The True History of Libertarianism in America: A Phony Ideology to Promote a Corporate Agenda

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Before Milton Friedman was earning plaudits as an economic genius, he was a shill for the real estate industry.

This is an adapted version of an article that first appeared on NSFWCORP. Published daily online and monthly in print, NSFWCORP is The Future of Journalism (With Jokes).

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Every couple of years, mainstream media hacks pretend to have just discovered libertarianism as some sort of radical, new and dynamic force in American politics. It’s a rehash that goes back decades, and hacks love it because it’s easy to write, and because it’s such a non-threatening “radical” politics (unlike radical left politics, which threatens the rich). The latest version involves a summer-long pundit debate in the pages of the New York Times, Reasonmagazine and elsewhere over so-called “libertarian populism.” It doesn’t really matter whose arguments prevail, so long as no one questions where libertarianism came from or why we’re defining libertarianism as anything but a big business public relations campaign, the winner in this debate is Libertarianism.

Pull up libertarianism’s floorboards, look beneath the surface into the big business PR campaign’s early years, and there you’ll start to get a sense of its purpose, its funders, and the PR hucksters who brought the peculiar political strain of American libertarianism into being — beginning with the libertarian movement’s founding father, Milton Friedman. Back in 1950, the House of Representatives held hearings on illegal lobbying activities and exposed both Friedman and the earliest libertarian think-tank outfit as a front for business lobbyists. Those hearings have been largely forgotten, in part because we’re too busy arguing over the finer points of “libertarian populism.”

In his early days, before millions were spent on burnishing his reputation, Friedman worked as a business lobby shill, a propagandist who would say whatever he was paid to say.  That’s the story we need to revisit to get to the bottom of the modern American libertarian “movement,” to see what it’s really all about. We need to take a trip back to the post-war years, and to the largely forgotten Buchanan Committee hearings on illegal lobbying activities, led by a pro-labor Democrat from Pennsylvania, Frank Buchanan.

What the Buchanan Committee discovered was that in 1946, Milton Friedman and his University of Chicago cohort George Stigler arranged an under-the-table deal with a Washington lobbying executive to pump out covert propaganda for the national real estate lobby in exchange for a hefty payout, the terms of which were never meant to be released to the public. They also discovered that a lobbying outfit which is today credited by libertarians as the movement’s first think-tank — the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE)— was itself a big business PR project backed by the largest corporations and lobbying fronts in the country.

The FEE focused on promoting a new pro-business ideology—which it called “libertarianism”— to supplement other business lobbying groups which focused on specific policies and legislation. It is generally regarded as “the first libertarian think-tank” as Reason’s Brian Doherty calls it in his book “Radicals For Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement” (2007). As the Buchanan Committee discovered, the Foundation was the best-funded conservative lobbying outfit ever known up to that time, sponsored by a Who’s Who of US industry in 1946.

A partial list of FEE’s original donors in its first four years— a list discovered by the Buchanan Committee — includes: The Big Three auto makers (GM, Chrysler and Ford); top oil majors including Gulf Oil, Standard Oil, and Sun Oil; major steel producers US Steel, National Steel, Republic Steel; major retailers including Montgomery Ward, Marshall Field and Sears; chemicals majors Monsanto and DuPont; and other Fortune 500 corporations including General Electric, Merrill Lynch, Eli Lilly, BF Goodrich, ConEd, and more.

The FEE was set up by a longtime US Chamber of Commerce executive named Leonard Read, together with Donaldson Brown, a director in the National Association of Manufacturers lobby group and board member at DuPont and General Motors.

That is how libertarianism in America started: As an arm of big business lobbying.

Before bringing back Milton Friedman into the picture, this needs to be repeated again: “Libertarianism” was a project of the corporate lobby world, launched as a big business “ideology” in 1946 by The US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. The FEE’s board included the future founder of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch; the most powerful figure in the Mormon church at that time, J Reuben Clark, a frothing racist and anti-Semite after whom BYU named its law school; and United Fruit president Herb Cornuelle.

The purpose of the FEE — and libertarianism, as it was originally created — was to supplement big business lobbying with a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-economics rationale to back up its policy and legislative attacks on labor and government regulations.

This background is important in the Milton Friedman story because Friedman is a founding father of libertarianism, and because the corrupt lobbying deal he was busted playing a part in was arranged through the Foundation for Economic Education.

According to Congressional hearings on illegal lobbying activities 1946 was the year that Milton Friedman and his U Chicago cohort George Stigler arranged an under-the-table deal with a Washington lobbying executive to pump out covert propaganda for the national real estate lobby in exchange for a hefty payout, the terms of which were never meant to be released to the public.

The arrangement between Friedman and Stigler with the Washington real estate lobbyist was finally revealed during a congressional review of illegal lobbying activities in 1950, called the Buchanan Committee. Yes, there was something called accountability back then. I only came across the revelations about Friedman’s sordid beginnings in the footnotes of an old book on the history of lobbying by former Newsweek book editor Karl Schriftgiesser, published in 1951, shortly after the Buchanan Committee hearings ended. The actual details of Milton Friedman’s PR deal are sordid and familiar, with tentacles reaching into our ideologically rotted-out era.

False, whitewashed history is as much a part of the Milton Friedman mythology as it is the libertarian movement’s own airbrushed history about its origins; the 1950 Buchanan Committee hearings expose both as creations of big business lobby groups whose purpose is to deceive and defraud the public and legislators in order to advance the cause of corporate America.

The story starts like this: In 1946, Herbert Nelson was the chief lobbyist and executive vice president for the National Association of Real Estate Boards, and one of the highest paid lobbyists in the nation. Mr. Nelson’s real estate constituency was unhappy with rent control laws that Truman kept in effect after the war ended. Nelson and his real estate lobby led what House investigators discovered was the most formidable and best-funded opposition to President Truman in the post-war years, amassing some $5,000,000 for their lobby efforts—that’s $5 million in 1946 dollars, or roughly $60 million in 2012 dollars.

So Herbert Nelson contracted out the PR services of the Foundation for Economic Education to concoct “third party” propaganda designed to shore up the National Real Estate lobby’s legislative drive — and the propagandists who took on the job were Milton Friedman and his U Chicago cohort, George Stigler.

