As Obama’s Presidency Draws to a Close, a Look at His Mixed Legacy and the Rise of Neo-Fascism in Washington

NEWS & POLITICS
It’s been a busy end of Obama’s presidency—but not all of his actions have been as progressive as this week’s.

On Friday at noon, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Donald Trump as the country’s 45th president. To look back at Obama’s legacy and what lies ahead with the new administration, we speak to Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. He is author of several books, most recently, “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul.”

https://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2017/1/19/on_final_day_of_obama_presidency

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, in his last press conference as president, Obama defended his decision to commute the sentence of Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and condemned the Israeli occupation. He also warned Trump that he will not stay silent if Obama sees what he called the nation’s core values at risk.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But there’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake. I put in that category if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion. I put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise. I put in that category institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press. And for me, at least, I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and, for all practical purposes, are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country. They are our kids’ friends and their classmates and are now entering into community colleges or, in some cases, serving in our military. The notion that we would just arbitrarily, or because of politics, punish those kids, when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think, would be something that would merit me speaking out. It doesn’t mean that I would get on the ballot anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking back at Obama’s legacy and what lies ahead with the new administration. We’re joined by two guests. Here in New York, Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, author of several books, his most recent, “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.” And at Princeton University, we’re joined by Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies. He’s author of a number of books, most recently, “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul,” which is just out in paperback. Professor Glaude, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of President Obama’s message in this last news conference, in the last 48 hours that he was president, holding it in the press pool room—something that has been threatened, to say the least, in the last few days with the Trump administration saying they were thinking of moving the press somewhere nearby?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, I think it was important for the president to kind of identify the threat that Donald Trump poses to the fourth estate. He did it in his own unique and, of course, centrist way, but the idea of calling attention to the fact that a free and independent press may very well be under siege as Donald Trump enters the White House, I think, is an important—was an important—an important gesture. I would—you know, I would want to caution, though, that the way in which the president made the point, he, of course, wasn’t attentive to the corporate dimensions of the press, that in some ways the so-called free press has been compromised by big money, by its own pursuit of profits. And so, it’s a critique that only goes so far. And then I think to kind of point his attention or point our attention or direct our attention to the question of Israel and Palestine, the issues around the DREAMers, issues around race or continued inequality, the issues around LGBTQ—right?—communities, I think, was important as a way of, in some ways, framing his own presidency over and against what is to come. But I have this fear, though, Sister Amy, that he’s positioning himself as, in some ways, the voice of a kind of resistance post his presidency. And I worry about that because of—because of his containing and limiting voice, you know, because President Obama, at the end of the day, is just simply a centrist liberal.

AMY GOODMAN: During his press conference, President Obama criticized the voting restrictions in place in the United States.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are the only country in the advanced world that makes it harder to vote rather than easier. And that dates back. There is a—there is an ugly history to that, that we should not be shy about talking about.

REPORTER: Voting rights?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes, I’m talking about voting rights. The reason that we are the only country among advanced democracies that makes it harder to vote is—it traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery, and it became sort of acceptable to restrict the franchise.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama dismissed the idea of voting fraud as fake news.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This whole notion of election—or, voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved. This—this is fake news, the notion that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are going out there and are not eligible to vote and want to vote. We have the opposite problem: We have a whole bunch of people who are eligible to vote who don’t vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude?

