The President is a Bully

Obama Issues Threats To Russia And NATO


The Obama regime has issued simultaneous threats to the enemy it is making out of Russia and to its European NATO allies on which Washington is relying to support sanctions on Russia.  This cannot end well.

As even Americans living in a controlled media environment are aware, Europeans, South Americans, and Chinese are infuriated that the National Stasi Agency is spying on their communications. NSA’s affront to legality, the US Constitution, and international diplomatic norms is unprecedented. Yet, the spying continues, while Congress sits sucking its thumb and betraying its oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.

In Washington mumbo-jumbo from the executive branch about “national security” suffices to negate statutory law and Constitutional requirements. Western Europe, seeing that the White House, Congress and the Federal Courts are impotent and unable to rein-in the Stasi Police State, has decided to create a European communication system that excludes US companies in order to protect the privacy of European citizens and government communications from the Washington Stasi.

The Obama regime, desperate that no individual and no country escape its spy net, denounced Western Europe’s intention to protect the privacy of its communications as “a violation of trade laws.”

Obama’s US Trade Representative, who has been negotiating secret “trade agreements” in Europe and Asia that give US corporations immunity to the laws of all countries that sign the agreements, has threatened WTO penalties if Europe’s communications network excludes the US companies that serve as spies for NSA. Washington in all its arrogance has told its most necessary allies that if you don’t let us spy on you, we will use WTO to penalize you.

So there you have it.  The rest of the world now has the best possible reason to exit the WTO and to avoid the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic “trade agreements.” The agreements are not about trade. The purpose of these “trade agreements” is to establish the hegemony of Washington and US corporations over other countries.

In an arrogant demonstration of Washington’s power over Europe, the US Trade Representative warned Washington’s NATO allies: “US Trade Representative will be carefully monitoring the development of any such proposals” to create a separate European communication network.

Washington is relying on the Chancellor of Germany, the President of France, and the Prime Minister of the UK to place service to Washington above their countries’ communications privacy.

It has dawned on the Russian government that being a part of the American dollar system means that Russia is open to being looted by Western banks and corporations or by individuals financed by them, that the ruble is vulnerable to being driven down by speculators in the foreign exchange market and by capital outflows, and that dependence on the American international payments system exposes Russia to arbitrary sanctions imposed by the “exceptional and indispensable country.”

Why it took the Russian government so long to realize that the dollar payments system puts countries under Washington’s thumb is puzzling.  Perhaps the answer is the success of US Cold War propaganda. Cold war propaganda  portrayed America as the shining light, the great observer of human rights, opponent of torture, upholder of liberty, defender of the downtrodden, lover of peace, and benefactor of the world.  This image survived even as the US government prevented the rise of any representative governments in Latin America and while Washington has bombed half a dozen countries into rubble.

Russians emerging from communism naturally aligned with the propaganda image of “American freedom.” That the US and Europe were also corrupt and also had blood on their hands was overlooked. During the years of anti-Soviet propaganda, Washington was murdering European women and children and blaming communists. The truth came out when President of Italy Francesco Cossiga publicly revealed Operation Gladio, a false flag terrorist scheme run by the CIA and Italian Intelligence during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that targeted European women and children with bombs in order to blame the communists and thereby prevent European communist parties from making electoral gains. This is one of the most well-known false flag events in history, having resulted in extraordinary confessions by Italian intelligence.

Now that the Russian government understands that Russia must depart the dollar system in order to protect Russian sovereignty, President Putin has entered into barter/ruble oil deals with China and Iran.  However, Washington objects to Russia abandoning the dollar international payment system. Zero Hedge, a more reliable news source than the US print and TV media, reports that Washington has conveyed to both Russia and Iran that a non-dollar oil deal would trigger US sanctions.

Washington’s objection to the Russian/Iranian deal made it clear to all governments that Washington uses the dollar-based international payments system as a means of control. Why should countries accept an international payments system that infringes their sovereignty? What would happen if instead of passively accepting the dollar as the means of international payment, countries simply left the dollar system? The value of the dollar would fall and so would Washington’s power. Without the power that the dollar’s role as world reserve currency gives the US to pay its bills by printing money, the US could not maintain its aggressive military posture or its payoffs to foreign governments to do its bidding.

Washington would be just another failed empire, whose population can barely make ends meet, while the One Percent who comprise the mega-rich compete with 200-foot yachts and $750,000 fountain pins. The aristocracy and the serfs.  That is what America has already become. A throwback to the feudal era.

It is only a matter of time before it is universally recognized that the US is a failed state. Let’s pray this recognition occurs before the arrogant inhabitants of Washington blow up the world in pursuit of hegemony over others.

Washington’s provocative military moves against Russia are reckless and dangerous.

The buildup of NATO air, ground, and naval forces on Russia’s borders in violation of the 1997 NATO-Russian treaty and the Montreux Convention naturally strike the Russian government as suspicious, especially as the buildups are justified on the basis of lies that Russia is about to invade Poland, the Baltic States, and Moldova in addition to Ukraine.

These lies are transparent.  The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has asked NATO for an explanation, stating: “We are not only expecting answers, but answers that will be based fully on respect for the rules we agreed on.”

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Washington’s puppet installed as NATO figurehead who is no more in charge of NATO than I am, responded in a way guaranteed to raise Russian anxieties. Rasmussen dismissed the Russian Foreign Minister’s request for explanation as “propaganda and disinformation.”

Clearly, what we are experiencing are rising tensions caused by Washington and NATO. These tensions are in addition to the tensions arising from Washington’s coup in Ukraine. These reckless and dangerous actions have destroyed the Russian government’s trust in the West and are moving the world toward war.

Little did the protesters in Kiev, called into the streets by Washington’s NGOs, realize that their foolishness was setting the world on a path to armageddon.

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is How America Was Lost.


The Last Link to Plutocrats Past


Too Much
Here at Too Much we love mysteries. Everybody loves mysteries. That’s why TV networks load primetime with whodunits. That’s why the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has filled front pages the world over the past two weeks.

This intense interest in mystery makes what’s going on inside the JPMorgan Chase banking empire all the more mysterious. Three young men in that empire have jumped to their dooms in the past year. A few others have died in unusual situations. A “statistical improbability,” one Wall Street watcher calls the deaths.

You would think that reporters would be swarming all over this story, especially since Hollywood has shown of late just how profitable zeroing in on greed and Wall Street can be. But that hasn’t been the case. Coverage has been minimal.

Why? We don’t have any great insights on this JPMorgan mystery. In Too Much this week we’re looking at a different mystery instead. This one involves the life — and recent passing — of a rich old woman, not young rich men.

