Financial parasitism and the destruction of democracy


24 November 2015

On Monday, US drug maker Pfizer Inc. announced its plans to buy rival Allergan Plc in the third-largest corporate merger in history.

The new company, which would keep the Pfizer name, would be the world’s largest drug maker. As a result of the deal, known as an “inversion” because the smaller Ireland-based Allergan would buy the larger US-based Pfizer, the new company would pay a tax rate of 17–18 percent, compared to the 25.5 percent Pfizer paid last year.

The merger brings the total valuation of global mergers and acquisitions announced so far this year to $4.2 trillion. Mergers activity in 2015 is set to surpass that of any other previous year, including the $4.38 trillion record set in 2007, just before the outbreak of the global financial crisis.

In announcing the merger with Allergan, Pfizer CEO Ian Read said that the deal would “create a leading global pharmaceutical company with the strength to research, discover and deliver more medicines and therapies to more people around the world.”

Reality is the exact opposite. Financial documents released as part of the merger make clear that the resulting company plans to carry out a massive cost-cutting campaign. The company expects to implement some $2 billion in cost savings, including $660,000 in research and development funding, with the remainder of the cuts likely to come from layoffs and other consolidations.

The fundamental purpose of the wave of mergers is to find new ways to funnel money into the pockets of financial investors who are demanding ever greater returns. It is one expression of the financial parasitism that pervades the global economy.

Earlier this month, Birinyi Associates reported that US companies spent $516.72 billion buying back their own shares in the first three quarters of this year, the highest level since 2007. That figure is equivalent to the gross domestic product of Argentina, a country with 45 million people.

Apple, the world’s largest company, has spent $30.22 billion on share buybacks so far this year. During the same period, the company spent only about $6 billion on research and development, and less than $12 billion paying its workers. This includes US retail employees, whose base pay is $13 per hour, and assembly workers in China making only $1.50 per hour.

Apple is far from the exception. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that the largest US corporations have in recent years spent more money buying back their own shares than hiring people or building factories. The effect of the share buy-backs is to boost corporate stock prices, in the process inflating the pay of top executives, whose compensation has been increasingly tied to stock “performance.”

An unpublished Bank of America research note cited by Bloomberg noted, “For every job created in the US this decade, companies spent $296,000 buying back their stocks.”

After years of near-record profits, US corporations are sitting on a cash hoard of some $1.4 trillion. But far from using these funds to expand productive investment, global corporations are spending it on share buy-backs, mergers and acquisitions and executive pay raises.

The effect of this process is to further constrict real economic output. US manufacturing grew at the slowest pace in two years last month according to figures released Monday, while the latest monthly jobs report, praised by commentators as “stellar” and “off the charts,” showed that the US added exactly zero jobs in the manufacturing sector in October.

The orgy of financial speculation on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms is one side of the vast upward redistribution of wealth in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which has been facilitated by the infusion of cash into the global financial system by the US Federal Reserve and other global central banks. Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the world’s central banks have undertaken some $12.4 trillion in asset purchases, and have cut interest rates on 606 separate occasions, according to the Bank of America research note cited above.

The vast accumulation of wealth by the financial elite is predicated on the continuous reduction of the share of social resources going to the working class. Workers’ incomes have stagnated for decades throughout North America and Europe, and in many countries they are significantly lower than they were before the financial crisis. In the United States, for instance, the income of a typical household fell by 12 percent between 2007 and 2013, according to the Federal Reserve’s survey of consumer finances.

As a result of these processes, the top one percent of the population has accumulated 95 percent of all income gains since 2009, while the wealth of the 400 richest individuals in the US has more than doubled. The growth of social inequality has likewise fueled a growth of opposition to the capitalist system and the domination of the financial elite over all aspects of society.

This does much to explain the hysterical response by the ruling classes of Europe and North America to the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, which were seized upon in France and Brussels to implement sweeping and far-reaching attacks on basic constitutional rights, allowing the police to arrest and seize the possessions of anyone, and to ban assemblies and demonstrations. In the United States, the Paris attacks have been used to renew calls for the criminalization of encrypted communications.

It is worth noting that, despite the supposedly earth-shattering and paradigm-changing attacks in Paris, which have led some of the world’s oldest “democracies” to abandon principles that they claim to have upheld for nearly two centuries, the global markets seem unfazed. In the 10 days since the Paris terror attacks, stock prices have risen in almost every country. The French CAC is up by 1.69 percent, the US Nasdaq is up by 3.5 percent and the German DAX is up by 3.59 percent.

“Finance capital strives for domination, not freedom,” noted the Russian revolutionary Lenin, quoting the socialist economist Rudolf Hilferding. As in the periods before the First and Second World Wars, the ruling classes increasingly see an open turn to police-state forms of rule as the surest means to ensure the protection and expansion of their wealth.

Andre Damon

Obama backs $607 billion Pentagon bill that bars Guantanamo closing


By Bill Van Auken
12 November 2015

The White House indicated Tuesday that President Barack Obama will sign into law a Pentagon spending bill that significantly raises the base budget of the US war machine while prohibiting the shutdown of the prison camp at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba or the transfer of its detainees to US facilities.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provides for a base Pentagon budget (excluding expenditures on active military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria) of $548 billion, larger than any year since the end of the Cold War.