EDDIE GLAUDE: [inaudible] But again—again, I think his analysis is limited. I mean, to the extent to which the question of voter fraud or voter suppression, tracing its origins back to Jim Crow and slavery, giving it—giving attention to its racial underpinnings is right. But there’s a reluctance, though, to speak to voter suppression—right?—the ways in which voter ID laws are directly targeting black communities, what happened in North Carolina, what happened in Wisconsin, what happens—what tried to happen—what Texas tried to do, what Pennsylvania attempted to do. And to speak specifically to the ways in which race, and particularly the way black and brown communities are targeted today, there’s a reluctance. So, in other words, you get this kind of general claim about an assault on voting rights, that we’re making it more difficult for people to vote, tracing it specifically to Jim Crow and the institution of slavery, but a reluctance to name specifically the ways in which Republicans across the country have targeted black and brown voters in very distinct ways. I mean, the court was very clear in North Carolina, what North Carolina Republicans were doing. And instead, at this point, instead of making that move—and again, I want to begin by saying he’s right to give the historical backdrop to the question of trying to limit voting in the United States, but instead of kind of pointing our attention to what specifically is happening around race, and particularly with regards to people of color, today, he wants to say that people have the right to vote, but they don’t vote. Right? So it’s a kind of, again, on the one hand and then on the other, without him really going to the core of the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama also warned of the dangers of rising inequality.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I worry about inequality, because I think that if we are not investing in making sure everybody plays a role in this economy, the economy will not grow as fast, and I think it will also lead to further and further separation between us as Americans, and not just along racial lines. I mean, there are a whole bunch of folks who voted for the president-elect because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised. They feel as if they’re being looked down on. They feel as if their kids aren’t going to have the same opportunities as they did.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude, if you could comment on what he’s saying and also where we have been and where we’re headed?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, look, it’s one thing for President Obama to point to increasing inequality in the country, and it’s another thing for us to look at his policies. When we look at over the last—when we kind of assess the last eight years, what we’ve seen is that you’ve had a series of policies that really have benefited Wall Street and left Main Street behind. We have a policy that is, in some ways, fit—it fits perfectly with the increasing financialization of our economy, that’s really tailored for the top 1 percent and top 0.01 percent. And there’s kind of modest gains for everyday, ordinary people working. Even if they tout job creation, we know, from one of my colleagues here at Princeton, that 95 percent of the jobs created over the last 15-plus years have been part-time and contractual work. So people are working harder and earning less. So, there’s one thing to point to inequality, but there’s another thing to kind of look to the policies that he has supported and pushed that’s produced inequality. That’s the first thing. And the second thing—the second move that we have to kind of be very, very careful about is the way in which he always engages in this equivalency. Right? We have to pay attention to the fact that there are some white voters out there who voted for Donald Trump who are catching hell. Of course there are white voters out there who have lost ground, who have suffered in this economy. But at the same time, we have to be mindful that 53 percent of black wealth over the last eight years has just simply been wiped off the planet. It’s gone. And it has a lot to do with housing policy, has a lot to do with his failure over the last eight years to really address the racialized dimensions of the housing crisis. And so, I really want us to say that he’s right to point to inequality, but I’m not sure he’s the right messenger to point to inequality, if that makes sense. Now, where do we—where are we now, and where are we going? Well, we have deepening racial inequality. We have deepening economic inequality. We have a neo-fascist who is about to be inaugurated. We have the billionaires and millionaires who are about to take over government. What we are in, in some ways, is a conjunctural moment where crisis opens up space for us to put forward a more progressive vision of what this country could and ought to be. So we need to prepare ourselves for day one, as Donald Trump ascends, and attack the policies that, in some ways, Barack Obama’s administration, Clintonism broadly, has made possible.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/obama-mixed-legacy-and-rise-neo-fascism-washington?akid=15126.265072.6efRUZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1070817&t=16

Trump nominee reaffirms support for assault on Medicare and Medicaid

ap_17018578526850_wide-6fa132fe2a71949d752c10594b266989175094cd-s900-c85

By Zaida Green
19 January 2017

Republican Representative Tom Price, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reiterated his intention to repeal Obamacare and his support for the dismantling of Medicaid and gutting of Medicare, in testimony before the Senate Wednesday.

Over the course of the nearly four-hour confirmation hearing, Price made clear his intent to keep unfettered the right of the healthcare industry to profit from mass suffering, calling for the transformation of Medicaid into a state-run program funded via federal block grants and refusing to commit to maintaining any of the minimal patient protections afforded by the Affordable Care Act, generally referred to as Obamacare.

Speaking before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Price gave few details on the Republicans’ plan to replace Obamacare. While claiming, “Nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from anybody,” Price refused to give a timetable or any other specific details on a substitute health plan, suggesting that any replacement legislation would be implemented piecemeal, leaving open the possibility that the 30 million people who have gained minimal health care coverage through the ACA’s exchanges and Medicaid expansion could be left stranded without health insurance for an indefinite length of time.

Price, who was chairman of the House Budget Committee, refused to commit to Trump’s repeated campaign promise that his administration would not impose any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that dollars were “the wrong metric” to measure resources for patient care. The Empowering Patients First Act (EPFA), the legislation which Price proposed in 2015 to replace the ACA last year, would cut $449 billion from Medicare and $1.1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade.

Price gave vague and non-committal answers to questions about whether replacement legislation would maintain the limited protections afforded by the ACA, such as the prohibition on lifetime caps on most benefits; the requirement that insurance companies not exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; the requirement that health plans include benefits such as mental health care, emergency services, and prescription drug coverage; and the right of young people to receive coverage from their parents’ insurance plans up to the age of 26.

All of Price’s answers amounted to variations on the themes of “patient choice” and the freedom “for every American to access the type of coverage they want.” In reality, this is the “freedom” to be either sucked dry by insurance companies for minimal coverage, to pay even more for comprehensive coverage, or to gamble on health and go without any coverage at all.

