Thursday, April 29, 2010

My plan for solving Arizona AND the Middle East simultaneously

Birds of a feather flock together

David Seaton's News Links
My plan for bringing peace to the Middle East is quite simple.

Most observers including most Israelis and an overwhelming majority of American Jews are in favor of the "Two State Solution": this would entail the creation of a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state whose boundaries would be the the 1967 frontiers with some "adjustments".

The principal obstacle to a Two State Solution are the Jewish "settlers" on the land which would comprise the bulk of the Palestinian state;  land which the settlers refer to as "Judea and Samaria" and which they view as an essential piece of "Eretz Yisrael Ha-Shlema" or "greater Israel".

It is said that any attempt to remove them by force from their settlements in order to create a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state might very well tear Israel apart by causing a mutiny in the Israel Defense Force, 30% of whose officers are said to be religious conservatives who support the settler movement.

Now it appears that many if not most of these settlers are American citizens. This is the key to my plan.

The Seaton Middle East Peace Plan

We take the amount of money the United States of America spends on Israel in direct aid one year, which in 2008, the last year I have figures for, totaled some 2,423.8 billion dollars. The exact quantity is not important at this stage, suffice to say we are talking about a lot of money. The USA has spent an estimated 103,614.67 billion dollars on Israel since 1948, making it the largest recipient of US aid since WWII.

I repeat, we take the amount of money the United States of America spends on Israel in direct aid for one year and we divide it, tax free, among the settlers, every man, woman and child equally. I'm hopeless with numbers so I'm hoping that some of my readers could do the math on this one. But, for sure it would make the settlers rich for life. Since many settlers have a lot of children, some families could become very rich.

Now this huge amount of money comes with strings attached. In order to receive it the settlers must move to Arizona, where public land will be allotted to them for resettlement. There they can establish some sort of "Eretz Yarizona".

From what I am reading in the press about Arizona these days this would be a perfect match and aside from their Brooklyn accents the settlers would surely feel right at home immediately. They could even continue to pack their guns.

Ok, it's a lot of money, but it would be cheap at the price. The settlers are the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East, the lack of which is costing the USA much more.

Neat, huh? DS

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When will this Mr. Smith ever go to Washington?

Mr. Smith

David Seaton's News Links
I read and read and sometimes I come across something truly important that turns me upside down and inside out, which I want to share with as many people as I can.

This week playing under the rules of Serendip, I happened upon an article in The New Statesman by the Indian Nobel prize winner  Amartya Sen that, as the geezers of my generation were want to say, "blew my mind".

All my life I have had right wing people ramming Adam Smith down my throat as the philosopher's stone of laissez faire and  the impersonal, inhuman, invisible, hand and then out of nowhere, here comes an economist and a human being of the class of Amartya Sen and reveals an entirely new view of Mr. Smith. This is like discovering an unknown play by Shakespeare,  one which puts everything else he ever wrote into a new light.

In his article in The New Statesman that Doctor Sen entitles, "The Economist Manifesto", he presents Smith's first book, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments", which is the missing link that provides the ethical, philosophical, psychological, and methodological underpinnings to Smith's later works, including "The Wealth of Nations". In it Adam Smith reveals himself to be the closest thing to a modern Social Democrat imaginable. Let me quote Amartya Sen at length:
Smith saw the task of political economy as the pursuit of "two distinct objects": "first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and second, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services". He defended such public services as free education and poverty relief, while demanding greater freedom for the in­digent who receives support than the rather punitive Poor Laws of his day permitted. Beyond his attention to the components and responsibilities of a well-functioning market system (such as the role of accountability and trust), he was deeply concerned about the inequality and poverty that might remain in an otherwise successful market economy. Even in dealing with regulations that restrain the markets, Smith additionally acknowledged the importance of interventions on behalf of the poor and the underdogs of society. At one stage, he gives a formula of disarming simplicity: "When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters." Smith was both a proponent of a plural institutional structure and a champion of social values that transcend the profit motive, in principle as well as in actual reach.

Smith's personal sentiments are also relevant here. He argued that our "first perceptions" of right and wrong "cannot be the object of reason, but of immediate sense and feeling". Even though our first perceptions may change in response to critical examination (as Smith also noted), these perceptions can still give us interesting clues about our inclinations and emotional predispositions.

One of the striking features of Smith's personality is his inclination to be as inclusive as possible, not only locally but also globally. He does acknowledge that we may have special obligations to our neighbours, but the reach of our concern must ultimately transcend that confinement. To this I want to add the understanding that Smith's ethical inclusiveness is matched by a strong inclination to see people everywhere as being essentially similar. There is something quite remarkable in the ease with which Smith rides over barriers of class, gender, race and nationality to see human beings with a presumed equality of potential, and without any innate difference in talents and abilities.

He emphasised the class-related neglect of human talents through the lack of education and the unimaginative nature of the work that many members of the working classes are forced to do by economic circumstances. Class divisions, Smith argued, reflect this inequality of opportunity, rather than indicating differences of inborn talents and abilities.
Please, do yourselves the favor of reading the whole article. No one could teach this class better than Amartya Sen.

So there you have it: Adam Smith, the man we all thought had established the ultimate justifications for selfishness, was in fact a believer in liberty, equality and fraternity.

Just as I think that progressives should spout the Bible and not leave that amazing power-text as the sole property of the right, so too, this little known text of Adam Smith should leaven their arguments.