On top of the base budget, the funding bill includes $50.9 billion for “overseas contingency operations,” that will pay for ongoing military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, down from $64.2 billion in the last fiscal year. Together with a few smaller increments, this brings the total in military spending to $607 billion for the fiscal year that began October 1.

Over the past 15 years, the base Pentagon budget has risen by 42.7 percent, growing steadily as Obama replaced Bush, the Iraq war was wound down and then restarted, and the Afghanistan war was escalated and then scaled back.

The White House indicated that Obama would approve the legislation. “I would expect that you would see the president sign the NDAA when it comes to his desk,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a news briefing.

The fiscal year 2016 military budget sent to the White House was passed by the US Senate in an overwhelming 91-3 vote on Tuesday, following the passage of a similar bill by the House of Representatives last week by a margin of 370-58, allowing Republican congressional leaders to claim clear bipartisan support for keeping Washington’s infamous offshore detention camp open.

Last month, Obama vetoed an earlier incarnation of the bill, citing budgetary considerations as his first concern, insufficient reforms to military procurement his second and the ban on Guantanamo’s shutdown only third.

The Republican leadership had attempted to keep in place spending caps imposed in a 2011 budget-cutting measure known as the sequester, while still raising the Pentagon’s real budget by shifting increased appropriations into an overseas contingency operations (OCO) slush fund used to pay for ongoing American military interventions abroad.

Under a two-year budget deal worked out between the White House and the Congress, the caps were raised on both areas of spending, allowing for an increase in the Pentagon’s base budget of nearly 7.7 percent, raising it from $496 billion to $548 billion in fiscal year 2016.

The increase in military spending is being driven overwhelmingly by the procurement of new weapons systems aimed at preparing for war against another major power; in the first instance, Russia and China.

The budget provides $5.7 billion for the Air Force to buy another 44 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from Lockheed Martin, continuing the most expensive arms acquisition program in US history.

The Navy is moving ahead with a program to build 12 new nuclear missile-firing submarines at the cost of $6 billion each. The overall plan for building battle force ships presented by the Navy calls for the spending of over a third more in the next 30 years than was spent in the last 30, with estimated annual costs at over $20 billion.

The Pentagon budget also includes nearly $11 billion for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, comprising some 71,000 commandos deployed in some 80 countries. To augment the reach of these killer squads, the budget includes funding for the purchase of a new generation of Reaper armed drone aircraft used in “targeted killings,” i.e., assassinations.

Also included in the NDAA is another $300 million in military aid to the right-wing, anti-Russian regime in Ukraine for the continued US training of security forces, including battalions drawn directly from neo-fascist forces, and the provision of “lethal assistance such as anti-armor weapon systems, mortars, crew-served weapons and ammunition, grenade launchers and ammunition, and small arms and ammunition.”

Significantly, the Pentagon funding bill includes provisions that shift substantial control over weapons programs and acquisitions from the secretary of defense to the uniformed chiefs of the armed services, further eroding civilian control over the military.

The rise in the Pentagon’s budget is being initiated under conditions in which US military spending is already nearly three times as much as China’s and more than seven times as much Russia’s. In 2015, Washington spent more on its military than the next seven countries—five of them US allies—combined.

The only explanation for such a build-up is that US imperialism is preparing for a major escalation of military aggression on a world scale.

This eruption of US militarism goes hand-in-hand with the assault on basic democratic principles and rights, making the provisions to maintain the Guantanamo prison camp a logical corollary to the Pentagon legislation.

Much has been made in the media about Obama confronting a challenge to his “legacy” in failing to remove the Guantanamo provisions from the spending bill.

On his first full day in office, the Democratic president announced an executive order promising to close down the prison camp within one year. This will be the sixth Pentagon budget in a row that he has signed precluding such a shutdown. The restrictions were first put in place by a Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

The latest legislation not only bans the transfer of prisoners to the US, but also prohibits their being sent to third countries, including Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

Approaching the end of his second term, Obama has yet to present any plan to Congress for closing Guantanamo, and there is speculation that he could issue an executive order claiming the power as “commander in chief” to determine the fate of the detainees without congressional approval.

Given that Obama has submitted to congressional restrictions for the past seven years, it is questionable whether the courts would uphold such an order. Federal courts recently blocked his executive order limiting deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Moreover, it is highly unlikely that Obama would do anything regarding Guantanamo in the run-up to the November 2016 election.

There are still 112 detainees held in Guantanamo’s cells. Over 800 men have been incarcerated in the prison camp since it opened in 2001 as an offshore facility where those abducted by the US military and intelligence agencies could be arbitrarily held without charges or trials and subjected to interrogation under torture.

Only ten of those currently held are facing criminal charges before military commissions. The other 102 have never been charged, while some have been held for 13 years. Of them, 53 have been cleared for release for the last five years, most of them Yemenis, but they remain imprisoned even though Washington admits they pose no security threat.

Among the others are the so-called “forever prisoners,” whom the US cannot bring to trial in any civilian court because the alleged evidence against them was gained through torture and other illegal methods.

Obama’s proposal is to transfer these prisoners to a US maximum security prison, effectively a “Guantanamo North.” Alternative sites have been indicated in Leavenworth, Kansas, Colorado and elsewhere.