On the other hand, Price spoke sympathetically of the insurance companies preparing the premiums they would levy on patients in 2018, saying that “What they need to hear from all of us, I believe, is a level of support and stability in the market.”

Senate Democrats mounted a cynical assault against Price, citing Trump’s lying promise about not touching Medicare and Medicaid and repeatedly asking Price if he would uphold it, thus presenting the billionaire president-elect as sympathetic to these government-run health insurance programs, and giving themselves a pretext for collaborating with the new administration.

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Al Franken of Minnesota referred to the billionaire real estate mogul’s recent comment that his administration would give “insurance for everybody”, and attempting to wring out of Price a commitment to Trump’s supposed promise.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described “democratic socialist” who ran for presidency in the Democratic primary, urged Price, “Will you work with us on this?” as he questioned him on whether he would support the opening up of a market to cheaper imported prescription drugs.

The Democrats also criticized the blatant conflict of interest in Price holding investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and medical device companies as he introduced bills that would boost the profits of these companies.

One senator, Democrat Christopher Murphy from Connecticut, pointing worryingly to the financial backgrounds of the rest of Trump’s cabinet, said, “I raise [these conflict of interests issues] because I think there’s great concern … [among] Americans that this whole administration is starting to look like a get-rich scheme.”

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http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/19/pric-j19.html

Chinese Billionaire Says US Wasted Trillions on Wars and Wall Street

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma said the U.S. should stop blaming other countries for stealing jobs and, instead, invest in ‘your own people’

"In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $2 trillion," said Alibaba founder Jack Ma. "What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?"(Photo via CNBC)

“In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $2 trillion,” said Alibaba founder Jack Ma. “What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?” (Photo via CNBC)

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Wednesday, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma accused the United States of spending too much money on foreign wars and risky financial speculation and not enough money “on your own people.”

The founder of the world’s largest retailer, Alibaba, was addressing a question posed by CNBC‘s Andrew Ross Sorkin about the U.S. economy in relation to China.

In response, Ma said the U.S. should stop blaming other countries and look at its own spending priorities:

“It’s not that other countries steal jobs from you guys,” Ma said. “It’s your strategy. You did not distribute the money and things in a proper way.”

“It’s not that other countries steal jobs from you guys. It’s your strategy. You did not distribute the money and things in a proper way.”He said the U.S. has wasted over $14 trillion in fighting wars over the past 30 years rather than investing in infrastructure at home.

Ma said that when Thomas Friedman published the 2005 pro-globalization tribute The World is Flat, taking advantage of the world economy seemed like “a perfect strategy” for the U.S.

“We just want the technology, and the IP, and the brand, and we’ll leave the other jobs” to other countries like Mexico and China, he said, according to Business Insider. “American international companies made millions and millions of dollars from globalization.”

“The past 30 years, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, they’ve made tens of millions—the profits they’ve made are much more than the four Chinese banks put together,” he continued. “But where did the money go?”

“The money goes to Wall Street. Then what happened? Year 2008 wiped out $19.2 trillion in U.S. income,” he said. What’s more, he added, “In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $14.2 trillion…no matter how good your strategy is you’re supposed to spend money on your own people.”

“What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?” he asked. “What if they had spent part of that money on building up their infrastructure, helping white-collar and blue-collar workers? You’re supposed to spend money on your own people.”

While he did emphasize that globalization is a good thing, according to CNBC, Ma reportedly noted that it “‘should be inclusive,’ with the spoils not just going to the wealthy few.”

Ma’s critique came weeks after he attended a meeting in New York City with President-elect Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose punitive tariffs against the Asian superpower.

When asked about that conversation, the internet tycoon “said the consequences of a trade war between the world’s biggest and second-largest economies would be too grave for both countries to bear and they should do everything to avoid it,” reported the South China Morning Post, which Ma owns.

“It’s so easy to launch a war. It’s so difficult, almost impossible sometimes, to terminate that war,” he said. “The Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, are those finished?”

Wealth distribution in the United States and the politics of the pseudo-left

wealthdividecompressed

18 January 2017

A report published in December by University of California at Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman reveals unprecedented levels of social inequality in the United States.

The report documents an immense redistribution of wealth over a period of several decades from the working class to the rich. The bottom 50 percent’s pre-tax share of national income has fallen from 20 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 2014, while the income share of the top 1 percent has almost doubled to 20 percent. The wealthiest 1 percent now owns over 37 percent of household wealth, while the bottom 50 percent—roughly 160 million people—owns almost nothing, a mere 0.1 percent.

Though the Piketty, Saez and Zucman report focuses on the top 1 percent, the underlying data sheds light on another phenomenon that is essential to understanding American society: the role of the 9 percent of the population that falls below the 1 percent (the “next 9 percent”). This layer consists, broadly speaking, of more affluent sections of the middle class.