To understand the sort of person Herbert Nelson was, here is a letter he wrote in 1949 that Congressional investigators discovered and recorded:

I do not believe in democracy. I think it stinks. I don’t think anybody except direct taxpayers should be allowed to vote. I don’t believe women should be allowed to vote at all. Ever since they started, our public affairs have been in a worse mess than ever.

It’s an old libertarian mantra, libertarianism versus democracy, libertarianism versus women’s suffrage; a position recently repeated by billionaire libertarian Peter Thiel — who was Ron Paul’s main campaign funder in his 2012 presidential campaign.

So in 1946, this same Herbert Nelson turned to the Foundation for Economic Education to manufacture some propaganda to help the National Association of Real Estate Boards fight rent control laws. Nelson chose to work with the FEE because he knew that its founder, Leonard Read, agreed with him on a lot of important issues. Such as their mutual contempt for democracy, and their disdain for the American public.

Read argued that the public should not be allowed to know which corporations donated to his libertarian front-group because, he argued, the public could not be trusted to make “sound judgments” with disclosed information:

The public reporting would present a single fact—the amount of a contributor’s donation—to casual readers, persons having only a cursory interest in the matter at issue, persons who would not and perhaps could not possess all the facts. These folks of the so-called public thus receive only oversimplifications or half-truths from which only erroneous conclusions are almost certain to be drawn. If there is a public interest in the rightness or wrongness of corporate or personal donations to charitable, religious or education institutions, and I am not at all ready to concede that there is, then that interest should be guarded by some such agency as the Bureau of Internal Revenue, an agency that is in a position to obtain all the facts, not by Mr. John Public who lacks relevant information for the forming of sound judgments…Public reporting of a half-truth is indeed a significant provocation

So in May 1946, Herbert Nelson of the real estate lobby, looking for backup in his drive to abolish federal rent control laws on behalf of landlords, contacted Read with an order for a PR pamphlet “with some such title as ‘The Case against Federal Real Estate Control’,” according to Karl Schriftgiesser’s book The Lobbyists.

What happened next, I’ll quote from Schriftgiesser:

They were now busily co-operating on the new project which the foundation had engaged Milton Friedman and George J. Stigler to write. It was to be called Roofs and Ceilings and it was to be an outright attack on rent controls. When Nelson received a copy of the manuscript he wrote Read to say, “The pamphlet…is a dandy. It is just what I wanted.

The National Association of Real Estate Boards was so pleased with Milton Friedman’s made-to-order propaganda that they ordered up 500,000 pamphlets from the FEE, and distributed them throughout the real estate lobby’s vast local network of real estate brokers and agents.

In libertarianism’s own airbrushed history about itself, the Foundation was a brave, quixotic bastion of libertarian “true believers” doomed to defeat at the all-powerful hands of the liberal Keynsian Leviathan and the collectivist mob. Here is how libertarian historian Brian Doherty describes the FEE and its chief lobbyist:

[Read] would never explicitly scrape for funds… He never directly asked anyone to give anything, he proudly insisted, and while FEE would sell literature to all comers, it was also free to anyone who asked. His attitude toward money was Zen, sometimes hilariously so. When asked how FEE was doing financially, his favorite reply was, “Just perfectly.”… Read wanted no endowments and frowned on any donation meant to be held in reserve for some future need.

And here is what the committee’s own findings reported—findings lost in history:

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Foundation for Economic Education exerts, or at least expects to exert, a considerable influence on national legislative policy….It is equally difficult to imagine that the nation’s largest corporations would subsidize the entire venture if they did not anticipate that it would pay solid, long-range legislative dividends.

Or in the words of Rep. Carl Albert (D-OK): “Every bit of this literature is along propaganda lines.”

The manufactured history about libertarian’s origins, or its purpose, parallels the manufactured myths about one of big business’s key propaganda tools, Milton Friedman. As the author of The Lobbyists, not knowing who Milton Friedman was at the time, wrote of Friedman’s collaborative effort with Stigler:

“Certainly [the FEE’s] booklet, Roofs or Ceilings, was definitely propaganda and sought to influence legislation….This booklet was printed in bulk by the foundation and half a million copies were sold at cost to the National Association of Real Estate Boards, which had them widely distributed throughout the country by its far-flung network of local member boards.”

There’s no idealism here. The notion that libertarian ideas have captured the political imagination of millions in this country is a root problem: if we’re going to escape the corporate oligarchy that is running this country–their ideas can’t possibility be the alternative solution. This movement has to be recognized for what it is.

Published daily online and monthly in print, NSFWCORP is The Future of Journalism (With Jokes). For more features, or to subscribe, click here.

As Washington “Pivots” to Asia, China Does the Eurasian Pirouette

Go West, Young Han

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By Pepe Escobar

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9th.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train.  At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods — from clothes to toys — possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours — via high-speed rail, no less.  The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west. That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed.

Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change.  Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution.

And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans,” as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people.

So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind.  Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.

Defecting to the East?

The speed with which all of this is happening is staggering. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, in September 2013. One month later, while in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, he announced a twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road. Beijing defines the overall concept behind its planning as “one road and one belt,” when what it’s actually thinking about is a boggling maze of prospective roads, rail lines, sea lanes, and belts.

We’re talking about a national strategy that aims to draw on the historical aura of the ancient Silk Road, which bridged and connected civilizations, east and west, while creating the basis for a vast set of interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zones.  Already the Chinese leadership has green-lighted a $40 billion infrastructure fund, overseen by the China Development Bank, to build roads, high-speed rail lines, and energy pipelines in assorted Chinese provinces. The fund will sooner or later expand to cover projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. But Central Asia is the key immediate target.

Chinese companies will be investing in, and bidding for contracts in, dozens of countries along those planned silk roads. After three decades of development while sucking up foreign investment at breakneck speed, China’s strategy is now to let its own capital flow to its neighbors. It’s already clinched $30 billion in contracts with Kazakhstan and $15 billion with Uzbekistan. It has provided Turkmenistan with $8 billion in loans and a billion more has gone to Tajikistan.

In 2013, relations with Kyrgyzstan were upgraded to what the Chinese term “strategic level.” China is already the largest trading partner for all of them except Uzbekistan and, though the former Central Asian socialist republics of the Soviet Union are still tied to Russia’s network of energy pipelines, China is at work there, too, creating its own version of Pipelineistan, including anew gas pipeline to Turkmenistan, with more to come.