The U.S. state with the most millionaires per capita? That’s Maryland. The U.S. state where lawmakers are bending over backwards to keep millionaires happy, at the expense of everyone else in the state? That’s Maryland, too. A thumping bipartisan majority of Maryland legislators last week voted to cut the state’s estate tax, a move that will save the state’s richest households — and chop state revenues by — $431 million over the next five years. The Maryland economy, an unhappy Baltimore Sun editorial noted after the vote, is still reeling from the Great Recession, with the state’s jobless ranks almost double their pre-recession level. Given these hard times, the editorial asked, “if you had $431 million to spare, is a tax cut for the ultra-rich where you would spend it?”

David CordaniThe red-hot political battling over Obamacare has left the rest of American health care in the shadows, and the CEOs at the nation’s top health insurers would just assume stay there — and count their windfalls in peace. Cigna has just disclosed that CEO David Cordani took home $17.8 million last year, over quadruple his pay the year before. Four other Cigna execs shared $20.3 million in 2013 compensation. But one piece of Obamacare may dampen their celebration. The Affordable Care Act only lets insurers deduct off their taxes $500,000 in pay per executive. All other U.S. companies can essentially deduct however much they stuff in CEO pockets. Legislation now before Congress would limit the overall corporate pay tax deduction to $1 million per exec . . .

In realtor offices all across North America, sales execs are rooting for smog — in China. A new string of “air apocalypses” above Beijing and other Chinese cities has boosted the share of China’s rich thinking about emigrating abroad, says the Hurun Research Institute, to a record 64 percent. This stark stat has Los Angeles realty exec Mauricio Umansky marveling that any realtor “not reaching out to the Chinese is losing out on an amazing opportunity.” But realtors, warns sales expert Brendan DeSimone, will need to be culturally hip to score big. He’s advising agents to cultivate the lucky digits of Chinese culture, like the number eight. Never list a property for $7.9 million, says DeSimone. Make it $8 million even. Realtors might also be wise to come across as pet-friendly. A one-year-old golden-haired mastiff has just sold in Zhejiang province for $1.9 million.

Quote of the Week

“I’m not a great fan of redistribution of wealth.”
Bernie Madoff, convicted Wall Street wealth manager, explaining in prison interview why he doesn’t care for New York mayor Bill de Blasio, Politico, March 20, 2014

Lee FarkasNo top bank exec has yet gone to jail, we often read, for crashing the economy in 2008. Lee Farkas, the 61-year-old former top exec at America’s 12th-largest mortgage lender, begs to disagree. Three years ago a federal jury found Farkas guilty of a $2.9 billion fraud, and he’s now serving a 30-year sentence. Farkas spent nearly $40 million from his ill-gotten haul maintaining a lush lifestyle of multiple homes, cars, and planes. But in his peer group, Farkas told the Wall Street Journal last week, he rated as “a pauper.” The feds only prosecuted him, Farkas charges, because his Florida-based bank had “no political connections or power.” Banking fraud expert William Black agrees. All the “poster boys” for the pre-crash fraud, Black notes, remain at large.


Coming this May: the second batch of “single-cask bottlings” of single malt Scotch whiskey from the Glenrothes “extraordinary cask collection.” The first batch, bottled in 1970, came on the market in 2012 and has already sold out. This new batch, from 1969, will retail at $7,000 per bottle. David King, the San Francisco-based importer, sees lots more batches to come: “Very old and rare whiskies are becoming as valuable and sought after as pieces of art.”

Web Gem

Inequality Watch/ A network of research centers observing the “state and evolution of inequality” in Europe. But articles on the site — like this treatment of global warming and equality — explore concerns that go far beyond Europe’s borders.

“Environmental impact statements” have become a familiar — and important — part of the American political decision-making process. Maybe we now need an “inequality impact statement.” Inequality, notes new research from the UK Equality Trust, certainly makes a huge enough impact. The social consequences of Britain’s rising economic divide, in everything from reduced healthy life expectancy to higher levels of imprisonment, cost every man, woman, and child in the UK £622, the equivalent of $1,026, a year. Says Equality Trust director Duncan Exley: “An inequality test should be applied to all government policies to assess whether they will increase the gap between the richest and the rest.”

Take Action
on Inequality

Become a citizen co-sponsor of the new tax-the-rich Congressional Progressive Caucus “Better Off Budget.”

inequality by the numbers
Ultra rich in USA

Stat of the Week

If the pending Comcast-Time Warner cable merger goes through, Time Warner CEO Robert Marcus will grab $80 million in severance, required filings revealed last week, a severance jackpot that amounts to over $1 million a day for the six weeks Marcus ran Time Warner before agreeing to sell it.


America’s Last Throwback to Plutocracy 1.0

Heiress Bunny Mellon didn’t promise us a rose garden. She gave us one. We would have been better off with more equality instead.

Let us pause now to pay our respects to Bunny Mellon. She died last week on her 4,000-acre farm in Virginia’s fabled horse country. But no tears, please. Bunny — nobody called her by her given name Rachel — lived a long and rich life.

Very long. Very rich.

One hundred and three at her death, Bunny Mellon spent every year of her century-plus existence in luxury. Her grandfather had made a fortune off Listerine mouthwash. Her father ran the Gillette razor company.

The MellonsBunny Mellon herself would become wealthier still. In 1948, she married Paul Mellon, the only son of Andrew Mellon, one of America’s richest men ever.

Paul and Bunny would go on to share over 50 years together, mostly at their farm, a beloved spot that sported a mile-long private plane runway, a bronze statue of their Kentucky Derby winner, and a Mark Rothko painting worth over $100 million.

For variety, the Mellons shuttled between an assortment of their other homes in Antigua, Paris, New York, Washington, Nantucket, and Cape Cod.

But Bunny Mellon didn’t just frolic away her good fortune. She became, her obituaries all noted, a widely admired horticulturist and even expertly redesigned the White House Rose Garden for her dear friend Jacqueline Kennedy.

One obituary last week described Bunny Mellon as “the last standing true American aristocrat.” Bunny’s life actually holds a deeper historical significance. At her passing, she represented the last link between America’s original plutocrats, the gang that ushered in the Great Depression, and our contemporary plutocrats, the crew that gave us the Great Recession.

Mellon had her high-society debutante debut in October 1929, the same month as the infamous stock market crash. America’s top 1 percent was then collecting nearly a quarter of the nation’s income, a level the nation’s deepest pockets would not again match until Bunny Mellon’s last decade.

Bunny’s life, in effect, saw the demise of one plutocracy and the rise of another.