Obama’s claims that such a transfer would somehow be consistent with American “values” are utterly hypocritical. In reality, it would have the effect of further institutionalizing an illegal system of arbitrary imprisonment on US soil, setting the precedent for the indefinite detention of American citizens as well.

A week off from Facebook? Participants in Danish experiment like this

Group who quit site for a week felt less stressed and spoke more with family and friends face to face, in study by Danish Happiness Research Institute

People taking pictures under blooming cherry blossoms at the cemetery of Bispebjerg in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Those in the Danish study that quit the social media site for week said they felt a ‘calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time’. Photograph: Sophia Juliane Lydoplh/EPA

“We look at a lot of data on happiness and one of the things that often comes up is that comparing ourselves to our peers can increase dissatisfaction,” said Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.

“Facebook is a constant bombardment of everyone else’s great news, but many of us look out of the window and see grey skies and rain (especially in Denmark!),” he said. “This makes the Facebook world, where everyone’s showing their best side, seem even more distortedly bright by contrast, so we wanted to see what happened when users took a break.”

Participants aged between 16 and 76 were quizzed before the experiment began on how satisfied they felt, how active their social life was, how much they compared themselves to others, and how easy they found it to concentrate. The group was then split, with half behaving as normal and half agreeing to abstain from Facebook for seven days – “a big ask for many,” according to Wiking.

Stine Chen, 26, found it tough at first, saying: “Facebook’s been a huge part of life since I was a teenager and lots of social activities are organised around it.”

It was also a challenge for Sophie Anne Dornoy, 35: “When I woke up, even before getting out of bed, I’d open Facebook on my phone just to check if something exciting or important had happened during the night. I worried I’d end up on Facebook just out of habit.”

She deleted the smartphone app and blocked the site on her desktop to reduce temptation. “After a few days, I noticed my to-do list was getting done faster than normal as I spent my time more productively,” she said. “I also felt a sort of calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time.”

A week later, the group who had abstained reported higher levels of life satisfaction and better concentration, as well as feeling less lonely, less stressed and more sociable.

“My flatmates and I had to chat instead of just checking Facebook,” said Chen. Dornoy found she had longer conversations on the phone than normal and reached out more to family and friends: “It felt good to know that the world doesn’t end without Facebook and that people are still able to reach you if they want to,” she said.

The next step for researchers is to assess how long the positive effects of a social media sabbatical last, and what happens when volunteers go without Facebook for extended periods. “I’d like to try for a year,” said Wiking, “but we’d have to see how many volunteers we get for that.”

COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justice

By Skye Bougsty-Marshall On November 8, 2015

Post image for COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justiceThe COP 21 summit in Paris is approaching, but while the situation is grim the planned social movement mobilizations offer hope and opportunities.

Photo by Alberto Ñiquén.

We know how it all started — colonialism was the original metabolic rift in our history, which has been profoundly extended and deepened by industrial capitalism. Yet as we enter the 6th mass extinction, there is an ambient sense that there is no alternative to this way of life.

We collectively hallucinate that the present order of things will persist indefinitely, silently abiding the comfort and enslavement this disposition provides, all the while waiting for the apocalypse we are living through to blossom fully.

Many have been waiting for the totalizing revolution that appears as a vanishing point on a receding horizon, a perpetually deferred future. The intersecting ecological and climate crises stand as a refutation of more than a hundred years of left-wing teleology that ‘in the end we will win.’ Instead they reinforce the need for constant molecular struggles to open and expand cracks for resistance and new forms of life to flourish.

World governments acknowledge that catastrophic climate change is the defining crisis of our times, and simultaneously  continue to benefit from subsidies of $5.3 trillion in 2015, according to the IMF. This is more than all governments spend on health care combined and amounts to an astonishing $10 million every minute.

We have reached a point where we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, which would require emission reductions of at least 10% per year by 2025, even as Lord Stern counsels us that a mere 1% emissions reductions rate each year would be associated with economic recession and upheaval.

This requires radical global degrowth, which understandably is unacceptable to billions of people trying to lift themselves out of poverty wrought by colonial and neocolonial depredation and the enforced inequality of smoothly operating capitalism. Yet the overdeveloped states deny their historic responsibility, disregarding principles of equity by refusing to recognize their immeasurable ecological and social debts accrued through their ruinous development processes.

The landmark COP21 provides ecological justice struggles with an unparalleled opportunity to come together as a global movement to put into sharp relief the echoless chasm separating the minimal conditions for a just and livable planet and the political order’s capacity to secure these.

The system is exhausted. The UN COP process merely simulates its continued viability, thus performing the regeneration of its legitimacy. Its collapse is inevitable, in its orbit looms only the question whether it will take civilization with it in its violent, implosive heat death. Futurity dangles ridiculous.

Social Movements

Given the planetary scope of the climate crisis, climate justice is not an ‘issue’ amongst others, but a global frame that permeates the struggle for all forms of social justice. The call for ‘climate justice’ has become the rallying cry of the global movements connecting local struggles for survival across the world in blocking the extraction and flows of carbon and capital. It foregrounds those in the global South who bear virtually no responsibility for the crisis but disproportionately suffer its effects. This demands a forceful response, one cutting across movements in consonance with their interlinked nature.