The competition among Chinese provinces for much of this business and the infrastructure that goes with it will be fierce. Xinjiang is already being reconfigured by Beijing as a key hub in its new Eurasian network. In early November 2014, Guangdong — the “factory of the world” — hosted the first international expo for the country’s Maritime Silk Road and representatives of no less than 42 countries attended the party.

President Xi himself is now enthusiastically selling his home province, Shaanxi, which once harbored the start of the historic Silk Road in Xian, as a twenty-first-century transportation hub. He’s made his New Silk Road pitch for it to, among others, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan.

Just like the historic Silk Road, the new one has to be thought of in the plural.  Imagine it as a future branching maze of roads, rail lines, and pipelines. A key stretch is going to run through Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, with Istanbul as a crossroads site. Iran and Central Asia are alreadyactively promoting their own connections to it. Another key stretch will follow the Trans-Siberian Railway with Moscow as a key node. Once that trans-Siberian high-speed rail remix is completed, travel time between Beijing and Moscow will plunge from the current six and a half days to only 33 hours. In the end, Rotterdam, Duisburg, and Berlin could all be nodes on this future “highway” and German business execs are enthusiastic about the prospect.

The Maritime Silk Road will start in Guangdong province en route to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, ending essentially in Venice, which would be poetic justice indeed.  Think of it as Marco Polo in reverse.

All of this is slated to be completed by 2025, providing China with the kind of future “soft power” that it now sorely lacks. When President Xi hails the push to “break the connectivity bottleneck” across Asia, he’s also promising Chinese credit to a wide range of countries.

Now, mix the Silk Road strategy with heightened cooperation among the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), with accelerated cooperation among the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with a more influential Chinese role over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — no wonder there’s the perception across the Global South that, while the U.S. remains embroiled in its endless wars, the world is defecting to the East.

New Banks and New Dreams

The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing was certainly a Chinese success story, but the bigger APEC story went virtually unreported in the United States.  Twenty-two Asian countries approved the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) only one year after Xi initially proposed it. This is to be yet another bank, like the BRICS Development Bank, that will help finance projects in energy, telecommunications, and transportation.  Its initial capital will be $50 billion and China and India will be its main shareholders.

Consider its establishment a Sino-Indian response to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), founded in 1966 under the aegis of the World Bank and considered by most of the world as a stalking horse for the Washington consensus. When China and India insist that the new bank’s loans will be made on the basis of “justice, equity, and transparency,” they mean that to be in stark contrast to the ADB (which remains a U.S.-Japan affair with those two countries contributing 31% of its capital and holding 25% of its voting power) — and a sign of a coming new order in Asia.  In addition, at a purely practical level, the ADB won’t finance the real needs of the Asian infrastructure push that the Chinese leadership is dreaming about, which is why the AIIB is going to come in so handy.

Keep in mind that China is already the top trading partner for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  It’s in second place when it comes to Sri Lanka and Nepal.  It’s number one again when it comes to virtually all the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite China’s recent well-publicized conflicts over who controls waters rich in energy deposits in the region. We’re talking here about the compelling dream of a convergence of 600 million people in Southeast Asia, 1.3 billion in China, and 1.5 billion on the Indian subcontinent.

Only three APEC members — apart from the U.S. — did not vote to approve the new bank: Japan, South Korea, and Australia, all under immense pressure from the Obama administration. (Indonesia signed on a few days late.) And Australia is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of what, these days, is being called “yuan diplomacy.”

In fact, whatever the overwhelming majority of Asian nations may think about China’s self-described “peaceful rise,” most are already shying away from or turning their backs on a Washington-and-NATO-dominated trade and commercial world and the set of pacts — from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for Europe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Asia — that would go with it.

When Dragon Embraces Bear

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a fabulous APEC. After his country and China clinched a massive $400 billion natural gas deal in May — around the Power of Siberia pipeline, whose construction began this year — they added a second agreement worth $325 billion around the Altai pipeline originating in western Siberia.

These two mega-energy deals don’t mean that Beijing will become Moscow-dependent when it comes to energy, though it’s estimated that they will provide 17% of China’s natural gas needs by 2020. (Gas, however, makes up only 10% per cent of China’s energy mix at present.)  But these deals signal where the wind is blowing in the heart of Eurasia. Though Chinese banks can’t replace those affected by Washington and EU sanctions against Russia, they are offering a Moscow battered by recent plummeting oil prices some relief in the form of access to Chinese credit.

On the military front, Russia and China are now committed to large-scale joint military exercises, while Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missile system will soon enough be heading for Beijing.  In addition, for the first time in the post-Cold War era, Putin recently raised the old Soviet-era doctrine of “collective security” in Asia as a possible pillar for a new Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

Chinese President Xi has taken to calling all this the “evergreen tree of Chinese-Russian friendship” — or you could think of it as Putin’s strategic “pivot” to China.  In either case, Washington is not exactly thrilled to see Russia and China beginning to mesh their strengths: Russian excellence in aerospace, defense technology, and heavy equipment manufacturing matching Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry, and information technology.

It’s also been clear for years that, across Eurasia, Russian, not Western, pipelines are likely to prevail. The latest spectacular Pipelineistan opera — Gazprom’s cancellation of the prospective South Stream pipeline that was to bring yet more Russian natural gas to Europe — will, in the end, only guarantee an even greater energy integration of both Turkey and Russia into the new Eurasia.

So Long to the Unipolar Moment 

All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn’t begun to grasp. Which doesn’t mean that no one notices anything.  You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment.  The Council on Foreign Relations is already publishing laments about the possibility that the former sole superpower’s exceptionalist moment is “unraveling.” The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission can only blame the Chinese leadership for being “disloyal,” adverse to “reform,” and an enemy of the “liberalization” of their own economy.

The usual suspects carp that upstart China is upsetting the “international order,” will doom “peace and prosperity” in Asia for all eternity, and may becreating a “new kind of Cold War” in the region. From Washington’s perspective, a rising China, of course, remains the major “threat” in Asia, if not the world, even as the Pentagon spends gigantic sums to keep its sprawling global empire of bases intact. Those Washington-based stories about the new China threat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, however, never mention that China remains encircled by U.S. bases, while lacking a base of its own outside its territory.