Among the pseudo-left organizations that orbit the Democratic Party, it has become popular to refer to the need to build a “party of the 99 percent.”

The call for a party of the 99 percent conflates the interests of the 9 percent of the population that falls just below the top 1 percent with those of the bottom 90 percent. In fact, a chasm separates these two social layers. The WSWS has defined the pseudo-left as denoting “political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class.”

The material position of the next 9 percent

The next 9 percent is comprised of privileged individuals who possess net wealth of between $1 million and $8 million and whose household incomes are between $155,000 and $430,000. They are business executives, academics, successful attorneys, professionals, trade union executives and trust fund beneficiaries. Their social grievances are the product of their privileged position. In every index of quality of life—access to health care, life expectancy, water and air quality, housing and home location, college degrees, vacation time, etc.—they live a different existence from the bottom 90 percent.

Data from the UC Berkeley report shows that the next 9 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. The next 9 percent’s share of national income increased from 23.1 percent in 1970 to 27.6 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the national income of the bottom 90 percent decreased from 65.9 percent to 52.8 percent. The share of national income of the bottom 50 percent was cut in half over this period, from 19 percent to 10.3 percent. (These figures refer to “pre-tax factor income,” defined as the sum of all income flows before pensions, taxes and transfers. These are the only value sets for which data on the next 9 percent is available.)

In terms of net wealth (that is, total possessions, as opposed to annual income), the next 9 percent has also seen an increase since 1970. However, its share of household wealth is declining, but that is due entirely to the immensity of the increase in the share going to the top 1 percent. The share of household wealth of the next 9 percent has declined from 42.5 percent in 1970 to 34.9 percent today. Over this same period, the share of household wealth of the top 1 percent has increased from 22.5 percent to 37.2 percent. The bottom 90 percent’s share of wealth has declined to just over one quarter.

The next 9 percent acquires its wealth in a manner that increasingly parallels the parasitic and speculative methods of the top 1 percent. From 1970 to 2014, the next 9 percent’s share of total fiscal income increased from 24 percent to 28.6 percent.

This increase parallels the financialization of the top 1 percent’s earnings profile (though at a slower rate), but contrasts with the bottom 90 percent, which relies less and less on stocks and capital gains. While the top 1 percent owns about 40 percent of all stock, about 70 percent is owned by the top 5 percent. In contrast, 53 percent of households own no stock.

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

The political outlook of the next 9 percent is based on this economic reality. In aggregate, this social layer owes its position to rising share values, the exploitation of the working class and the dominant global position of American capitalism. At the same time, it regards the 1 percent as having acquired an unfair portion of the spoils. The ideology and politics of the next 9 percent dominate at the universities, where many members of this social layer serve as professors, administrators and department heads.

The extent of the chasm separating the bottom 90 percent from the top 10 percent endows the next 9 percent’s struggle for privilege with a ferocious character. Figures from prior studies show that in the United States, the gross income of a member of the 90th percentile (i.e., the lowest end of the next 9 percent group) is nearly 60 percent higher than a member of the 50th percentile. The gap in terms of net wealth is much higher. The margin in the United States has expanded significantly in recent decades and far outpaces similar statistics in other advanced countries.

Brookings Senior Fellow Richard Reeves noted in his September 2015 article titled “The dangerous separation of the American upper middle class”:

“The American upper middle class is separating, slowly but surely, from the rest of society… For many, the most attractive class dividing line is the one between those at the very, very top and everybody else. It is true that the top 1 percent is pulling away very dramatically from the bottom 99 percent. But the top 1 percent is by definition a small group. It is not plausible to claim that the individual or family in the 95th or 99th percentile is in any way part of mainstream America.” Two further studies co-authored by Reeves provide insight into how this social distance has produced a high degree of social anxiety among the privileged next 9 percent:

“America is becoming a more class-stratified society… This separation of the upper middle class by income, wealth, occupation and neighborhood has created a social distance between those of us who have been prospering in recent decades, and those who are feeling left behind, angry and resentful, and more likely to vote for To-Hell-With-Them-All populist politicians,” one report notes.

Another study titled “Why rich parents are terrified their kids will fall into the ‘middle class’” explains: “As the income gap has widened at the top, the consequences of falling out of the upper middle class have worsened. So the incentives of the upper middle class to keep themselves, and their children, up at the top have strengthened.”

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

In the face of these powerful pressures, identity politics becomes an important mechanism for increasing status and financial position.