And that presents us with a bit of a mystery. How did Bunny’s mammoth family fortune survive the mid 20th century, a span of years that saw America’s other original plutocratic fortunes battered down by a 91 percent federal tax on income over $400,000 and a 77 percent estate tax on bequests over $10 million?

The answer: The Mellons had an ace up their sleeve. Bunny’s father-in-law, Andrew Mellon, didn’t just hold a huge fortune. He held enormous political power, as the longest-serving secretary of the treasury in U.S. history. Andrew Mellon entered the cabinet in 1921. He wouldn’t exit until 1932.

Between those two years, Mellon did his best to undo the tax rates imposed on America’s rich during World War I. On his watch, the top income tax rate, 77 percent on income over $1 million in 1918, would drop to just 25 percent.

Mellon despised the estate tax even more than taxes on high incomes.

“The social necessity for breaking up large fortunes in this country,” he pronounced in 1924, “does not exist.”

Mellon pushed hard to have the estate tax completely repealed. He wouldn’t get that repeal. Lawmakers slashed estate tax rates but left the tax in place. But Mellon did get his way on the “gift tax,” a low-profile accessory to the estate tax.

Congress had enacted a gift tax to prevent the wealthy from sidestepping the estate tax by “giving” their money away to family and friends. Mellon in 1926 had this gift tax repealed — and then proceeded to take full advantage of its absence. He would quickly shower his dear ones with millions in untaxed gifts.

Mellon had another trick up his sleeve as well. He didn’t just maneuver to lower tax rates on high incomes. He quietly had his Treasury Department issue tax rebates to the rich for the high taxes they had paid before tax rates started falling. Mellon personally would pocket $21 million in personal and corporate refunds, the equivalent of over a quarter-billion dollars today.

Mellon’s grand fortune, thanks to maneuvers like these, passed on largely intact to his nearest and dearest. In 1957, Fortune would publish a list of America’s wealthiest individuals. Half the top eight owed their wealth to Andrew Mellon.

This immense wealth enabled Bunny Mellon to skate through America’s mid-century years. Her rich contemporaries found the going much more difficult. By the 1950s, newly restored high taxes on America’s richest had their grand estates turning into college campuses and suburban housing tracts.

Not all the rich, to be sure, had such a hard time in the high-tax years right after World War II. Oil industry fortunes flourished mightily, fueled by a set of special tax breaks zealously guarded by the nation’s two most potent lawmakers, House speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson.

These Big Oil fortunes — with substantial Mellon heir cash on the side — would soon bankroll a new conservative political infrastructure and set the stage for the Reagan era’s wildly successful assault against high taxes on America’s richest.

By Bunny Mellon’s golden years, that assault had completely recreated the plutocracy of her youth. She had outlived America’s equal years. Will we now outlive, the question becomes, today’s unequal ones?

New Wisdom
on Wealth

Sean McElwee, Conservatives defend inequality out of self-interest — nothing more, The Week, March 18, 2014. As Jonathan Swift put it, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

Jack Metzgar, The Half-Truth of Education as Answer to Inequality, Washington Spectator, March 18, 2014. A Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies analysis.

Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, The Most Important Economic Chart, House of Debt, March 18, 2014. The gains from rising U.S. economic productivity since 1980 have gone unshared.

Matt Bruenig, America should jack up its top tax rate to 70 percent, The Week, March 20, 2014. The super rich will barely even feel it. But the rest of us will benefit enormously.

Bob Lord, A Third of a Trillion for Three Families, Inequality.Org, March 20, 2014. In the not-so-distant future, if current trends continue, the Koch, Walton, and Mars households will hold $1 trillion in wealth, over 1 percent the net worth of a nation with over 300 million people.

Mark Weisbrot, The truth about Venezuela: a revolt of the well-off, Guardian, March 20, 2014. The high-income set in Caracas takes to the barricades.

Bill Moyers, Who’s Buying Our Midterm Elections? Moyers & Company,
March 21, 2014. Two watchdogs survey America’s political dark money scene.

The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class cover

Read the full Introduction online to Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati’s new history of the triumph over America’s original plutocracy, then check out the publisher’s discount.

NEW AND notable

Why We Have So Many Struggling Artists

art reportClare McAndrew, Art Market Report 2014, European Fine Art Foundation, March 2014.

What’s really happening in the art world today? No one knows better than researchers at the Netherlands-based European Fine Art Foundation. They’ve just completed crunching data for 2013 from the world’s top auction houses and over 5,000 major art dealers.

The latest data from all this crunching paint a disturbing picture: A relatively small number of global ultra rich worth over $30 million each, a third of them American, totally dominate the international art market.

These rich are currently holding about 1.7 percent of their wealth in art, a percentage that translates into a tidy $476 billion.

That sum ought to be more than enough to keep a robust worldwide network of artists busy and productive. But the world’s wealthiest art collectors, points out economist Clare McAndrew in this new research appraisal, appear “to be interested in the work of only about 50 to 100 artists.”

These artists have become fabulously wealthy themselves. Artists in general? They continue struggling to create.

How America’s Spirit for Revolution Was Crushed


Today’s ‘revolutions’ are aimed not at liberating, but at controlling us all.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tucker/

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from hereThis essay will appear in “Revolution,” the Spring 2014 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. This slightly adapted version is posted at with the kind permission of that magazine.

“In case of rain, the revolution will take place in the hall.”
— Erwin Chargaff

For the last several years, the word “revolution” has been hanging around backstage on the national television talk-show circuit waiting for somebody, anybody — visionary poet, unemployed automobile worker, late-night comedian — to cue its appearance on camera. I picture the word sitting alone in the green room with the bottled water and a banana, armed with press clippings of its once-upon-a-time star turns in America’s political theater (tie-dyed and brassiere-less on the barricades of the 1960s countercultural insurrection, short-haired and seersucker smug behind the desks of the 1980s ReaganRisorgimento), asking itself why it’s not being brought into the segment between the German and the Japanese car commercials.

Surely even the teleprompter must know that it is the beast in the belly of the news reports, more of them every day in print and en blog, about income inequality, class conflict, the American police state. Why then does nobody have any use for it except in the form of the adjective, revolutionary, unveiling a new cellphone app or a new shade of lipstick?

I can think of several reasons, among them the cautionary tale told by the round-the-clock media footage of dead revolutionaries in Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia, also the certain knowledge that anything anybody says (on camera or off, to a hotel clerk, a Facebook friend, or an ATM) will be monitored for security purposes. Even so, the stockpiling of so much careful silence among people who like to imagine themselves on the same page with Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty, or give me death” — raises the question as to what has become of the American spirit of rebellion. Where have all the flowers gone, and what, if anything, is anybody willing to risk in the struggle for “Freedom Now,” “Power to the People,” “Change We Can Believe In”?