Imagine the predicted 200 million climate refugees by 2050 as Europe’s Fortress walls (or common border) buckle under the weight of 600,000 refugees arrivingacross the Mediterranean so far this year. Austerity operates to socialize the risks and privatize the costs of the ‘natural’ disasters that will accelerate in magnitude and scale due to climate change. TPP and TTIP will eviscerate the already meager environmental regulations that could begin to rein in emissions because they also generate friction for accumulation.

The industrial food system is responsible for 44-57% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, making the fight for food sovereignty coextensive with the fight for climate justice. The destabilization and social upheaval attendant with climate disruptions and increasingly scarce resources will be met with merciless state violence that disparately impacts vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although necessary, a mere (just) transition to 100% renewable energy only partially responds to the radical transformations across interconnected dimensions social justice requires.

To maximize its effectiveness, the climate justice movement can endeavor to maintain a capillary nature circulating through the streams of other movements, overflowing the banks of their tributaries and connecting with them on the basis of their existing campaigns to become a roaring confluence of movement flows. Ecology and climate are the molecular integrals across these movements, a shared thread to link them that can be mutually and reflexively incorporated as common terrains for struggle.

The climate movement has matured and changed complexion dramatically since the debilitating failure of Copenhagen. The rhetoric from the movement’s center of gravity has begun to shift away from delegating its power to politicians to calling for system change.

Increasingly, the climate justice wing of the movement has assimilated the radical tactics and tools of movement building mainstreamed through the movements of the squares. It has learned from the experiences of the last six years, as the irruptions of Occupy and the Arab Spring show the potential for explosive social situations in the current context of the dissolution of the political order.

This is why the time is ripe and the climate movement is unique and crucial in its capacity to shine a particularly penetrating light, joining with those of other movements, to show the abyssal depth of these interrelated crises.

Welcome to Disneyland

Against this backdrop, the liberal democratic order holds out the UN COP process as the ideal framework for global governance of a global commons issue par excellence — climate. It is the prevailing order’s mechanism for addressing the existential crisis the climate catastrophe uniquely constitutes. However, the discourse and purported solutions have virtually no relationship to the reality of unraveling planetary ecosystems.

The COP and the political system do not even pretend to countenance the science. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christina Figueres confirmed that the Paris agreement is not expected to meet the 2°C target necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, disavowing the authoritative conclusions of the (conservative) IPCC reports. The negotiations focus endlessly and exclusively on emissions reductions and degrees, never questioning the fundamentals of unending productivism and consumption underpinning the rapacity of the system.

As such, the COP process functions principally through simulating the system’s capacity to resolve the climate crisis with voluntary pledges and intended nationally determined contributions, ‘net zero’ or ‘negative’ emissions relying on geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage and other undeveloped technologies. These blend with the barrage of scientific warnings and swirling quotidian apocalyptic images breeding the sense that we are all in this together and that we can continue our lifestyles uninterrupted via green capitalism.

All these signs become detached from the underlying reality of disintegrating ecosystems all around us and simply exchange for one another in a vertigo-inducing vortex of self-referentiality. It becomes a Baudrillardian simulation, wherein signs (that is, images, symbols, anything interpreted as having meaning) efface the distinction between the imaginary and the real.

These signs do not refer to or represent anything real or authentic, but themselves precede and engender reality and refer to themselves as evidence of this reality: “Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”

To further illustrate: The complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of staying under 2°C assume either a global emissions peak around 2010 (i.e., time travel) or the successful and widespread adoption of speculative geo-engineering technologies to guarantee negative emissions — a substantial proportion of the scenarios rely on both “time travel and geo-engineering.”

Thus the IPCC’s emissions scenarios depend either on non-existent technology and/or the ability to go back in time to 2010 and make global emissions actually peak that year. By rendering indistinguishable the imaginary and the real, the IPCC’s scientific models weave flawlessly in to the simulation as the models themselves produce a real without origin or reality that forms the floating circuit in which the negotiations are conducted.

In this way, the scenario of the COP does not primarily function to falsely represent political reality (ideology) but to conceal that the real of the political has disappeared. The COP is a tool for the metastabilization of a fundamentally destabilized and unsustainable system. It functions to perform the “vitality and viability of politics itself,” the continued reality of the political in the face of the exhaustion of its capacity to resolve the civilizational catastrophe we are living.

Like Disneyland, the COP is neither true nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up to maintain the fiction of the real of the outside, of the extant political order.

We are, thus, no longer primarily in the domain of the ideological. This is a crucial distinction because critiquing the system as ideologically obfuscating is itself ideological, holding out hope for an authentic politics behind it if only we removed the corporate influence from the UN, from politics.

Ideology is a false representation of reality by signs, while simulation is a short circuit of the real and its doubling by signs. Ideological analysis always attempts to resurrect the objective, true underlying process; whereas “it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.” The COP is an instrument and vehicle of global capital, a key tool in maintaining its endemic unsustainability and enabling it to continue increasing emissions for 20 years of COPs.

Resistance in Paris

Hence, COP21 offers an exceptional global platform for movements, not to restore an illusory political process behind the simulation, but instead to pierce its fascinating surface to reveal the vacuum behind it. Power in the era of simulation does not operate primarily through ideology, but through producing desires and modulating affects. Our political challenge is to disabuse ourselves of viewing the world through an ideological lens, assuming that the provision of information to the masses will dissolve the supposed ideological grip of power.