The main impact of racial politics, including affirmative action, has been the elevation of a small layer of minority groups into the next 9 percent and the top 1 percent. A study from the Pew Research Center showed that from 2005 to 2009, the share of total wealth held by the top 10 percent of households among different racial groups increased drastically across races. The concentration of wealth is most acute among Hispanics, where the share of wealth controlled by the top 10 percent rose from 56 percent to 72 percent over this period, and among blacks, where the figure rose from 59 percent to 67 percent.

The Piketty, Saez and Zucman report also shows that among the top 10 percent, the share of women has risen steadily over the past four decades to roughly 27 percent. But women make up only about 16 percent of the employed population in the top 1 percent. Among the most affluent, the authors write, “the glass ceiling is not yet close to being shattered.” This helps explain why women in the next 9 percent saw Hillary Clinton’s pro-war, pro-Wall Street presidential campaign as a vehicle for advancing their own struggle for wealth and privilege.

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

The pseudo-left opposes any politics based on an analysis of economic class. This is the political basis for the call by pseudo-left organizations for a “party of the 99 percent.” Socialist Alternative, for example, has called for the building of a “multi-class” party. It published an article in the aftermath of the US presidential election titled “We need mass resistance to Trump and a new party of the 99 percent,” which read: “We must start today to build a genuine political alternative for the 99 percent against both corporate dominated parties and the right so that in 2020 we will not go through this disaster again.”

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has also called for “a mass, left alternative” comprised of “unions, movements and left parties.” It regularly advances the slogan of the “99 percent,” writing in 2014: “[W]e need a new party for the 99 Percent to confront the two parties of the 1 percent.” Other pseudo-left groups and publications like Jacobin and New Politics have echoed these slogans.

The use of this language is not accidental. The pseudo-left’s call for a “party of the 99 percent” serves two interrelated purposes.

First, the pseudo-left is seeking to subordinate the working class to the interests and grievances of the most affluent sections of the middle class, closest to the bourgeoisie. They are opposed to a socialist reorganization of society and even any measures that would significantly impact the distribution of wealth. Second, by employing empty “left” phraseology devoid of class content, the next 9 percent attempts to politically disarm the working class and channel social opposition behind the Democratic Party.

The pseudo-left’s orientation toward the Democratic Party is an essential component of its fight to advance its social interests. The Democratic Party is receptive to the use of race, gender and sexual orientation because it has rejected any program of social reform and instead appeals to the roughly 21 million people who comprise the next 9 percent as the constituency for a broader base.

Clearly, the vast majority of the population does not have the same economic interests as those whose net worth is over $1 million. The wealthiest 10 percent has acquired its wealth through the exploitation of the working class in the US and internationally. Vast levels of social inequality are not the product of an accidental process, but of definite policies implemented by both the Democratic and Republican parties and by their bourgeois counterparts around the world. Private profit is the product of the exploitation of the working class, and this is the rule under capitalism.

Extreme social polarization is an international phenomenon. A report published January 16 by Oxfam shows that eight billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people. The wealthiest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent combined. A November 2016 Credit Suisse report showed that the top 10 percent controlled 89 percent of international wealth.

The class analysis made here with regard to the “party of the 99 percent” applies to similar populist appeals by the pseudo-left in countries all over the world.

The working class comprises the vast majority of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants and produces all of the world’s wealth. It possesses immense potential power. But it can advance its own interests only if it is armed with an anticapitalist and socialist program based on the class struggle. In advancing the slogan for a party of the 99 percent, the pseudo-left is perpetrating a fraud aimed at preventing the development of such a struggle and preserving the capitalist system.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/18/pers-j18.html

Eight billionaires control as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population

Oxfam issues report on eve of Davos conference

davos-meeting-inequality

17 January 2016

Eight billionaires, six of them from the United States, own as much combined wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people, according to the latest report on global inequality from the British-based advocacy group Oxfam.

The report was released Monday, on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum in the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, at which many of the ultra-rich will converge this week. The Oxfam document contains a range of figures that highlight the staggering growth of social inequality, showing that the income and wealth gap between a tiny financial elite and the rest of the world’s people is widening at an accelerating rate.

New data made available to Oxfam reveals that wealth is even more concentrated than the organization had previously believed. Last year, Oxfam reported that 62 people controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. In its latest report, the charity notes that “had this new data been available last year, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet.”

Oxfam writes that since 2015, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population has owned more than the rest of the world put together, and that over the past quarter century, the top 1 percent has gained more income than the bottom 50 percent combined.

“Far from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate,” the report states. It notes that the 1,810 dollar billionaires on the Forbes 2016 rich list own $6.5 trillion, “as much wealth as the bottom 70 percent of humanity.”