Of course, China does face titanic problems, including the pressures being applied by the globe’s “sole superpower.” Among other things, Beijing fears threats to the security of its sea-borne energy supply from abroad, which helps explain its massive investment in helping create a welcoming Eurasian Pipelineistan from Central Asia to Siberia. Fears for its energy future also explain its urge to “escape from Malacca” by reaching for energy supplies in Africa and South America, and its much-discussed offensive to claim energy-rich areas of the East and South China seas, which Beijing is betting could become a “second Persian Gulf,” ultimately yielding 130 billion barrels of oil.

On the internal front, President Xi has outlined in detail his vision of a “results-oriented” path for his country over the next decade. As road maps go, China’s “must-do” list of reforms is nothing short of impressive. And worrying about keeping China’s economy, already the world’s number oneby size, rolling along at a feverish pitch, Xi is also turbo-charging the fight against corruption, graft, and waste, especially within the Communist Party itself.

Economic efficiency is another crucial problem. Chinese state-owned enterprises are now investing a staggering $2.3 trillion a year — 43% of the country’s total investment — in infrastructure. Yet studies at Tsinghua University’s School of Management have shown that an array of investments in facilities ranging from steel mills to cement factories have only added to overcapacity and so actually undercut China’s productivity.

Xiaolu Wang and Yixiao Zhou, authors of the academic paper “Deepening Reform for China’s Long-term Growth and Development,” contend that it will be difficult for China to jump from middle-income to high-income status — a key requirement for a truly global power. For this, an avalanche of extra government funds would have to go into areas like social security/unemployment benefits and healthcare, which take up at present 9.8% and 15.1% of the 2014 budget — high for some Western countries but not high enough for China’s needs.

Still, anyone who has closely followed what China has accomplished over these past three decades knows that, whatever its problems, whatever the threats, it won’t fall apart. As a measure of the country’s ambitions for economically reconfiguring the commercial and power maps of the world, China’s leaders are also thinking about how, in the near future, relations with Europe, too, could be reshaped in ways that would be historic.

What About That “Harmonious Community”?

At the same moment that China is proposing a new Eurasian integration, Washington has opted for an “empire of chaos,” a dysfunctional global system now breeding mayhem and blowback across the Greater Middle East into Africa and even to the peripheries of Europe.

In this context, a “new Cold War” paranoia is on the rise in the U.S., Europe, and Russia.  Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who knows a thing or two about Cold Wars (having ended one), couldn’t be more alarmed. Washington’s agenda of “isolating” and arguably crippling Russia is ultimately dangerous, even if in the long run it may also be doomed to failure.

At the moment, whatever its weaknesses, Moscow remains the only power capable of negotiating a global strategic balance with Washington and putting some limits on its empire of chaos.  NATO nations still follow meekly in Washington’s wake and China as yet lacks the strategic clout.

Russia, like China, is betting on Eurasian integration.  No one, of course, knows how all this will end.  Only four years ago, Vladimir Putin was proposing “a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” involving a trans-Eurasian free trade agreement. Yet today, with the U.S., NATO, and Russia locked in a Cold War-like battle in the shadows over Ukraine, and with the European Union incapable of disentangling itself from NATO, the most immediate new paradigm seems to be less total integration than war hysteria and fear of future chaos spreading to other parts of Eurasia.

Don’t rule out a change in the dynamics of the situation, however.  In the long run, it seems to be in the cards.  One day, Germany may lead parts of Europe away from NATO’s “logic,” since German business leaders and industrialists have an eye on their potentially lucrative commercial future in a new Eurasia. Strange as it might seem amid today’s war of words over Ukraine, the endgame could still prove to involve a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing alliance.

At present, the choice between the two available models on the planet seems stark indeed: Eurasian integration or a spreading empire of chaos. China and Russia know what they want, and so, it seems, does Washington.  The question is: What will the other moving parts of Eurasia choose to do?

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos (Nimble Books). Follow him on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175935/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_eurasian_integration_vs._the_empire_of_chaos/

A history of state repression in Guerrero, Mexico

By Francisco Alonso On December 12, 2014

Post image for A history of state repression in Guerrero, MexicoThe recent massacre of 43 students shocked the world, but was only the latest act in a long history of state repression in Mexico’s Guerrero region.

The Iguala massacre woke up a society that seems inured to widespread corruption, impunity and brutal violence. Recently, Mexican society did show a reaction to other massacres, like the one that occurred in Monterrey where 52 people died locked up in a casino building after it had been deliberately set on fire. Or in Tamaulipas where 72 Central American migrants heading to the U.S. were kidnapped and murdered after they refused to become hit men or pay ransom for their release. However, what happened in Iguala was different. It was a clear act of political repression and this time the participation of state agents as perpetrators was impossible to hide.

Moreover, the massacre targeted a focal point of political activism in Mexico; a school of teachers, a ‘school of democracy’.  For more than half a century, teachers from Ayotzinapa have been fighting against corrupt policemen, homicidal soldiers, paramilitary forces, caciques (local strong men) and now the narco state. Ayotzinapa has provided a disproportionate amount of leaders toGuerrero’s social movements, including Lucio Cabañas, founder of the Partido de los Pobres (PDLP), the most important rural guerrilla organization during the 1970’s.

On one side the Iguala massacre is an archetypical case — so recurrent in Mexican history — in which a peaceful protest turns into a rebellion because of state repression. On the other hand, although it is by no means new, the fact that repression was carried out by public officers and policemen who were collaborating with hit men from a criminal organization is a present-day distinctive. In such a case a major social outburst is hard to avoid. In this moment, actions taken by the government and civil society will determine if a system collapse will be avoided. As Trejo states, “in Iguala past, present and future converge.” This convergence may be shown by tracing a long cycle of mobilization and repression in Guerrero where impunity has always prevailed, from la guerra en el paraíso to Iguala’s inferno.

Not a Revolution, but a ranchero revolt

According to Ian Jacobs, author of The Ranchero Revolt, Guerrero’s history was shaped by its physical geography. In the early twentieth century there were very few roads in a region with very rough terrain. The lack of roads made land unattractive to elites during the Porfiriato. Hence, the problem of stolen lands did not acquire the dimensions it took in the neighbouring region of Morelos, where sugar cane haciendas dispossessed peasants and generated a fertile ground for the Zapatista rebellion of 1911.