Resistance needs to touch people at the level of affect and desire, through aesthetic, theatrical, performative actions that are effective and empowering. These can operate to intensify life by opening up micro-spaces to access more potentials, making one incrementally less enslaved to situations, less determined by accumulated tendencies and habits. The major actions planned for COP21 can be seen as responding to this challenge in varying ways, while integrating the ecological justice perspective as indispensable for social justice across struggles.

As those most vulnerable and affected by the already accumulating effects of the wrecked climate, communities at the frontlines of the interlocked struggle against ecological degradation and capitalism will descend on the COP. The summit will be ushered in by the convoys of the French ZADs (zones à défendre) and other territorial struggles converging on Paris on 27-28 November.

Even as this is being written, numerous autonomous spaces are in the process of being opened, drawing on lessons from the ZADs, to organically fertilize resistance and nurture new forms of life that will carry forward beyond the COP.

Then as the latest iteration of the simulation officially begins, Climate Gameswill launch its opening round on 30 November lasting through 12 December. It is a trans-media platform that merges online disobedience and street action to create a global framework for direct action against the root causes of climate change. It aims to provide a new tool for grassroots autonomous affinity groups to take action through creating a crowd-sourced cartography of creative resistance in real time and real space.

In addition to facilitating effective disruptions of carbon and capital, it works on an affective level to tap the fount of playfulness and imagination. This opens opportunities to augment capacities and enhance degrees of freedom to respond to the apparently irresolvable circumstances in new ways beyond rote mass mobilizations and leftist rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Solutions COP21 begins on 4 December and is the quintessential greenwashing event, where corporations’ relentless efforts to commodify the entire earth and atmosphere will overflow from the Grand Palais. It blends seamlessly into the mise en scène of the COP’s simulation sowing the conditions for the smooth march of green capitalism — a response to climate change ensuring the materialization of the shadows of geo-engineering, resource wars, genocide gathering on the horizon. It will be prevented from opening and perfecting the swirling sea of signs constituting the COP.

Finally, as the COP finalizes its genocidal deal, the “Red Lines” mass action has been called for December 12th (D12) to encircle the conference center. It is considered to be the first time such a wide coalition — over 150 organizations ranging from big NGOs to trade unions, faith groups to radical collectives — has supported a day of disobedience for climate justice.

As such, the action is patterned off the success of Ende Gelände (where more than 1000 people took direct action to shut down an open-pit lignite coal mine in Northern Germany this summer) in endeavoring to normalize direct action across a range of diverse actors, many of whom may not have done disobedient actions before.

The Red Lines will have aesthetic and performative dimensions seeking to fray the COP’s simulation, in part by creating a dilemma moment with the police, wherein they will have to decide whether to allow the disobedient action to flaunt their capacity for control or to brutalize peaceful protesters.

The action strives to seize this opportunity to maximally delegitimize the COP and its performance of the system’s continued legitimacy. It will launch the movement beyond the COP, leaving behind the discursive terrain to reengage in relations of forces through the continued cultivation of a culture of resistance in which direct action is a daily activity fully integrated into our lives. Our collective future demands this.

Last Word, First Steps

The effects of climate change have entered the mainstream psyche, prompting calls of alarm to ring out from liberal institutions like the Pope, the Guardian, and Dutch courts, all highlighting the gravity of the problem and the incapacity of the system to offer any meaningful response.

With the COP’s demonstrated inability to take action in accordance with even the clear dictates of science — the apotheosis of modern rationality — it signals the deeper and more profound malaise of liberal democratic late capitalism, the growing social recognition of an acute systemic impasse, the decomposition of a paradigm that has provided our cognitive coordinates for centuries.

This crisis of legitimacy can be seized transversally by movements. Although the system appears completely entrenched and intractable, its polymorphous crises attest to its precarious ephemerality as a surface without depth. The exhaustion of the Habermasian project of modernity is an index of the times, not just another critique of state and capitalism. The climate and ecological justice lens is the clearest issue to show how incapable the socio-political-economic order is of resolving this existential crisis.

Armed with the weapons and tactics newly generalized across movements from the experiences of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and their mutant offspring, the ecological justice movement can wage this transversal social war to accelerate the implosion of the state-capitalist machine. December in Paris can be a critical waypoint in the global struggle of nature defending itself.

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Selj for his invaluable comments and feedback on earlier drafts.

Skye Bougsty-Marshall is a researcher, writer and activist working on mobilizations around COP21.

New York attorney general to investigate ExxonMobil over climate change falsifications


By Nick Barrickman
9 November 2015

The New York Times reported Thursday that the New York attorney general’s office has sent subpoenas to executives at the energy giant ExxonMobil. The attorney general’s office is seeking access to financial records, emails and other information relating to a period of several decades in which the company may have misled corporate investors about the effects of climate change on the oil giant’s bottom line.

The investigation, for which documentation has not been made public, was spurred by the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman after a series of investigative news reports published in October in the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate Change. The reports established that from the 1970s until the late 1980s, ExxonMobil had promoted research and findings that demonstrated the impact climate change would have on the planet.

“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” stated Exxon’s then-carbon dioxide specialist Henry Shaw in an internal memo in 1978, according to Inside Climate Change. The position taken by ExxonMobil’s leading scientists would diametrically contradict the company’s later public posture denying the veracity of global warming.