My guess is next to nothing that can’t be written off as a business expense or qualified as a tax deduction. Not in America at least, but maybe, with a better publicist and 50% of the foreign rights, somewhere east of the sun or west of the moon.

Revolt from Thomas Jefferson to the Colossal Dynamo

The hallowed American notion of armed rebellion as a civic duty stems from the letter that Thomas Jefferson writes from Paris in 1787 as a further commentary on the new Constitution drawn up that year in Philadelphia, a document that he thinks invests the state with an unnecessary power to declare the citizenry out of order. A mistake, says Jefferson, because no country can preserve its political liberties unless its rulers know that their people preserve the spirit of resistance, and with it ready access to gunpowder.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Jefferson conceived of liberty and despotism as plantings in the soil of politics, products of human cultivation subject to changes in the weather, the difference between them not unlike that between the growing of an orchard and the draining of a cesspool, both understood as means of environmental protection. It is the turning of the seasons and the cyclical motions of the stars that Jefferson has in mind when in his letter he goes on to say, “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion” — i.e., one conceived not as a lawless upheaval but as a lawful recovery.

The twentieth-century philosopher and political scientist Hannah Arendt says that the American Revolution was intended as a restoration of what its progenitors believed to be a natural order of things “disturbed and violated” by the despotism of an overbearing monarchy and the abuses of its colonial government. During the hundred years prior to the Declaration of Independence, the Americans had developed tools of political management (church congregations, village assemblies, town meetings) with which to govern themselves in accordance with what they took to be the ancient liberties possessed by their fellow Englishmen on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. They didn’t bear the grievances of a subjugated populace, and the seeds of revolt were nowhere blowing in the wind until the British crown demanded new, and therefore unlawful, tax money.

Arendt’s retrieval of the historical context leads her to say of the war for independence that it was “not revolutionary except by inadvertence.” To sustain the point she calls on Benjamin Franklin’s memory of the years preceding the shots fired at Lexington in April 1775: “I never had heard in any conversation from any person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for a separation, or hint that such a thing would be advantageous to America.” The men who came to power after the Revolution were the same men who held power before the Revolution, their new government grounded in a system of thought that was, in our modern parlance, conservative.

Born 13 years later under the fixed star of a romantic certainty, the French Revolution was advertent, a violent overthrow of what its proponents, among them Maximilien de Robespierre, perceived as an unnatural order of things. Away with the old, in with the new; kill the king, remove the statues, reset the clocks, welcome to a world that never was but soon is yet to come.

The freedom-loving songs and slogans were well suited to the work of ecstatic demolition, but a guillotine is not a living tree, and although manured with the blood of aristocrats and priests, it failed to blossom with the leaves of political liberty. An armed mob of newly baptized citoyens stormed the Bastille in 1789; Napoleon in 1804 crowned himself emperor in the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Jefferson’s thinking had been informed by his study of nature and history, Robespierre’s by his reading of Rousseau’s poetics. Neither set of political ideas brought forth the dream-come-true products of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution — new worlds being born every day of the week, the incoming tide of modern manufacture and invention (the cotton gin, gas lighting, railroads) washing away the sand castles of medieval religion and Renaissance humanism, dismantling Robespierre’s reign of virtue, uprooting Jefferson’s tree of liberty.

So it is left to Karl Marx, along with Friedrich Engels, to acknowledge the arrival of the new world that never was with the publication in German of theCommunist Manifesto in 1848: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.”

Men shape their tools, their tools shape their relations with other men, and the rain it raineth every day in a perfect storm of creative destruction that is amoral and relentless. The ill wind, according to Marx, blows from any and all points of the political compass with the “single, unconscionable freedom — free trade,” which resolves “personal worth into exchange value,” substitutes “callous ‘cash payment’” for every other form of human meaning and endeavor, devotes its all-devouring enthusiasms to “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the energies of the capitalist dynamic take full and proud possession of the whole of Western society. They become, in Marx’s analysis, the embodiment of “the modern representative state,” armed with the wealth of its always newer and more powerful machines (electricity, photography, the telephone, the automobile) and staffed by executives (i.e., politicians, no matter how labeled) who function as “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

What Marx sees in theory as an insatiable abstraction, the American historian Henry Adams sees as concrete and overwhelming fact. Marx is 17 years dead and the Communist Manifesto a sacred text among the left-wing intelligentsia everywhere in Europe when Adams, his habit of mind as profoundly conservative as that of his great-grandfather, stands in front of a colossal dynamo at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and knows that Prometheus, no longer chained to his ancient rock, bestrides the Earth wearing J.P. Morgan’s top hat and P.T. Barnum’s cloak of as many colors as the traffic will bear. Adams shares with Marx the leaning toward divine revelation:

“To Adams the dynamo became a symbol of infinity. As he grew accustomed to the great gallery of machines, he began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross. The planet itself seemed less impressive, in its old-fashioned, deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel, revolving within arm’s length at some vertiginous speed… Before the end, one began to pray to it; inherited instinct taught the natural expression of man before silent and infinite force.”

The Sixties Swept Away in a Whirlwind of Commodities and Repressive Surveillance

I inherited the instinct as a true-born American bred to the worship of both machinery and money; an appreciation of its force I acquired during a lifetime of reading newspaper reports of political uprisings in the provinces of the bourgeois world state — in China, Israel, and Greece in the 1940s; in the 1950s those in Hungary, Cuba, Guatemala, Algeria, Egypt, Bolivia, and Iran; in the 1960s in Vietnam, France, America, Ethiopia, and the Congo; in the 1970s and 1980s in El Salvador, Poland, Nicaragua, Kenya, Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Jordan, Cambodia, again in Iran; over the last 24 years in Russia, Venezuela, Lebanon, Croatia, Bosnia, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Somalia, South Africa, Romania, Sudan, again in Algeria and Egypt.

The plot line tends to repeat itself — first the new flag on the roof of the palace, rapturous crowds in the streets waving banners; then searches, requisitions, massacres, severed heads raised on pikes; soon afterward the transfer of power from one police force to another police force, the latter more repressive than the former (darker uniforms, heavier motorcycles) because more frightened of the social and economic upheavals they can neither foresee nor control.

All the shiftings of political power produced changes within the committees managing regional budgets and social contracts on behalf of the bourgeois imperium. None of them dethroned or defenestrated Adams’ dynamo or threw off the chains of Marx’s cash nexus. That they could possibly do so is the “romantic idea” that Albert Camus, correspondent for the French Resistance newspaper Combat during and after World War II, sees in 1946 as having been “consigned to fantasy by advances in the technology of weaponry.”