In contrast, Guerrero did not experience widespread usurpation of communal lands in the early twentieth century. Hence, the political evolution of the region was different; without a rebellion such as the one led by Zapata, the Porfirian structure of caciques remained intact during the Mexican Revolution and was even reinforced when caciques disguised themselves as ‘revolutionaries’ and were accepted by the regime during the post-revolutionary decades.

In Guerrero, the Figueroa brothers (Ambrosio and Francisco), who betrayed Zapata on many occasions, imposed themselves as the main overlords. They became the quintessential caciques in the region and founders of the everlasting Figueroa dynasty, a sort of ‘Somosa family’ in Guerrero.

 

 

 

 

December 30, 1960, Chilpancingo, Guerrero

A student demonstration claiming university autonomy was repressed at Chilpancingo, Guerrero’s capital. Seventeen protesters were killed. The massacre forced the governor, general Raúl Caballero Aburto, to resign (Cervantes, 2007). The student uprising evolved into an urban popular movement with presence in many state regions spearheaded by the Asociación Cívica Guerrerense (ACG), a political organization created in 1959 by regime opponents. There were many teachers among them.

December 30, 1962, Iguala, Guerrero

During 1961 the popular movement grew in strength. The provisional local government called for elections to be held in December 1962 in order to renew state and local authorities. The ACG presented José María Téllez as their candidate for Guerrero’s governorship. After losing the elections, they protested against what they considered to be a fraudulent result. Again, demonstrators were confronted by the police and the military.That time the toll of the repression was 8 deaths and 156 arrests.

The ACG leader Genaro Vázquez fled the state but was captured in 1966. ACG members rescued him in 1968 from the Iguala prison and fled to the Sierra (Guerrero’s western highlands), where Vazquez renamed the ACG as Asociación Cívica Nacional Revolucionaria (ACNR) and stated that members of his organization were convinced that the armed struggle was the only means to transform the situation (Salgado, 1971).

May 18, 1967, Atoyac, Guerrero

A protest rally took place to demand the destitution of the primary school director and the school committee. The rally was led by Lucio Cabañas. The police had warned Cabañas that they would not tolerate any demonstration, so they opened fire when Cabañas started to speak, killing five people, including a pregnant woman. Like Vazquez, Cabañas also fled to the Sierra and formed thePartido de los Pobres and its armed branch; the Brigada campesina de ajusticiamiento (Peasant execution brigade).

1960s  – 1970s, Guerrero, La guerra en el paraíso

In the Sierra, the rebels found the fertile ground for rebellion that was absent at the beginning of the twentieth century. The federal and state governments were carrying out two large-scale modernization projects in Guerrero, both taking place either in the Sierra or in localities close to it. Partly financed by the World Bank, the first project consisted of the construction of a series of dams and civil engineering enterprises through the Balsas River, mainly for energy production.

The goal of the second project was to develop the port of Acapulco and its surroundings as a mayor international tourist destination. This state-sponsored modernization was planned by a central bureaucracy interested in economic progress at the national level but caring little about concerns of the local population. Hence, it became a process of  authoritarian economic exploitation.

During the 1960’s and the 1970’s labour conflicts erupted in the Sierra; land was taken away from peasants and forests were cut down by foreign timber companies. Popular protest emerged with a broad set of demands ranging from land redistribution, an end to forest exploitation, attendance of educational, health and socioeconomic needs of the popular classes, rights to unionize, democratic transparency, and community decision making.

The wave of mobilization was severely repressed and guerrilla organizations nurtured the grievances. According to Trejo, repression in Guerrero in the 1960’s and 1970’s reached levels of the guerras sucias in Chile and Argentina. According to the special prosecutor’s office, the Fiscalía Especial para Movimientos Sociales y Políticos del Pasado (FEMOSPP), that was investigating the guerra sucia, at least 482 forced disappearances took place during that period.

May 30, 1974

PRI senator Ruben Figueroa Figueroa (Francisco’s nephew) was kidnapped by the PDLP. As asked by the rebels, the Mexican government announced the retrenchment of the army from Guerrero rural areas to the headquarters, but Guerrero’s countryside was heavily militarized in secret. Soldiers were looking for Figueroa and hunted down the PDLP. Cabañas died in combat, and Figueroa was rescued. In 1975 he became the governor of Guerrero.

The FEMOSPP, with more than 500 oral testimonies and documents from the Mexican national archive (Archivo General de la Nación), asserted that, once Figueroa became governor of Guerrero, he perpetrated hundreds of crimes. Figueroa then ordered arbitrary detentions. The state’s chief of security Mario Acosta Chaparro, together with Alfredo Mendiola, Alberto Aguirre and Humberto Rodríguez, was in charge of executing the victims and throwing their bodies from airplanes in the ocean.

Army and police forces managed to suppress the rebellion in the highlands by killing or imprisoning most of the rebels. By the 1980’s neither the ANCR, nor the PDLP, nor the other dozens of guerrilla organizations formed in the 1970’s, were a threat to the Mexican state.

Carrots and sticks

The ‘stick’ came together with some ‘carrots’. Two of those carrots were particularly important. After wars, reconstruction processes follow. Something similar happened after Guerrero’s guerra sucia. The first carrot meant significant state resources and a new program for land redistribution aimed at winning the ‘hearts and minds’ and avoiding a subsequent rebellion in rural areas. This process can be seen as the state’s “massive incursion” in Guerrero’s eastern highlands, ‘la Montaña’ region. The second carrot was a democratic opening in which former guerrilleros were exonerated and the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) legalized and allowed to compete in the elections.

Nevertheless, no one was held responsible for the crimes against humanity perpetrated during the guerra sucia. Furthermore, the forced disappearances of radical opposition leaders continued despite the process of democratization and government alternation at the federal and state levels. Impunity prevailed. The tension of this historic moment was captured in the closing lines of Carlos Montemayor’s novel Guerra en el paraíso. In the novel, when Lucio Cabañas is shot, a thought resonates while he is falling to the ground: “there is still a lot to be done, to be done, to be done…”

Francisco Alonso is a PhD researcher in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/iguala-ayotzinapa-guerrero-repression/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Obama claims “turning point” for US militarism

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By Bill Van Auken

16 December 2014

President Barack Obama used a trip to Fort Dix, New Jersey Monday to deliver a speech to assembled troops proclaiming that after 13 years, America’s war in Afghanistan is being brought to a close.