The reports establish that as early as 1977, scientists employed at ExxonMobil were raising warnings about the implications of global warming on the company’s bottom line. “Certainly any major development with a lifespan of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” stated Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher at Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary to a conference in 1991, the Times reports.

According to Inside Climate Change, Exxon executives in this earlier period sought to establish their scientific credibility on the subject in order to better influence their hand “at the policymaking table,” before later abandoning such postures in the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to promote bogus scientific research seeking to invalidate their own previous findings.

The revelation of ExxonMobil’s blatantly contradictory positions prompted Schneiderman to inquire into the company’s business practices. According to the New York Times, the inquiry sought to determine “whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.”

In pursuing the investigation, Schneiderman has invoked the 1921 Martin Act, which gives his office power to prosecute “all deceitful practices contrary to the plain rules of common honesty,” Reuters reports. The law invests the attorney general with sweeping power to bring both civil and criminal charges against the company.

In addition, New York attorney general’s office has launched a parallel investigation into Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal producer, for similar activities. The Times reported Friday that a source from within the attorney general’s office may seek to expand the investigation and potential lawsuit to other energy companies. “There was a concerted effort by multiple American oil companies to obscure the emerging climate science consensus throughout the 1990s. … This group may be vulnerable to legal challenge,” the Timesquoted Paul Bledsoe, former White House aide to Bill Clinton on climate issues.

In 1989, Exxon, along with British Petroleum, Shell Oil and Texaco (now Chevron) and other energy giants, formed the Global Climate Coalition, an organization dedicated to the dispersing of false information pertaining to global warming. In addition, the company is a listed supporter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-business lobbying group that promotes research skeptical of the effects of global warming.

A number of media commentators have compared the inquiry to a 2006 lawsuit that found that the tobacco industry for decades systematically sought to suppress studies finding that cigarette smoking posed massive health risks for consumers.

It is unclear if Schneiderman’s investigation will result in a lawsuit, however, as it is limited only to determining whether the company sought to defraud its investors. Unlike the previous charges brought against Big Tobacco, there is no clear proof that ExxonMobil sought to suppress studies detailing the effects of global warming when such studies were beneficial to the corporation’s bottom line.

Contrasting such differences between the lawsuits brought against the two industries, Reuters quotes Daniel Riesel, defense attorney at Sive, Paget & Riesel, as stating: “The tobacco companies knew they were selling a product that was killing people and they failed to disclose that. … Here it’s not as stark. You’d have to be able to show that Exxon had knowledge—knowledge that couldn’t be questioned—that their activity was going to contribute to global warming in a way that would materially hurt the company.”

“Positive” US jobs report belied by mass layoffs


By Josh Varlin
7 November 2015

The US economy added 271,000 jobs in October, according to the latest jobs report by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Media commentators hailed the jobs figure, which was higher than economists’ predictions of about 180,000 jobs, as “stellar,” “off the charts” and “sizzling.” Unemployment fell to 5 percent, the lowest level since April 2008.

October’s report comes following lackluster figures in September and August, in which the US economy added only 137,000 and 153,000 jobs, respectively. President Barack Obama praised the jobs report in a speech Friday, declaring “Our businesses created 268,000 new jobs last month. They’ve created 13.5 million new jobs over the past 68 straight months—the longest streak on record.”

A recent wave of mass layoff announcements, however, belies the official triumphalism by the media and political establishment. The Kraft Heinz Company announced on November 4 that it was closing 7 factories across the country, thereby axing 2,600 jobs over the next two years, in addition to 2,500 jobs that were cut in August. Oscar Mayer, a subsidiary of Kraft Heinz, will lose its Madison, Wisconsin plant in the layoffs, affecting 1,200 workers in a medium-sized city. The layoffs are the direct result of the Merger of Kraft and Heinz announced in March.

GE Transportation announced 1,500 layoffs at its Erie, Pennsylvania locomotive production facility on November 6, pointing to low locomotive demand and falling commodity prices. The layoffs will affect mostly skilled workers. Chevron announced layoffs totaling between 6,000 and 7,000 jobs, along with a “similar” number of contract workers, on October 30. This is in addition to plans to lay off 1,500 workers and 600 contractors announced in July.

On Wednesday, Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son announced that layoffs at the company would be “in the thousands.” Sprint plans to cut spending by $2 billion a year and already cut 3,700 jobs at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

The recently announced mergers of pharmaceutical giants Allergan and Pfizer, pharmacy chains Walgreens and Rite Aid, and health insurers Cigna and Anthem will likely entail job losses down the line as well. These mergers and acquisitions, which result in massive payoffs to Wall Street investors and corporate investments, create the conditions for slashing workers’ wages and benefits, the closure of workplaces and mass layoffs.

Wal-Mart announced last month that its sales for the year would be flat and that earnings per share would decrease next year. Target, meanwhile, announced that it was closing 13 of its stores nationwide, in a move that will likely spell unemployment for most of the workers at the affected locations.

The poor sales figures for Wal-Mart and Target express the worsening financial position of working people amid the decades-long stagnation of wages and continued mass joblessness despite the headline unemployment figure.

Wall Street reacted to the jobs report with a mild selloff early in the day, reflecting fears that if the real economy or employment situation improved, the Federal Reserve would be more likely to raise interest rates in December. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said on Wednesday, before the jobs report, that a hike in the key interest rate that month is a “live possibility.”