Over the next 20 years, some 500 people will hand over to their heirs more than $2.1 trillion, an amount larger than the gross domestic product of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.

Oxfam cites recent research by the economist Thomas Piketty and others showing that in the United States, over the past 30 years the growth in incomes of the bottom 50 percent has been zero, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have risen by 300 percent.

The same process is taking place in the world’s poorest countries. Oxfam notes that Vietnam’s richest man earns more in a day than the country’s poorest person earns in 10 years.

The report points to the systematic character of the siphoning of global wealth to the heights of society. The business sector is focused on delivering “ever higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives,” with companies “structured to dodge taxes, drive down workers’ wages and squeeze producers.”

This involves the most barbaric and criminal practices. Oxfam cites a report by the International Labour Organisation estimating that 21 million people are forced labourers, generating $150 billion in profits every year. The world’s largest garment companies all have links to cotton-spinning mills in India that routinely use the forced labour of girls.

Small farmers are also being driven into poverty: in the 1980s, cocoa farmers received 18 percent of the value of a chocolate bar, compared to just 6 percent today.

The extent of corporate power is highlighted in a number of telling statistics. In terms of revenue, 69 of the world’s largest economic entities are now corporations, not countries. The world’s 10 largest companies, including firms such as Wal-Mart, Shell and Apple, have combined revenue greater than the total government revenue of 180 countries.

Although the authors avoid any condemnation of the profit system per se, the information provided in their report amounts to a stunning verdict on the capitalist system. It highlights in facts and figures two central processes delineated by Karl Marx, the founder of modern socialism.

In Capital, Marx explains that the objective logic of the capitalist system, based on the drive for profit, is to produce ever greater wealth at one pole and poverty, misery and degradation at the other. In the Communist Manifesto, he explains that all governments are but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist class.

This is exemplified in the tax policies and other “business-friendly” measures undertaken by governments around the world. The Oxfam report notes that technology giant Apple is alleged to have paid a tax of just 0.005 percent on its European profits.

Developing countries lose around $100 billion a year as a result of outright tax dodging and the exemptions granted to companies. In Kenya, $1.1 billion is lost to government revenue every year because of exemptions, an amount nearly twice the country’s annual health budget.

Government tax policies work hand in hand with tax dodging and criminality. The report cites economist Gabriel Zucman’s estimate that $7.6 trillion of global wealth is hidden in offshore tax havens. Africa alone loses $14 billion in annual revenues because of the use of tax havens: enough to pay for health care that would save the lives of four million children and employ enough teachers to ensure that every African child went to school.

There is one significant omission from Oxfam’s discussion of accelerating inequality. It makes no mention of the critical role of the policies of the world’s major governments and central banks in handing over trillions of dollars to the banks, major corporations and financial elites through bank bailouts and the policies of “quantitative easing” since the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008.

A discussion of these facts would raise uncomfortable political issues. The report opens by favourably citing remarks by US President Barack Obama to the UN General Assembly in 2016 that a world in which 1 percent of the population owns as much as the other 99 percent can never be stable.

But the very policies of the Obama administration have played a key role in creating this world. After rescuing the financial oligarchs from the results of their own criminal actions with massive bank bailouts, the Obama administration and the US central bank ensured their further enrichment by providing a supply of ultra-cheap money that boosted the value of their assets.

Under Obama, the decades-long growth of inequality accelerated, along with the descent of the ruling class into parasitism and criminality. He paved the way for the financial oligarchy to directly seize the reins of power, embodied in the imminent presidency of casino and real estate billionaire Donald Trump, to whom Obama will hand over the keys to the White House on Friday.

The overriding motivation behind the Oxfam report is fear of the political consequences of ever-rising inequality and a desire to deflect mounting anger over its consequences into harmless channels. It advances the perspective of a “human economy,” but maintains that this can be achieved on the basis of the capitalist market, provided corporations and governments change their mindsets.

The absurdity of this perspective, based on the long-discredited outlook of British Fabianism, which has dominated the thinking of the English middle classes for well over a century, can be seen from the fact that the report is directed to the global financial elites gathered at the Davos summit this week, with a call for them to change their ways.

The bankruptcy of this outlook is demonstrated not only by present-day facts and figures, but by historical experience. A quarter century ago, following the liquidation of the Soviet Union, the air was filled with capitalist triumphalism. Freed from the encumbrance of the USSR, and able to dominate the globe, liberal capitalist democracy was going to show humanity what it could do.

And it certainly has, creating a world marked by ever-rising inequality, the accumulation of wealth to truly obscene levels, oppression and anti-democratic forms of rule, criminality at the very heights of society, and the increasingly ominous prospect of a third world war.