Obama’s remarks received little applause from the audience of enlisted personnel, for whom the empty “support our troops” rhetoric and claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been successful crusades for freedom and against terrorism are no doubt wearing thin. With polls showing that the majority of Americans think both wars were mistakes, similar attitudes are common within the military.

Among the few lines to elicit a spontaneous reaction from the uniformed audience was Obama’s statement that the recent budget bill passed in Washington includes a pay raise for the military.

It is noteworthy that Obama’s first address since official Washington has been thrown into turmoil by the release of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture was delivered to a captive military audience in which the subject was never mentioned—and there was no danger that anyone else would raise it.

The Obama White House has left it to the likes of CIA Director John Brennan and former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney to defend the “patriotism” of the American intelligence agency against the official confirmation of its responsibility for war crimes.

The thrust of the president’s remarks, that the US is “marking an important milestone” in ending the US war in Afghanistan and having Afghan forces “take full responsibility for their security,” was belied by developments on the ground and mealy-mouthed admissions in the speech itself.

Just last week, the Pentagon revealed that it is leaving 1,000 more US troops behind at the end of this month than it had originally planned, bringing the total head count to at least 10,800. And while it was initially claimed that the mission of the remaining US forces would be confined to training and advising Afghan troops and pursuing remnants of Al Qaeda, it was announced last week that they would also take action against the Taliban, providing combat support to the Afghan military as needed.

At the same time, the Afghan security forces remain dependent upon the US military for air support, intelligence and logistics. In other words, the war will continue, albeit with a smaller number of “boots on the ground.”

To drive home this point, two more US soldiers were killed on Friday in an attack on their convoy near the Bagram Air Base, as a Taliban offensive continued throughout much of the country. Last month alone, the capital of Kabul, supposedly Afghanistan’s most secure area, suffered 12 major Taliban attacks.

“Even as our combat mission ends, our commitment to Afghanistan endures,” Obama told the troops, underlining the lies and double-talk that pervaded his speech. The “limited military presence” that would remain, he said, would “keep training and equipping the Afghan forces” and “conduct counterterrorism missions,” i.e., the kind of night raids and air strikes that have claimed civilian casualties and aroused popular opposition to the US occupation.

Regardless of the war in Afghanistan, Obama added, “… there are still challenges to our security around the world. In times of crisis, people around the world look to one nation to lead, and that is the United States of America.” Foremost among these crises, Obama continued, is the struggle “against the brutal terrorist group ISIL [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria.”

The reality is that the rise of ISIS is rooted entirely in the previous and ongoing US imperialist interventions in the Middle East. First, there was the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which killed over a million Iraqis, shattered the country’s social infrastructure, and bred bitter sectarian divisions. Then there was the war for regime-change in Syria, in which ISIS emerged as the dominant military force among the Western-backed “rebels.”

Obama claimed the US was at a “turning point” in relation to its wars abroad, pointing out that while nearly 180,000 troops had been deployed at their peak in Iraq and Afghanistan, the present forces amounted to around 15,000.

“The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation-building overseas, that’s coming to an end,” he told his military audience.

Whatever the reality of this supposed tactical shift, Obama stressed that militarism would remain the driving force of the American state. “Going forward our military will be leaner,” Obama said. “But as your commander in chief, I’m going to make sure we keep you ready for the range of missions that we ask of you. We are going to keep you the best trained, the best led, the best equipped military in the history of the world because the world will still be calling.”

This supposed “calling” has led not only to a new open-ended war that encompasses Iraq and Syria, while threatening to spread throughout the Middle East, but has also placed Washington on a collision course with both Russia and China. Obama’s supposed “turning point” is emerging ever more clearly as a turn toward a new world war.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/16/obam-d16.html

 

“If the people are not convinced (that the Free World is in mortal danger) it would be impossible for Congress to vote the vast sums now being spent to avert danger. With the support of public opinion, as marshalled by the press, we are off to a good start. It is our Job – yours and mine — to keep our people convinced that the only way to keep disaster away from our shores is to build up America’s might.”

~Charles Wilson, Chairman of the Board of General Electric and Truman appointee to head the Office of Defence Mobilization, in a speech to the Newspaper Publishers Association, 1950~

The 6-Step Process to Dispose of the Poor Half of America

America’s wealth-takers are all too ready to abandon people when they aren’t useful.

Photo Credit: Jeff Wasserman/Shutterstock.com

One of the themes of the superb writing of Henry Giroux is that more and more Americans are becoming “disposable,” recognized as either commodities or criminals by the more fortunate members of society. There seems to be a method to the madness of winner-take-all capitalism. The following steps, whether due to greed or indifference or disdain, are the means by which America’s wealth-takers dispose of the people they don’t need.

1. Deplete Their Wealth 

Recent analysis has determined that half of America is in or near poverty. This is confirmed by researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who point out: “The bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net. Hence, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families – what can be described as the middle class.”

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world. It’s much worse since the recession, especially for blacks and Hispanics.

From 2008 to 2013 the stock market, which is largely owned by just 10% of Americans, gained 18% per year. Well-to-do stockholders get capital gains tax breaks, including a carried interest subsidy thatRobert Reich calls “a pure scam.”

The bottom half of America, relying on regular bank accounts, earn about one percent on their savings.

2. Strip Away Their Income 

Earnings due to workers for their years of productivity have been withheld by people in power. Based on inflation, the minimum wage should be nearly three times its current level. An investor report from J.P. Morgan noted a direct correlation between record profits and cutbacks in wages.

We hear occasional news about job growth, but low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour), which made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained during the recovery. And it’s getting worse. Nine out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree, including food service, health care, housekeeping, and retail sales.

Among rich countries, according to OECD data, the U.S. is near the bottom in both union participationand employee protection laws.

3. Take Away Their Homes 

study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that an average American renter would need to earn $18.92 per hour — well over twice the minimum wage — to afford a two-bedroom apartment. “In no state,” their report says, “can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.” Over one-eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.

Little wonder that so many people are homeless: over 600,000 on any January night in the U.S., tens of thousands of children, tens of thousands of veterans, and one of every five suffering from mental illness.

4. Hit Them with Fines, Fees, and Fleecings 

The poor half of America is victimized by the banking industry, which takes an average of $2,412 each year from underserved households for interest and fees on alternative financial services; byrental centers that charge effective annual interest rates over 100 percent; by payday lenders whocharge effective annual interest rates of over 1,000 percent; and by the burgeoning prison industry, which charges prisoners for food and health care and phone calls and probation monitoring and anything else they can think of.