Despite the better-than-expected jobs figures, the labor force participation rate, an important indicator of the actual job market, remained at its 38-year low of 62.4 percent. In other words, a whopping 37.6 percent of the population is neither employed nor actively seeking work, with many having simply given up on the prospect of finding a decent job.

The latest report comes in the context of a global economic slowdown and other figures pointing to deteriorating economic conditions in the United States. The US economy grew at a mere 1.5 percent annualized rate in the third fiscal quarter of 2015 after a 3.9 percent rate in the second quarter. The World Bank has projected that American GDP will grow 2.7 percent this year, but this has already been revised down from a January estimate of 3.2 percent.

When broken down by sector, the jobs report reveals much more than the headlines suggest. Manufacturing employment was unchanged in October at 12.3 million workers, compared to over 13 million before the financial crisis and recession. In other words, despite the “recovery,” relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs have failed to reach even pre-recession levels, let alone keep pace with population growth.

The positions added in October were overwhelmingly in the service industry, which is dominated by low-wage employment. The sector that hired the most workers was professional and business services, which added 78,000 jobs, followed by health care, which added 44,900, retail, which added 43,800 and leisure and hospitality, which added 41,000 jobs.

The professional and business services sector includes technical, management, administrative, support and waste management services, including custodial, clerical and security staff. Nearly one third of the jobs added in this sector were in temp agencies, which added 24,500 jobs.

The next-largest sector was health care, which includes home health aides in nursing homes, whose median hourly salary was $10.74 in 2014. The retail and leisure and hospitality sectors are notorious for their low wages. Cashiers at grocery stores had a median wage of $10.31 in 2014.

Leisure and hospitality workers made still less, with the median wage of nonsupervisory employees a mere $12.51 per hour and the median workweek only 25 hours. Fast-food cooks earned a median wage of only $9.13 per hour in 2014.

These industry sectors, staffed by underemployed and underpaid workers, represent the “new normal” of the American economy. The recession and subsequent “recovery” resulted in millions of formerly well-paying jobs being axed and replaced with poverty-wage employment. A 2014 report by the National Employment Law Project notes that while US businesses have added 1.85 million low-wage jobs over the past six years, they had eliminated 1.83 million medium-wage and high-wage jobs.

The decades-long stagnation of wages for US workers and the destruction of decent-paying jobs were reflected in a recent study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. According to the study, the mortality rate of white, middle-aged working-class Americans has dramatically increased since 1999, translating into nearly 100,000 more deaths than if it had remained flat over this period. This increase is largely due to drug overdoses, alcohol abuse and suicides, symptomatic of the social misery and distress that pervades the lives of a growing share of American workers.

Chris Hedges: TPP Is the Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

It’s worse than any of us feared.

The release Thursday of the 5,544-page text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a trade and investment agreement involving 12 countries comprising nearly 40 percent of global output—confirms what even its most apocalyptic critics feared.

“The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history,” Ralph Nader told me when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental protections [to be] unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance. The TPP establishes a transnational, autocratic system of enforceable governance in defiance of our domestic laws.”

The TPP is part of a triad of trade agreements that includes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). TiSA, by calling for the privatization of all public services, is a mortal threat to the viability of the U.S. Postal Service, public education and other government-run enterprises and utilities; together these operations make up 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The TTIP and TiSA are still in the negotiation phase. They will follow on the heels of the TPP and are likely to go before Congress in 2017.

These three agreements solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.

The TPP removes legislative authority from Congress and the White House on a range of issues. Judicial power is often surrendered to three-person trade tribunals in which only corporations are permitted to sue. Workers, environmental and advocacy groups and labor unions are blocked from seeking redress in the proposed tribunals. The rights of corporations become sacrosanct. The rights of citizens are abolished.

The Sierra Club issued a statement after the release of the TPP text saying that the “deal is rife with polluter giveaways that would undermine decades of environmental progress, threaten our climate, and fail to adequately protect wildlife because big polluters helped write the deal.”

If there is no sustained popular uprising to prevent the passage of the TPP in Congress this spring we will be shackled by corporate power. Wages will decline. Working conditions will deteriorate. Unemployment will rise. Our few remaining rights will be revoked. The assault on the ecosystem will be accelerated. Banks and global speculation will be beyond oversight or control. Food safety standards and regulations will be jettisoned. Public services ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to the post office and public education will be abolished or dramatically slashed and taken over by for-profit corporations. Prices for basic commodities, including pharmaceuticals, will skyrocket. Social assistance programs will be drastically scaled back or terminated. And countries that have public health care systems, such as Canada and Australia, that are in the agreement will probably see their public health systems collapse under corporate assault. Corporations will be empowered to hold a wide variety of patents, including over plants and animals, turning basic necessities and the natural world into marketable products. And, just to make sure corporations extract every pound of flesh, any public law interpreted by corporations as impeding projected profit, even a law designed to protect the environment or consumers, will be subject to challenge in an entity called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) section. The ISDS, bolstered and expanded under the TPP, will see corporations paid massive sums in compensation from offending governments for impeding their “right” to further swell their bank accounts. Corporate profit effectively will replace the common good.

