoax all along.

Once the magazine was published the next week then, I was astonished to realize that barely anyone had got the joke. Everyone of course had instantly known that some of the facts were complete nonsense − the scientists, for example, knew full well that iguanas don’t have seven lungs, and I doubt any film buffs really believed the working title for Jaws had been ‘What a Big Shark!’ − but while they all discarded certain specific claims, very few questioned the validity of the list as a whole. The facts they knew to be false, they discarded; the rest they still took at face value.

 

 

 

 

 

I tell this story not just as a cautionary tale to any editors who receive submissions from me late at night, but to highlight one essential cognitive bias. Namely, that it is not particularly difficult to be skeptical towards individual details − the numbered ‘facts’ − but it is rare for that skepticism to broaden out into a questioning of underlying assumptions. In this case, the premise of the list as a whole. Sometimes all those trees just end up obscuring the wood.

It is this tendency that partly accounts for why so few people realized my list of made-up facts was complete bullshit, but which also helps explain one the conundrums of the progressive movement: that despite widespread acknowledgement of huge global injustices and inequalities, the underlying assumptions of the system tend to get an easy ride.

There is plenty of rightful outrage at corruption, endemic poverty and systemic exploitation, yet from most political discussions to mainstream media debates, and from well-meaning ethical consumerist actions to celebrity-sponsored charity campaigns, there appears to be an implicit acceptance that what we’re doing on a broad scale is basically fine. The problem, apparently, is that we need to do it a little better, tweak it here and there, or add something else on top.

It is well-known that workers’ rights in many places are systematically trampled on; that a billion people are chronically malnourished even though we produce enough food to feed the world one and a half times over; that the governments of developing countries lose at least $1 trillion each year through tax havens; that levels of greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating despite an apparent commitment from world leaders to decrease them; that the richest 1% of the world own half of all global wealth; and that, according to World Bank figures, 80% of the world’s population live on less than $10/day while 60% live on less than $5.

All this is acknowledged and provokes anger. But in the same way my college readers were skeptical of the claim that “Pope Benedict used to be a professional arm-wrestler” yet never questioned the integrity of the list as a whole, it is rare that outrage at global injustices translates into doubt at the efficacy of the system itself. It seems that no matter how extreme, numerous or engrained the inequality, poverty or oppression, the idea that large-scale change is necessary is still simply ‘too radical’ for most.

Of course, it is not just our cognitive biases that prevent a greater acceptance of progressive views. Advocates of market liberalism have been hugely successful in painting their ideology as non-ideological common sense. But the question remains: if knowledge of deep global problems is not enough to make people question the wisdom of the status quo, what can?

There are certainly many possible answers to this question, and any struggle of ideas has to be waged at several levels on several fronts. Some strategies will no doubt need to be smart and innovative, drawing on new forms of communication and technology. But at the same time, perhaps we also need to look back to older tried and tested tools: things like the humble political pamphlet for instance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is exactly what the activist organization /The Rules has done with The One Party Planet, a 60-page pamphlet that provides a detailed critique of neoliberalism and the unbridled power of the 1% (or rather 0.01%). We are essentially a “one party planet”, it argues, bringing together several different strands of reasoning and evidence, because the global political and economic elite all essentially hold the same worldview.

From American CEOs to Chinese party officials, and from African presidents to Russian oligarchs, there is an overwhelming consensus that unrestrained selfish competition is not only the best, but the only possible, way to organize society. This is not a conspiracy concocted in dark smoky rooms, and the individuals at the top don’t share some grand master plan. But the internal logic of their actions is one and the same, and this has contributed, the pamphlet argues, to a situation in which an unelected elite wield incredible influence over politics and inequality has reached outlandish levels.

In response to this, The One Party Planet culminates in a carefully argued call for a global uprising. This might seem like a contradiction − how can you carefully call for an uprising? − but that is perhaps where the power of the political pamphlet, and this one in particular, lies. Unlike books, which can be long and detached; newspaper articles, which can be brief and fleeting; and documentaries, which are received somewhat passively, the political pamphlet speaks directly to the reader with enough time and space to make a clear and detailed argument. It can make the apparently radical seem self-evident.

And perhaps this is one of the greatest weapons the progressive movement has right now. After all, the evidence and statistics about poverty, inequality and corruption are increasingly being understood and accepted − the facts have become mainstream. Maybe what we need first and foremost now then is fairly simple − something that will sit us down, talk us through it, and connect the dots. Something that can make the case that the foremost global problems of our age are not isolated but interconnected, not superficial but structural, and not inevitable but man-made. The One Party Planet does this with impressive depth, humility and conviction.

Download the pamphlet here

James Wan is the Senior Editor of Think Africa Press. His work has featured in a wide range of publications and in 2013 he was shortlisted for The Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition. You can follow him on twitter at @jamesjwan

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