The French philosopher Simone Weil draws a corollary lesson from her acquaintance with the Civil War in Spain, and from her study of the communistSturm und Drang in Russia, Germany, and France subsequent to World War I. “One magic word today seems capable of compensating for all sufferings, resolving all anxieties, avenging the past, curing present ills, summing up all future possibilities: that word is revolution… This word has aroused such pure acts of devotion, has repeatedly caused such generous blood to be shed, has constituted for so many unfortunates the only source of courage for living, that it is almost a sacrilege to investigate it; all this, however, does not prevent it from possibly being meaningless.”

During the turbulent decade of the 1960s in the United States, the advancing technologies of bourgeois news production (pictures in place of print) transformed the meaningless magic word into a profitable commodity, marketing it both as deadly menace and lively fashion statement. The commercial putsch wasn’t organized by the CIA or planned by a consortium of advertising agencies; it evolved in two stages as a function of the capitalist dynamic that substitutes cash payment for every other form of human meaning and endeavor.

The disorderly citizenry furnishing the television footage in the early sixties didn’t wish to overthrow the government of the United States. Nobody was threatening to reset the game clock in the Rose Bowl, tear down Grand Central Terminal, or remove the Lincoln Memorial. The men, women, and children confronting racist tyranny in the American South — sitting at a lunch counter in Alabama, riding a bus into Mississippi, going to school in Arkansas — risked their lives in pure acts of devotion, refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots.

The Civil Rights movement and later the anti-Vietnam War protests were reformative, not revolutionary, the expression of democratic objection and dissent in accord with the thinking of Jefferson, also with President John F. Kennedy’s having said in his 1961 inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Performed as a civic duty, the unarmed rebellions led to the enactment in the mid-1960s of the Economic Opportunity Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Medicare and Medicaid programs, eventually to the shutting down of the war in Vietnam.

The television camera, however, isn’t much interested in political reform (slow, tedious, and unphotogenic) and so, even in the first years of protest, the news media presented the trouble running around loose in the streets as a revolution along the lines of the one envisioned by Robespierre. Caught in the chains of the cash nexus, they couldn’t do otherwise. The fantasy of armed revolt sold papers, boosted ratings, monetized the fears at all times running around loose in the heads of the propertied classes.

The multiple wounds in the body politic over the course of the decade — the assassination of President Kennedy, big-city race riots, student riots at venerable universities, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy — amplified the states of public alarm. The fantastic fears of violent revolt awakened by a news media in search of a profit stimulated the demand for repressive surveillance and heavy law enforcement that over the last 50 years has blossomed into one of the richest and most innovative of the nation’s growth industries. For our own good, of course, and without forgoing our constitutional right to shop.

God forbid that the excitement of the 1960s should in any way have interfered with the constant revolutionizing of the bourgeois desire for more dream-come-true products to consume and possess. The advancing power of the media solved what might have become a problem by disarming the notion of revolution as a public good, rebranding it as a private good. Again it was impossible for the technology to do otherwise.

The medium is the message, and because the camera sees but doesn’t think, it substitutes the personal for the impersonal; whether in Hollywood restaurants or Washington committee rooms, the actor takes precedence over the act. What is wanted is a flow of emotion, not a train of thought, a vocabulary of images better suited to the selling of a product than to the expression of an idea. Narrative becomes montage, and as commodities acquire the property of information, the amassment of wealth follows from the naming of things rather than the making of things.

The voices of conscience in the early 1960s spoke up for a government of laws, not men, for a principle as opposed to a lifestyle. By the late 1960s the political had become personal, the personal political, and it was no longer necessary to ask what one must do for one’s country. The new-and-improved question, available in a wide range of colors, flower arrangements, cosmetics, and musical accompaniments, underwrote the second-stage commodification of the troubled spirit of the times.

Writing about the socialist turbulence on the late-1930s European left, Weil lists among the acolytes of the magic word, “the bourgeois adolescent in rebellion against home surroundings and school routine, the intellectual yearning for adventure and suffering from boredom.” So again in America in the late 1960s, radical debutantes wearing miniskirts and ammunition belts, Ivy League professors mounting the steps of the Pentagon, self-absorbed movie actors handing around anarchist manifestos to self-important journalists seated at the tables in Elaine’s.

By the autumn of 1968 the restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan served as a Station of the Cross for the would-be revolutionaries briefly in town for an interview with Time or a photo shoot for Vogue, and as a frequent guest of the restaurant, I could see on nearly any night of the week the birth of a new and imaginary self soon to become a boldfaced name. Every now and then I asked one of the wandering stars what it was that he or she hoped to have and to hold once the revolution was won. Most of them were at a loss for an answer. What they knew, they did not want, what they wanted, they did not know, except, of course, more — more life, more love, more drugs, more celebrity, more happiness, more music.

On Becoming an Armed Circus

As a consequence of the political becoming personal, by the time the 1960s moved on to the 1980s and President Reagan’s Morning in America, it was no longer possible to know oneself as an American citizen without the further identification of at least one value-adding, consumer-privileged adjective — female American, rich American, black American, Native American, old American, poor American, gay American, white American, dead American. The costumes changed, and so did the dossier of the malcontents believing themselves entitled to more than they already had.

A generation of dissatisfied bourgeois reluctant to grow up gave way to another generation of dissatisfied bourgeois unwilling to grow old. The locus of the earthly Paradise shifted from a commune in the White Mountains to a gated golf resort in Palm Springs, and the fond hope of finding oneself transformed into an artist segued into the determined effort to make oneself rich. What remained constant was the policy of enlightened selfishness and the signature bourgeois passion for more plums in the pudding.

While making a magical mystery tour of the Central American revolutionary scene in 1987, Deb Olin Unferth remarks on the work in progress: “Compared to El Salvador, Nicaragua was like Ping-Pong… like a cheerful communist kazoo concert… We were bringing guitars, plays adapted from Nikolai Gogol, elephants wearing tasseled hats. I saw it myself and even then I found it a bit odd. The Nicaraguans wanted land, literacy, a decent doctor. We wanted a nice singalong and a ballet. We weren’t a revolution. We were an armed circus.”

As a descriptive phrase for what American society has become over the course of the last five decades, armed circus is as good as any and better than most. The constantly revolutionizing technologies have been spinning the huge bourgeois wheel of fortune at the speed of light, remaking the means of production in every field of human meaning and endeavor — media, manufacturing, war, finance, literature, crime, medicine, art, transport, and agriculture.