Given the bankruptcy of our political class—including amoral politicians such as Hillary Clinton, who is denouncing the TPP during the presidential campaign but whose unwavering service to corporate capitalism assures her fealty to her corporate backers—the trade agreement has a good chance of becoming law. And because the Obama administration won fast-track authority, a tactic designed by the Nixon administration to subvert democratic debate, President Obama will be able to sign the agreement before it goes to Congress.

The TPP, because of fast track, bypasses the normal legislative process of public discussion and consideration by congressional committees. The House and the Senate, which have to vote on the TPP bill within 90 days of when it is sent to Congress, are prohibited by the fast-track provision from adding floor amendments or holding more than 20 hours of floor debate. Congress cannot raise concerns about the effects of the TPP on the environment. It can only vote yes or no. It is powerless to modify or change one word.

There will be a mass mobilization Nov. 14 through 18 in Washington to begin the push to block the TPP. Rising up to stop the TPP is a far, far better investment of our time and energy than engaging in the empty political theater that passes for a presidential campaign.

“The TPP creates a web of corporate laws that will dominate the global economy,” attorney Kevin Zeese of the group Popular Resistance, which has mounted a long fight against the trade agreement, told me from Baltimore by telephone. “It is a global corporate coup d’état. Corporations will become more powerful than countries. Corporations will force democratic systems to serve their interests. Civil courts around the world will be replaced with corporate courts or so-called trade tribunals. This is a massive expansion that builds on the worst of NAFTA rather than what Barack Obama promised, which was to get rid of the worst aspects of NAFTA.”

The agreement is the product of six years of work by global capitalists from banks, insurance companies, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto and other corporations.

“It was written by them [the corporations], it is for them and it will serve them,” Zeese said of the TPP. “It will hurt domestic businesses and small businesses. The buy-American provisions will disappear. Local communities will not be allowed to build buy-local campaigns. The thrust of the agreement is the privatization and commodification of everything. The agreement has built within it a deep antipathy to state-supported or state-owned enterprises. It gives away what is left of our democracy to the World Trade Organization.”

The economist David Rosnick, in a report on the TPP by the Center for Economic and Policy Research(CEPR), estimated that under the trade agreement only the top 10 percent of U.S. workers would see their wages increase. Rosnick wrote that the real wages of middle-income U.S. workers (from the 35th percentile to the 80th percentile) would decline under the TPP. NAFTA, contributing to a decline in manufacturing jobs (now only 9 percent of the economy), has forced workers into lower-paying service jobs and resulted in a decline in real wages of between 12 and 17 percent. The TPP would only accelerate this process, Rosnick concluded.

“This is a continuation of the global race to the bottom,” Dr. Margaret Flowers, also from Popular Resistance and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said from Baltimore in a telephone conversation with me. “Corporations are free to move to countries that have the lowest labor standards. This drives down high labor standards here. It means a decimation of industries and unions. It means an accelerated race to the bottom, which we must rise up to stop.”

“In Malaysia one-third of tech workers are essentially slaves,” Zeese said. “In Vietnam the minimum wage is 35 cents an hour. Once these countries are part of the trade agreement U.S. workers are put in a very difficult position.”

Fifty-one percent of working Americans now make less than $30,000 a year, a new study by the Social Security Administration reported. Forty percent are making less than $20,000 a year. The federal government considers a family of four living on an income of less than $24,250 to be in poverty.

“Half of American workers earn essentially the poverty level,” Zeese said. “This agreement only accelerates this trend. I don’t see how American workers are going to cope.”

The assault on the American workforce by NAFTA—which was established under the Clinton administration in 1994 and which at the time promised creation of 200,000 net jobs a year in the United States—has been devastating. NAFTA has led to a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada and the loss of at least 1 million U.S. jobs, according to a report by Public Citizen. The flooding of the Mexican market with cheap corn by U.S. agro-businesses drove down the price of Mexican corn and saw 1 million to 3 million poor Mexican farmers go bankrupt and lose their small farms. Many of them crossed the border into the United States in a desperate effort to find work.

“Obama has misled the public throughout this process,” Dr. Flowers said. “He claimed that environmental groups were supportive of the agreement because it provided environmental protections, and this has now been proven false. He told us that it would create 650,000 jobs, and this has now been proven false. He calls this a 21st century trade agreement, but it actually rolls back progress made in Bush-era trade agreements. The most recent model of a 21st century trade agreement is the Korean free trade agreement. That was supposed to create 140,000 U.S. jobs. But what we saw within a couple years was a loss of about 70,000 jobs and a larger trade deficit with Korea. This agreement [the TPP] is sold to us with the same deceits that were used to sell us NAFTA and other trade agreements.”

The agreement, in essence, becomes global law. Any agreements over carbon emissions by countries made through the United Nations are effectively rendered null and void by the TPP.

“Trade agreements are binding,” Flowers said. “They supersede any of the nonbinding agreements made by the United Nations Climate Change Conference that might come out of Paris.”

There is more than enough evidence from past trade agreements to indicate where the TPP—often called “NAFTA on steroids”—will lead. It is part of the inexorable march by corporations to wrest from us the ability to use government to defend the public and to build social and political organizations that promote the common good. Our corporate masters seek to turn the natural world and human beings into malleable commodities that will be used and exploited until exhaustion or collapse. Trade agreements are the tools being used to achieve this subjugation. The only response left is open, sustained and defiant popular revolt.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, writes a regular column forTruthdig every Monday. Hedges’ most recent book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”