This history brings into focus another anniversary: the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Despite its subsequent betrayal at the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Russian Revolution demonstrated imperishably, and for all time, that a world beyond capitalism and all its social ills and malignancies is both possible and necessary. Its lessons must inform the guiding perspective for the immense social struggles that are going to erupt out of the social conditions detailed in the Oxfam report.

Nick Beams

WSWS 

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working

Credit: Edel Rodriguez

IN BRIEF

  • Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  • It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.
  • This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.

CONTINUED:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/

Bad times make great art?

 Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

The claim that good art comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking

Bad times make great art. Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) (Credit: Kino International)

On election night a murmur started just as the last gasp faded, “Well at least we can expect some great art.” At first the sentiment was a fatalistic one-off, a brave face, a shy hope that something good would come from the dark days forecast for the Trump presidency. It didn’t take long for the statement to acquire a predictive tone, eventually a waft of desperation was detectable and, ultimately, shrill fiat.

The art of protest is provocative, no question. It’s often brave, usually fierce, sometimes compelling and occasionally inspirational. But is the appeal of the books, films, poetry, painting, television and sculpture produced in response to tyranny, oligarchic pomposity or a fetishistic prioritization of the bottom line universal or simply reactive? How durable is the art birthed from protest? The following essay is the second in a series for Salon exploring the question Do bad times really inspire great art?

On Nov. 6 of this year, just two days before the presidential election, aging American punks Green Day took the stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards to perform their 2004, Bush II-era modern pop-punk staple, “American Idiot.”

Singer Billie Joe Armstrong snarled in the vague direction of then-presidential hopeful, now president-elect Donald J. Trump, asking the audience of largely Dutch citizens possessing close to zero influence on the American political conversation, “Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind-Trump America.”

Apart from the lyrics not making a lot of sense, it also had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. However well-meaning, Armstrong and Co. would have been just as effective by writing “DO NOT VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP” on a piece of paper, cramming it in a bottle, and chucking it into the ocean, or by whispering “Trump is bad” into a hole.

The clear lesson: punk is dead. And not only that, but it’s been poisoned, drowned, hanged, beaten, stabbed, killed, re-killed and killed again, like some slobbering Rasputin-ish zombie. So when people claim, desperately, that Trump’s America will somehow lead to a resurgence in angry, politically charged guitar music, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.

* * *

To claim that good art — that is: stuff of considerable aesthetic merit, which is maybe even socially advantageous — comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking, as if mass deportations and radicalized violence are all in the service of a piece of music. Of course, even the idea of what qualifies as “good times” must be qualified. Given that Trump won the election, it stands to reason that for a majority of Americans (or at least for a majority of electoral college representatives) the prospect of a Trump presidency is a beneficial thing, which will usher in a new epoch of prosperity and big-league American greatness.

There may be truth, or at least the ring of truth, in the idea that objects of artistic value can be produced under the pressure of hardship. While it may be true that an artist like, say, the late Leonard Cohen was able to mine the fathomless quarries of heartache and longing for his music and poetry, it is also true that Cohen was blessed with socio-economic privilege, both in the form of family inheritances and grants from a liberal Canadian government that supported (and continues to support, in various respects) art and artists. His heart may have been hard, but the times weren’t.

At the cultural level, good art tends to emerge from good times. It’s not even about having a well-managed social welfare state (though that, of course, helps). Rather, it seems to be a matter of liberal attitudes reproducing themselves in certain contexts, leading to greater degrees of freedom and greater gains in artistic production and sophistication.

So forget Green Day for a second. Take, as an example, the Weimar Republic of Germany’s interwar period. It was a short-lived heyday of liberalism and representative democracy, flourishing smack between two periods of staunch authoritarianism: bookended by the post-unification German Empire on one side, and Nazi Germany on the other. It was in this context that some of the twentieth century’s most compelling art was created.

* * *

It’s tricky to even think about Weimar Germany without being ensnared by the sickly succour of cliché. You know: leggy chorus girls high-kicking in all-night cabarets, gays and lesbians fraternizing freely, women in short hair lighting cigarettes while the zippy strains of jaunty jazz wafts hither and yon on in a smoky hall — a populace caught in full thrall of freedom. Fritz Lang’s 1922 film “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler,” the opening titles of which describe it as “A Picture of the Times,” depicts Berlin’s underworld as equally rococo in its bourgeois elegance, and chaotically debased. As the proprietor of an illegal casino puts it, summing up the free-spirited ethos of the era, “Everything that pleases is allowed.”
Emerging from the horror of the First World War, and the 1918 November Revolution that saw the imperial government sacked, the nation’s consciousness was in a state of jumble and disarray. But it was an exciting  jumble, full of possibility. The philosopher Ernst Block compared Weimar Germany to Periclean Athens of the fifth century BCE: a time of cultural thriving, sovereign self-governance, and increased social and political equality. Germany became a hub for intellectualism, nurturing physicists like Einstein and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. Art indulged experimentalism and the avant-garde, united less by common aesthetic tendencies and more by shared socialist values. It was era of Otto Dix, Bertolt Brecht, the Bauhaus group, Arnold Schoenberg and a new, expressionist tendency in cinema.