On top of all this, bubbly TV personalities rave about all the lottery money just waiting to be taken home. Poor families account for most of the lottery sales.

5. Criminalize Them 

Matt Taibbi’s recently published book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gapcontrasts the targeting of the poor for trivial offenses with a tolerance for the architects of billion-dollar financial crimes.

The U.S. court system is flooded with cases for minor infractions, including loitering charges reminiscent of the infamous Black Codes of post-slavery years. The buildup of arrests has added one out of every three U.S. adults to the FBI’s criminal database.

The poor are criminalized for lying down or sleeping in public; for sharing food; for simply havingnowhere to go.

6. Most Insidious: Let Their Children Suffer 

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. Almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty. Nearly half of all food stamp participants are children. The number of homeless children has risen by 50 percent in less than ten years.

Early education is certainly part of the solution, for numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But even though the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Meanwhile, public schools in the inner-city are being closed to satisfy the profit urges of the privatizers, who view our children as commodities. Said community organizer Jitu Brown after 50 schools were shut down in Chicago: “It has ripped black communities apart.”

Americans seek reasons for all the violence in our city streets. With so many “disposable” citizens deprived of living-wage jobs and a meaningful education and equal treatment by our system of justice, rebellion in the form of violence is not hard to understand. The privileged members of society would lash out, too, if they were stripped of everything they own and tossed into the streets.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org)

 

http://www.alternet.org/economy/6-step-process-dispose-poor-half-america?akid=12576.265072.Hp1XRb&rd=1&src=newsletter1028681&t=10&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

UK faces a return to 1930s levels of poverty

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By Robert Stevens
15 December 2014

This month, the UK government’s autumn statement announced cuts that will slash public spending back to where it was in the 1930s, before the welfare state came into being.

The scale of the cuts required to reduce public spending to around 35 percent of GDP were described as “colossal” by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The ruling elite in Britain intend to carry out an offensive against the working class equal to that in Greece, where the average family has seen their average earnings drop by almost 40 percent since the 2008 global financial crash.

Commenting on the plans of Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, an RBS bank economist said, “The previous spending projections looked daunting,” but the “revised figures give the impression of trying to scorch the scorched earth” (emphasis added).

Many reports have been produced documenting the impact of the savage reduction in living standards already visited on millions of workers, youth and pensioners over the last six years.

The latest, published Friday by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), found that British workers suffered the biggest drop in real wages of all major G20 countries in the three years to 2013. They have fallen more sharply than at any time since records began in 1964. Real wages of UK workers have fallen even faster than Portugal, Spain and Ireland—countries forced by the International Monetary Fund and European Union to impose vast austerity packages since 2008. Only the wages of Greek workers have plummeted faster than those in the UK.

Each year the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) produces an annual report “monitoring poverty and social exclusion” in the UK. The latest states that 13 million people are living in poverty, nearly a quarter of the population.

The JRF notes, “Average incomes fell by 9 percent between 2007/08 and 2012/13 on the after housing costs measure.”

Even more people are, in fact, in poverty, but this is covered over by the general fall in wages.

The JRF explains, “This fall has an effect on the analysis in this report. The measure of poverty we use, stemming from the definition of poverty as being a state where people are far below the norms of everyday life, is set relative to the average (median) income. As that average falls, so does the poverty threshold so that threshold is now 9 percent lower than it was in 2007/08. So while there are 13 million people in poverty in the UK, it would be 3 million higher if we used the poverty threshold from 2007/08” (emphasis added).

Millions of workers have faced a catastrophic wage fall and are now classed as being part of the growing “working poor”. This phenomenon is noted by the JRF, which records that half of all those in poverty live in a family with at least one wage earner.

Since 2008/09, the report states, “more than 45 percent of poverty has been in working families.”

One in five of the poverty-stricken are working age adults without children. The report found that 1.1 million working age adults in poverty are not themselves working, but live with a working partner. It notes, “Among children in poverty, most (2.2 million) are in a working family. Of these, 850,000 are in a fully working family; that is, one where all the adults are in paid work. A much higher number, 1.3 million, are in families where one adult is in work and the other is not. The remaining 1.4 million children in poverty live in a workless family.”

Since 2008 the number of people forced to eke out an existence in low-paid jobs has risen substantially, with last year’s JRF report finding that around 5 million people are paid below the living wage (set last year at £7.40 per hour). Many were on the minimum wage, which stood at £6.31 last year.

The JRF notes, “Among those currently in work who were unemployed a year ago, around three-fifths are paid less than the living wage, around three times the average for all those in work. What this suggests is that a large chunk of this year’s in-work poor were last year’s workless poor. Given that only one-fifth of low-paid employees have left low-paid work completely ten years later, they may be next year’s working poor too.”

Another report issued this year revealed that wages have fallen even further, with youth now paid the same in real terms as in 1988.

Given a jobs market based on rock bottom pay and the fact that many are working zero hours and on other insecure contracts, last year’s JRF report established that “movement in and out of work is substantial—4.8 million different people have claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA)—in the last two years.”

As a result of decades of growing social inequality, child poverty is now permanently entrenched. Based on figures collated for 2013, the JRF found that one of London’s boroughs, Tower Hamlets, with a population of more than 250,000, had 49 percent of children living in poverty.

The report adds that “the next highest areas were its neighbours, Newham and Hackney. The highest area outside London was Manchester, on 39 percent, with Birmingham, on 37 percent, not far behind.”

Every part of the UK was afflicted. According to the report: “Those local authorities where child poverty is above 30 percent include Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, Cardiff, Derry and Newcastle: almost all the major cities in the UK, and a large number of London’s boroughs, have more than 30 percent of children in poverty.”

The decade up to 2013 saw the cost of living shoot up by 30 percent, based on the consumer prices index. Within that average, some basic requirements of life have risen astronomically, including electricity, gas and other fuels, which “have risen by more than 150 percent since 2003, and domestic water bills have risen by 70 percent. The cost of public transport has risen by 88 percent, and private transport by 63 percent.”

In the same period, food and drink prices overall, excluding alcohol, rose by 47 percent.

Millions of people are forced to rely on welfare payments, the real value of which is constantly dropping as they have not risen with inflation. The report found: “At the individual level, the value of means-tested benefits has not been rising in the last five years.”