The storm wind of creative destruction it bloweth every day, removing steel mills, relocating labor markets, clearing the ground for cloud storage. On both sides of the balance sheet, the accumulations of more — more microbreweries and Internet connections, more golf balls, cheeseburgers, and cruise missiles; also more unemployment, more pollution, more obesity, more dysfunctional government and criminal finance, more fear. The too much of more than anybody knows what to do with obliges the impresarios of the armed circus to match the gains of personal liberty (sexual, social, economic, if one can afford the going price) with more repressive systems of crowd control.

To look back to the early 1960s is to recall a society in many ways more open and free than it has since become, when a pair of blue jeans didn’t come with a radio-frequency ID tag, when it was possible to appear for a job interview without a urine sample, to say in public what is now best said not at all. So frightened of its own citizens that it classifies them as probable enemies, the U.S. government steps up its scrutiny of what it chooses to regard as a mob. So intrusive is the surveillance that nobody leaves home without it. Tens of thousands of cameras installed in the lobbies of office and apartment buildings and in the eye sockets of the mannequins in department-store windows register the comings and goings of a citizenry deemed unfit to mind its own business.

The social contract offered by the managing agents of the bourgeois state doesn’t extend the privilege of political revolt, a point remarked upon by the Czech playwright Václav Havel just prior to being imprisoned in the late 1970s by the Soviet regime then governing Czechoslovakia: “No attempt at revolt could ever hope to set up even a minimum of resonance in the rest of society, because that society is ‘soporific,’ submerged in a consumer rat race… Even if revolt were possible, however, it would remain the solitary gesture of a few isolated individuals, and they would be opposed not only by a gigantic apparatus of national (and supranational) power, but also by the very society in whose name they were mounting their revolt in the first place.”

The observation accounts for the past sell-by date of the celebrity guest alone and palely loitering in the green room with the bottled water and the banana. Who has time to think or care about political change when it’s more than enough trouble to save oneself from drowning in the flood of technological change? All is not lost, however, for the magic word that stormed the Bastille and marched on the tsar’s winter palace; let it give up its career as a noun, and as an adjective it can look forward to no end of on-camera promotional appearances with an up-and-coming surgical procedure, breakfast cereal, or video game.

Lewis H. Lapham is editor of Lapham’s Quarterly and a TomDispatch regular. Formerly editor of Harper’s Magazine, he is the author of numerous books, including Money and Class in America, Theater of War, Gag Rule, and most recently, Pretensions to Empire. The New York Times has likened him to H.L. Mencken; Vanity Fair has suggested a strong resemblance to Mark Twain; and Tom Wolfe has compared him to Montaigne. This essay, slightly adapted for TomDispatch,introduces “Revolution,” the Spring 2014 issue ofLapham’s Quarterly, soon to be released at that website.

The fascist danger in Ukraine

6 March 2014

A politically sinister propaganda offensive is underway in the media to either deny the involvement of fascists in the US-backed coup in Ukraine or present their role as a marginal and insignificant detail.

The New York Times, for example, asserted, “Putin’s claim of an immediate threat to Ukrainian Russians is empty,” while Britain’s Guardian dismissed as a “fancy” claims that events in Crimea were an attempt to “prevent attacks by bands of revolutionary fascists,” adding that “the world’s media has [not] yet seen or heard from” such forces.

This is an obscene cover-up.

The reality is that, for the first time since 1945, an avowedly anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi party controls key levers of state power in a European capital, courtesy of US and European imperialism. The unelected Ukrainian government, headed by US appointee Arseniy Yatsenyuk, includes no fewer than six ministers from the fascist Svoboda party.

Less than a year ago, the World Jewish Congress called for Svoboda to be banned. But the party’s founder and leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, who has spoken repeatedly of his determination to crush the “Russkie-Yid mafia that controls Ukraine,” was feted by US and European Union officials as they prepared last month’s coup.

Following the 2010 conviction of John Demjanjuk as an accomplice in the murder of nearly 30,000 people in the Nazi concentration camp at Sobibor, Tyahnybok called him a hero. Tyahnybok’s deputy, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, founded a think tank called the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center.

Svoboda was the major political force in the Maidan protests that overthrew Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. In return for providing the shock troops for the coup, it has been given control of vital ministries.

Svoboda co-founder Andriy Parubiy acted as “security commandant” in the protests, directing attacks by the Right Sector—an alliance of fascists and extreme right-wing nationalists, including the paramilitary Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self Defense (UNA-UNSO). Dressed in uniforms modelled on Hitler’s Waffen SS, its members boast of fighting Russia in Chechnya, Georgia and Afghanistan.

Parubiy is now secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, overseeing the Defence Ministry and the armed forces. Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector, is his deputy.

Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych is another leading Svoboda figure, as is Oleh Makhnitsky (prosecutor-general), Serhiy Kvit (Education Minstry), Andriy Makhnyk (Ecology Ministry) and Ihor Shvaiko (Agriculture Ministry).

Others reportedly connected to UNA-UNSO are Dmytro Bulatov (youth and sports minister) and the “activist” journalist Tetyana Chernovol, who was named chair of the government’s anti-corruption committee.

The hero of Svoboda and UNA-UNSO is the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN), which aided the Nazis in horrific massacres of the Jewish population.

In 2010, Svoboda’s official forum posted a statement reading: “To create a truly Ukrainian Ukraine in the cities of the East and South…we will need to cancel parliamentarism, ban all political parties, nationalise the entire industry, all media, prohibit the importation of any literature to Ukraine from Russia…completely replace the leaders of the civil service, education management, military (especially in the East), physically liquidate all Russian-speaking intellectuals and all Ukrainophobes (fast, without a trial shot. Registering Ukrainophobes can be done here by any member of Svoboda), execute all members of the anti-Ukrainian political parties….”

One of the first acts of the new government was to abolish minority rights for Russian-speakers. Moves are also afoot to overturn the law that bans “excusing the crimes of fascism.”

In recent days, representatives of the Right Sector have been busy attacking Jews, Russian Orthodox Christians and legal figures. Two YouTube videos show a Right Sector leader Aleksandr Muzychko—who described his credo as fighting “communists, Jews and Russians for as long as blood flows in my veins”—physically attacking a regional prosecutor in Rovno and forcing Rovno regional parliament members to hold a session at gunpoint after he brandished a Kalashnikov, demanding, “Who wants to take away my machine-gun? Who wants to take away my gun? Who wants to take away my knives? I dare you!”

The US and European bourgeoisie, along with their media lackeys, are well aware of these facts.