Robert Weine’s 1919 film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” embodied the spirit of this new age. It told the story of a small community preyed upon by the maniacal carnival barker Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), whose newest attraction is a spooky-looking sleepwalker named Cesare (the great German actor Conrad Veidt). By cover of darkness, Caligari controls Cesare, using him to commit a string of violent crimes. With its highly stylized sets, and comments on the brutality of authority, the film presented a whole alternative vision of the world. Both stylistically and thematically, “Caligari” imagined the splintering of the postwar German psyche, presenting a sense that reality itself had been destabilizing, and was reconstituting itself in jagged lines and oblique curlicues. The movie’s lasting influence is inestimable.

In his landmark work of cultural analysis, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,” film critic Siegfried Kracauer described the “collapse of the old hierarchy of values and conventions” in Weimar-era Germany. “For a brief while,” Kracauer writes, “the German mind had a unique opportunity to overcome hereditary habits and reorganize itself completely. It enjoyed freedom of choice, and the air was full of doctrines trying to captivate it, to lure it into a regrouping of inner attitudes.”

Certainly, German cinema of the era often explicitly figures authoritarian characters attempting to seduce the public: from Weine’s madman Dr. Caligari, to Lang’s huckster Dr. Mabuse. For the reforming national consciousness, authority served as a kind of siren song, luring the public out of the rowdy cabarets and nightclubs and back on the straight and narrow. By the early 1930s, attitudes seemed to be shifting. In Fritz Lang’s classic thriller “M,” from 1931, police sniff out a serial killer in part by trying to determine a psychosexual basis for his crimes. It was at once a strike against the unfettered sexual libertinism of the Berlin cabarets, and a sinister intimation of Nazism, which was notoriously marked by its pseudoscientific quackery about the biological basis of criminality and depravity. The hallmarks of Weimar — its authoritarian disenthrallment, its slackening attitudes toward sexual repression, its intoxicating cosmopolitanism — were curdling.

* * *

Weimar poses a number of compelling questions around the subject of historical and cultural Golden Ages. Such rigidly compartmentalized, epochal thinking leads inevitably to collapse. How, after all, can a “Golden Age” be defined without presuming its emergence from, and collapse back into, periods of relative darkness and doom? It recalls Karl Marx’s thinking on historical stages, outlined in volume one of “Capital,” and the idea that each historical period carries within it the seeds of its successor. And it is force, according to Marx, that serves as “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”

In the case of Weimar, the sense of expanded liberty was undercut in several respects. While the upper and middle classes grew in prosperity, the working poor were afflicted by hyperinflation, and by and large unaffected by new gains made in left-wing modernist painting, cabaret culture and avant-garde cinema. Sexual libertinism bred syphilis outbreaks. Old-stock Germans balked at the moral and aesthetic degeneracy of the new art movements. For such people, Weimar was regarded less like Periclean Athens and more like the ancient African port of Carthage: fit to be sacked, razed, and have its earth salted so that no memory of it could possibly proliferate.

It speaks to a certain historical tendency. To revise Marx, it’s not just that a given society is pregnant with the next one, but that it’s pregnant with resentments and reactions. With Weimar, expanded cultural and political liberalism emerged as a reaction to the authoritarianism of imperial Germany, with the even fiercer authoritarianism and violence of Hitler’s regime emerging as a response to that. Stereotypes of left-leaning artists cavorting in cabarets found their negative image, their doppelgänger, in nationalist thugs roving the streets.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a period of growth and advancement, artistically and otherwise. Rather, it’s a historical reminder that even periods that usher in all manner of artistic and cultural headway need to be relentlessly qualified. It’s not that good times don’t make for good art. It’s that, really, there’s never been such a thing as a distinctly, determinedly, wholly unequivocally “good time.” Even the most shimmering epochs exist in contradiction, conflict and often out-and-out hypocrisy. Like the backdrop of “Caligari,” ours has always been a world of light and shadow. Something to keep in mind as the world stumbles into what’s shaping up to be a new Periclean Golden Age of American Idiocy.

John Semley lives and works in Toronto. He is a books columnist at the Globe & Mail newspaper and the author of “This Is A Book About The Kids In The Hall” (ECW Press).