Real terms pensioner benefits “are back where they were ten years ago,” while benefits for children are “the lowest they have been since 2007.” Means-tested benefits, adjusted for inflation, “for a working-age couple have not been as low since 1979.”

Those whose jobs and livelihoods have been destroyed have faced the most cruel and sadistic punishment of having even their pittance Job Seeker’s Allowance payments “sanctioned” and suspended, leaving them with no income, under legislation introduced in 2012. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the average duration of a sanction was eight weeks, but they can last up to three years.

The JRF notes, “In 2013/14, the number of people whose JSA was suspended for not complying with the terms of their ‘claimant commitment’—commonly referred to as a sanction—rose to 800,000, the highest level ever. The year before, the figure was 740,000, itself a record.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/15/ukpo-d15.html

US budget resolution funds war and repression

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By Patrick Martin
13 December 2014

The omnibus spending resolution adopted by the US House of Representatives just before midnight Thursday, and which is now before the Senate, is a detailed public statement of the priorities of the American ruling elite. The bulk of the more than $1.1 trillion in funding goes to the military and other repressive functions of the federal government, such as spying, prisons and the police.

President Obama hailed the measure as a “bipartisan effort to include full-year appropriations legislation for most government functions that allows for planning and provides certainty, while making progress toward appropriately investing in economic growth and opportunity, and adequately funding national security requirements.” In other words, the bill makes it possible for the administration to continue waging war around the world and building up the apparatus for a police state at home.

Attached to the funding bill are hundreds of policy measures, many of them added at the last minute with no public discussion and, in many cases, without most congressmen or senators even being aware of what was being proposed before they rubber-stamped the bill. These include, most notoriously, the repeal of a major section of the Dodd-Frank legislation that sought to place some restrictions on the speculative activities of the banks following the 2008 financial crash.

The language in this section, permitting banks to use federally insured deposits to gamble in the swaps and derivative markets, was literally drafted by the banks. According to an analysis by the New York Times, 70 of the 85 lines in that section of the bill come directly from Citibank, which spearheaded the lobbying by Wall Street on this issue.

The four largest Wall Street banks conduct 93 percent of all US derivatives trading, so the measure is a brazen demonstration of the subservience of Congress to the big banks. According to the Washington Post, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, another of the big four banks, personally telephoned individual congressmen to urge them to vote for the amendment to Dodd-Frank.

The House of Representatives passed the funding bill late Thursday by a vote of 219 to 206 after a delay of seven hours. The delay was to allow the Obama administration to pressure a sufficient number of Democratic congressmen to support the Republican-drafted bill and offset defections among ultra-right Republicans who wanted the legislation to block Obama’s executive order on immigration.

The final vote saw 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 136 Democrats and 70 Republicans opposed it. As always, just enough Democratic votes were found to assure that the reactionary measure passed, the government agencies were funded, and the financial markets were reassured.

Some liberal Democrats, most notably the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, made speeches posturing as opponents of the legislation. Pelosi even declared, in a comment that was widely publicized, that she was “enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this.”

But in remarks to a meeting of the Democratic caucus, Pelosi gave the game away, refusing to seek a party-line vote and instead telling members, “I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do.” The second-ranking and third-ranking Democratic leaders, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Deputy Whip James Clyburn, broke with Pelosi and sided with the White House on the bill, openly recruiting the votes required for passage.

Along with the $1.1 trillion bill that will fund most federal agencies through September 30, the House passed by voice vote a resolution funding the whole government through Saturday midnight, to give the Senate time to act on the main measure. The Senate approved this stopgap as well, and Obama signed it at the White House on Friday morning.

The House met again Friday afternoon and passed another extension, this time for five days, giving the Senate until midnight Wednesday to complete action on the funding legislation. Ultimate Senate passage is not in doubt. Outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid has given his public backing, saying Thursday, “I’m upset with certain things in the bill. It’s not perfect. But a longer-term funding is much better for our economy than a short-term one.”

Most press coverage of the funding bill gives the following breakdown of the spending: $521 billion for the military, $492 billion for nonmilitary items, and $73 billion in emergency spending, most of it military-related. This is highly misleading, since much of the “nonmilitary” spending is demonstrably in support of US military operations or domestic police and security operations directed against the American population.

The $492 billion of “nonmilitary” spending includes the following, according to the official summary posted on the web site of Congress. (Click here and then page down to the section titled “Omnibus summaries,” which contains live links to department-by-department spending).

· $11.4 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the unit of the Department of Energy that assembles US nuclear weapons.

· $40.6 billion for Department of Energy, NASA, NSF and other scientific research, much of it related to nuclear energy, cybersecurity and missile technology.

· $65 billion for the Veterans Administration, which provides medical care and other services for those shattered in body and mind by their service as cannon fodder in American wars.

· $26.7 billion for the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, DEA and BATF ($10.7 billion), federal prisons ($6.9 billion), and aid to local police ($2.3 billion).

· $25 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through February 27, 2015 because of its role in enforcing immigration policy (the full-year amount would be more than $60 billion).

· $7 billion from the health budget for biodefense and bioterrorism research.

· An undisclosed figure, believed to be in the range of $60 billion, for intelligence operations, including the CIA and 17 other federal agencies.

At a minimum, these figures suggest that $236 billion, or nearly half, of the supposedly “nonmilitary” spending is actually directed to sustaining the military-intelligence capabilities of American imperialism.

Adding that to the explicitly military and overseas contingency funding, the real dimensions of the US military-intelligence-police-prison complex begin to come into view: a staggering $830 billion, more than 80 cents out of every dollar in the funding bill, is devoted to killing, spying on, imprisoning or otherwise oppressing the people of the world, including the American people.

Further details of the massive legislation, weighing in at more than 1,600 pages, will undoubtedly emerge over the coming days. Among the provisions worth taking note of:

· The bill provides $3.1 billion in aid to Israel, mostly financial subsidies, and $1.45 billion in aid to Egypt, most of it military, as well as $1 billion in aid to Jordan, another US client state in the region.

· The bill eliminates the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, used for six years to promote private charter schools and attacks on teachers in public schools. Republicans attacked the program as an effort to impose federal standards in education.

· The bill bans enforcement of a series of environmental and labor regulations, ensuring that air and water will be more polluted and workers will be more brutally exploited.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/13/budg-d13.html