Their attempts to portray the extreme right as a marginalised minority that has emerged almost overnight are equally bogus. There are numerous academic documents that detail the role and significance of the extreme right in Ukraine stretching back decades. They also illustrate how, having first reared its head again in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism, the far right has risen to prominence, its ascendancy prepared ideologically over many years. The rise of the far right accelerated markedly following the Western-orchestrated “Orange Revolution” in 2004.

Per Anders Rudling (Organised Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Ukraine: Structure, Influence and Ideology, 2006), cites the critical role played by the Interregional Academy of Human Resources (MAUP), a private university founded in 1989 that “operates a well-connected political network that reaches the very top of the Ukrainian society.”

In 2008, the US State Department listed MAUP as “one of the most persistent anti-Semitic institutions in Eastern Europe.” Rudling states that MAUP has “educated more government officials, diplomats and administrators than any other university” in Ukraine.

MAUP’s speciality is churning out extreme-right propaganda disguised as academic research portraying Bolshevism and the October revolution as the creations of “international Jewry.” On this basis, it asserts that the crimes of the Stalinist dictatorship against the peoples of the Ukraine were part of the same “Jewish conspiracy.”

In June 2005, participants at the Fourth World Wide Conference organised by MAUP included David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and the extreme nationalist and former Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, Levko Lukianenko.

Lukianenko presented a paper that argued that the 1932-1933 famine, in which millions of Ukrainians died, was the work of a Jewish-run satanic government. Delegates at the conference called for the deportation of all Jews from the Ukraine.

At the time, Lukianenko was allied with the two leading figures in the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. The two were backed by Washington and the European powers as part of a campaign to secure the presidency of Ukraine against the pro-Russian incumbent Viktor Yanukovych.

In January 2005, Yushchenko replaced Yanukovich as president. He was at the time on MAUP’s board of directors. Lukianenko was part of Tymoshenko’s electoral bloc. Only weeks before the June 2005 MAUP conference, Yushchenko made Lukianenko a “Hero of the Ukraine.”

At the end of 2005, MAUP held a conference under the title “The Jewish-Bolshevik Revolution of 1917—the Source of the Red Terrorism and the Starvation of Ukraine.” Not for nothing does Rudling note, “In the wake of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has witnessed a substantial growth in organised anti-Semitism.”

So great was the stench of fascist reaction that, in July of that year, leading Ukrainian academics issued an appeal for the Orange leaders to disassociate themselves from the “xenophobic stance” of MAUP. “We would like to ask high government officials: at whose cost are these large-scale anti-Semitic campaigns being waged?” the appeal asked. “Do we not have a ‘fifth column’ that wishes to bring foreign ethno-political conflicts into our territory?”

The objective of this fifth column was to poison the ideological climate with reaction, as aspiring oligarchs jostled for control of Ukraine’s resources and the imperialist powers pressed forward with their plans to dominate Ukraine in order to isolate and ultimately colonise Russia.

This is the real record of the reactionary forces that the imperialist powers are aiding and abetting in Ukraine, and on whose behalf they are prepared to plunge Europe, and indeed, the entire world, into a Third World War.

Julie Hyland

Why I Disrupted the Wisdom 2.0 Conference


February 19, 2014

The organizer behind the demonstration speaks out

Amanda Ream

The invisibility of the crisis in San Francisco right now is reminiscent of that of the AIDS epidemic. To quote from Vito Russo, a founder of the AIDS activist group ACT UP, film historian, and rabble rouser, it’s “like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches.” He lived in this city when it was a haven for political radicals, queer people, artists, and immigrants, when it was America’s great city of sanctuary.

“You look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices,” he said. “It isn’t happening to them.”

People are not dying, but they’re disappearing every day, from all over the city. The tech industry’s great economic boom is driving a housing crisis, with no-fault evictions increasing 175% since last year. The city doesn’t keep track of how many people live in these apartments, but the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project estimates up to 3580 residents were no-fault evicted in 2013.

I came to San Francisco like generations of people before me because I wanted to find the freedom to live out my ideals. And to practice the dharma—no other city has so many teachers and centers. It’s a great place to find the teachings of the Buddha. The tech industry, Google and Facebook and their peers, have adopted the culture of this place.

Just like the gentrification of a neighborhood where new, wealthy people displace people who have lived there longer, the dharma is undergoing a process of gentrification in San Francisco today. Lost is the bigger picture of the teachings that asks us to consider our interdependence and to move beyond self-help and addressing only our own suffering. The dharma directs us to feel the suffering of others.

The pace of displacement in the city’s Mission District makes whole sections of the neighborhood unrecognizable to people who lived there just a year before. With great respect for Sharon Salzberg, Konda Mason, and Shinzen Young, who taught this year at Wisdom 2.0, I ask the following question about the dharma on display at this conference: To whom is it recognizable?

While members of Eviction Free San Francisco held a banner across the stage, I handed out leaflets to the more than 500 attendees that read, “Thank you for your practice. We invite you to consider the truth behind Google and the tech industry’s impact on San Francisco.”

At a conference like this, our action—a banner and a chant of “San Francisco Not for Sale” on a bullhorn—is only meaningful in the context of the larger movement to keep families in their homes, to save the city and the diversity we love, and to repeal the state law that allows for no-fault evictions, which create conditions for speculators and evictors to run wild for profits. We want to preserve an economically diverse city that works for all of us, not just the tech industry.

When I zipped up that banner in a bag to sneak it into the conference, I thought about the ways this action could contribute to a larger conversation among people of conscience about how to stop this crisis of economic inequality. But like our Mission District neighbors, the activists and the message of Eviction Free San Francisco were disappeared without a word, censored from the livestream of the event. As we were marched out of the hall by angry conference staff, the Google presentation carried on, asking the audience to “check in with their body” about the conflict. No one addressed the issues we were raising, not then or later on in the conference. It was a case study in spiritual bypassing.

It’s almost too easy to point this out at Wisdom 2.0. Most of the workshops offer lifestyle and consumer choices that are meant to help people heal from the harm, emptiness, and unsustainability associated with living under capitalism, but it does so without offering an analysis of where this disconnection comes from. The conference presents an evolution in consciousness of the wealthiest among us as the antidote to suffering rather than the redistribution of wealth and power.

We disrupted Wisdom 2.0 to make visible the struggle of eviction and gentrification that we and our neighbors are facing. The invitation still stands for the organizers, presenters, and attendees of this conference, as well as our new neighbors who work for the companies that put it on, to recognize our demands and engage with these social issues.

Before Google’s talk on corporate mindfulness at Wisdom 2.0, I sat there in my chair, a participant in a centering practice alongside other conference attendees. I felt connected. We were only different from them because we were preparing ourselves to take the stage as uninvited guests in order to ask the question that most needs asking in San Francisco right now: Who is included and who is excluded from this community?

Amanda Ream is a member of Oakland’s East Bay Meditation Center and is in the Dedicated Practitioner’s Program at Spirit Rock. She works as a union organizer in Bernal Heights, San Francisco.

View a video of the Google Wisdom 2.0 disruption here.

The Silicon Valley Labor Scandals Prove Minimum Wage Hikes Don’t Cost Jobs



Recently uncovered documents found that in 2005, Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar started a coordinated effort to push down their workers’ wages. They agreed to not recruit employees from each other, they shared wage scales, and they made sure to enforce this agreement with each other. As Apple’s Steve Jobs told Google’s Sergey Brin, “if you hire a single one of these people that means war.”

Beyond the nauseating practices shown here by the digital, west-coast Masters of the Universe, this completely overturns the way we should understand how labor markets work. And, in turn, two pieces of information on display here can help explain a central story for why a higher minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs.

First, imagine you got an email from a friend saying that he or she found a new job, and they want to go and get drinks to celebrate. That would be pretty normal, and you’d likely agree. Now imagine the same friend just told you that they’ve bought some groceries in a supermarket, or sold their car to a dealership, and they want to go get a drink to celebrate. Here you probably would think something is wrong (and perhaps start investigating how to do a makeshift intervention).

Why is there a difference? From the simple way economists talk about labor markets, there’s none. The labor market is the same as the car is the same as the grocery store. There’s a clear market price, and you can buy and sell as much as you want at that price at any time.

But what your friend wants to celebrate is the completion of the job search. The first difference is that searching for a job takes time, energy, and frustration. Surveys consistently find that getting a new job is a major life event, in the way that buying and selling random goods is not.

We see this in the tech company scandal. This scandal couldn’t happen in the model of the labor market on display in the simple introductory Economics 101 view of the world, where workers have perfect information about job opportunities. The whole debate is over control of information of job openings. Who has them, what are they willing to pay, and how do they keep qualified candidates from finding them? In the jargon, the labor market is full of frictions, and it is even true in the high-tech labor market.

The second element is that when it comes to jobs, the employer picks the wages. Economists have spent forever trying to abstract away how wages are set, with stories about ethereal auctioneers, invisible hands, and the most mystifying metaphor of them all, “the market.” But, in general, you don’t write the salary you demand on your résumé. The boss makes an offer, and you either accept, refuse, or bargain at the margins.

We see this in the tech company scandal as well, with companies sharing salary data to make sure they weren’t offering high wages. As an Intel executive described it, “While we pay lip service to meritocracy, we really believe more in treating everyone the same within broad bands.” They couldn’t do this if an invisible hand dropped the salary bosses must pay workers out of the sky, the way they do in simple economic models.

The labor economist Alan Manning, in his book Monopsony in Motion (first chapter), argues that these two elements together means that employers have a small amount of market power over each job out there. This power is like a monopoly power, but the power doesn’t come from the size or concentration of the firm but instead from the difficulties of the search.

And this is where the minimum wage debates enter. There are a lot of vacancies and costly turnovers in low-wage work. Why don’t bosses pay their workers more to eliminate these undesirable phenomena? Because they’d in turn have to pay all the workers that increased amount, bidding up the cost of all their other labor—not dissimilar from the logic of Silicon Valley.

If a minimum wage forces low-wage employers to pay more in this way of viewing labor markets, a few things happen. Suddenly more people will search out the jobs in question, while other employees will be less likely to leave those jobs, both of which will increase employment. Because employers have the market power in setting wages, this also increases the relative bargaining power of workers.

If this theory is true, that means that vacancies and turnover in low-wage work should collapse as a result of a minimum wage increase. And that’s exactly what researchers Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester and Michael Reich found in a recent study. Here the minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs. It kills job vacancies instead.

This isn’t the only way in which a higher minimum wage might not lead to lost employment. As the economist John Schmitt emphasizes, there are at least two other dimensions. It could be passed on through prices, leading to a one-off inflation that our weak economy should probably welcome. Or it could force managers to invest in their workers, increasing their productivity.

But it’s worth returning to Silicon Valley. The tech industry is supposed to be the height of the meritocratic labor market, with people’s pay matching effortlessly to their productivity and economic value. And even here we see the job market blanketed in uncertainty over job opportunities and pay, backed by employer power. Imagine how much worse those problems are in the high-stress labor market of the low-wage service economy, where the problems of information, transportation, survival and finances carry a much bigger burden for workers.

Mike Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @rortybomb.

Don’t blame voters for lack of minority candidates


"We don't have to pack districts with minority voters in order to get minority representatives in legislatures," says Eric Gonzalez Juenke. "What we need to do is start running more minority candidates." (Credit: Theresa Thompson/Flickr)





Voters may not be the reason there are so few minorities in US state legislatures. Instead, it may be that the two major political parties don’t recruit enough minority candidates in the first place.


For a new study, researchers analyzed nearly 10,000 statehouse elections in 2000 and 2010 and found Latino candidates were on the ballot just 5 percent of the time. But when Latinos did run for office, they won just as often as their white counterparts—even in districts where most voters were white.


Earlier research suggests the same holds true for black and other ethnic minority candidates.


President Barack Obama, a black Democrat, and US Sen. Marco Rubio, a Latino Republican from Florida, are good examples of minority politicians who won elections in which a majority of constituents were white, says Eric Gonzalez Juenke, assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University.


“Thus, the puzzle of minority underrepresentation in the United States shifts away from voters and moves instead toward the parties who are responsible for recruiting, training, and supporting minority candidates for office,” he says.


Published in the American Journal of Political Science, the study is the first large-scale investigation of minority candidate under-representation at the state level and its effects on the election of minority officeholders.


Party affiliation over race


Past research suggests many voters are biased against candidates of different ethnicities and races. The new study doesn’t refute that finding. Instead, it suggests white voters are more likely to prioritize party affiliation over race or ethnicity when considering a candidate.


Despite their low representation in elected office, Hispanics are the nation’s largest racial minority, making up 17 percent of the population—a number that’s projected to grow to 31 percent by 2060, according to the census.


Lack of minority representation in elected office has fueled many lawsuits against how political districts are drawn. But Juenke says district makeup may not be as important as many think.


“We don’t have to pack districts with minority voters in order to get minority representatives in legislatures,” he says. “What we need to do is start running more minority candidates.”


Source: Michigan State University