So much of the problem of American progressive politics is to reclaim the language. I have always believed that the muddying of American English is a deliberate affair and the muddier it gets the more difficult it is to even think certain things. For example in every language in the world, including the Queen's English, "red" is the color of the left. But, only a relatively short time ago, it suddenly became the word to describe conservative. So we have gone from the "red scares" and "Red China" of my youth, to the "red states" of today. Does anybody know who did this first? This is just one flagrant example, but the muddying of the language is endless.

Confucius was asked what would be the first thing he would do if he were made emperor and he said he would "clarify terms". That is what is needed, new words for old things.

The present economic crisis, brought on by speculators who have made fortunes destroying the lives of middle and working class families, is a "teaching opportunity" if ever there was one. Watching the likes of "Fabulous Fabrice" or Lloyd Blankfein as they go about doing "God's work", is a unique possibility for masses of people to learn how the world really works and to work up an appetite to change it.

But we always come up against language.

It is really difficult to talk about class conflict in American English because all the traditional words like, "class struggle", "contradiction" etc, are taboo or sound foreign to American ears. This is as if a doctor would have to use awkward euphemisms when making a diagnosis. Imagine a gynecologist writing, "the patient reports experiencing severe discomfort whenever a dime is inserted in her pay phone." Communication would suffer. The march of science would be arrested.

Like Confucius we have to reclaim the language.

Any real change has to come from people who feel oppressed and victimized, not just those who look upon their misfortunes with benign sympathy.

Probably the most significant thing that could happen in American politics would be the rebirth of the language of progressive politics among the working poor. This crisis is a unique chance to cut through the fog and double talk and get to central questions.

This is where texts like Adam Smith's and the Bible come in. The left simply must loosen its connection with Ruccola and communicate. DS

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Eyjafjallajökull": Icelandic for "write if you get work and hang by your thumbs"

 What's his name erupts

David Seaton's News Links
"Old Unpronounceable", a minor volcano, blew its top in Iceland and the world's transport system practically collapsed.

Compared to the intricate embroidery of  Wall Street's goniffery that brought the world's economic system to collapse, Eyjafjallajökull is a simple thing.

Many people are comparing the two crisis because they clearly illustrate how fragile our world system has become since the stolid days of the Cold War.

I think I would like to re-baptize "globalization" as "for the want of a nail-ization", which I have taken from an ancient poem which goes like this:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Our lives have become a sped up film of lost nails, horses, riders and kingdoms. The entire world's exposure to the cupidity of far off thieves and the violence of obscure volcanoes is grotesque.

We are doing it all wrong, we've got it all bassackwards. Both the timeless random, brutal, magnificence of Eyjafjallajökull and the obscene greed of Goldman Sachs are useful warnings that we must look for new ways of doing things.

What chaos theory mavens call the "butterfly effect", something that used to be a rather amusing idea with which to tease our neurons, has become the central mechanism of our lives.

Simplifying this system, making it more robust, stepping back and making a cool evaluation of what we really need and what we should be willing to go through to achieve it should be the major serious conversation of our societies. We must bend every effort to discovering the art or even perhaps the science of what the French call "le petit bonheur", the "small happiness", the accumulated pleasure taken in the smallest things, which, as far as life has taught me up till now, is the philosopher's stone of the alchemy of savoir vivre.

As a small example: our new and absurdly cheap communications systems, such as IP to IP telephone and video conferencing, make much of today's business travel absurd.

Air travel, which used to be quite a pleasant experience, has become a purgatorial ordeal of humiliated, belt-less and shoeless penitents staggering fatigued, waterless and electronically naked on their way to the next pea in the pod hotel.

If is possible for an American suburbanite to commute to a nearby office and pilot a drone with which to kill people in Afghanistan and then be back home in time to play a little catch in the backyard with his son before dinner, I ask myself if is it absolutely vital to send another American half way around the world just to negotiate a sale?

Why should the business of business be more killing than the business of killing? DS

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Human beings: get them while they are cheap

Commodities, derided for decades as unimportant, have become scarce resources, to be guarded and managed with the utmost care. Conversely human labor and skill, on the basis of which the glories of human civilization were built, is entering into a state of gigantic glut.  Martin Hutchinson - Prudent Bear
David Seaton's News Links
The quote at the top of this is the world's political bottom line.

Today this glut of human beings includes highly skilled, trained and educated human beings, not just the hewers of wood and drawers of water that have always made up Marx's "reserve army of labor".

I should quickly add that the author of the quote is anything but a Marxist.

Martin Hutchinson is a former international merchant banker, with a first class Honors degree from Trinity College in Cambridge and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. He writes a weekly column called "The Bear's Lair" in a web called Prudent Bear. I read him regularly because, in my opinion, he writes well and he has interesting and provocative ideas. He is a very classical economist: very conservative in the old, pre-Reagan use of the word.

Let me quote him at more length:
Overall, rapid economic development has thrust commodities from a position of glut into a position of relative scarcity. Conversely, the emergence of modern telecoms, the globalization of markets and the increasing wealth and education levels of billions in China, India and elsewhere, has transferred human labor, even skilled human labor, from a position of relative scarcity into a position of glut. That’s not surprising – when the number of full participants in the global economy quadruples from 700 million to 3 billion over a period of less than 20 years, those participants are likely to face an over-supply problem. It’s also not unusual – as Thomas Malthus would have told you in 1798, the periods when human labor is worth more than bare subsistence have historically been few and far between.
( ...) In summary, in today’s world, commodities have become scarce and labor has become commoditized, unless fenced in by artificial restraints. With the global supply of commodities finite, this problem can only worsen if population is allowed to continue growing. A world with 10 billion people, all able to compete on an equal basis in a globalized labor market and desiring commodity-intensive modern mechanical marvels, would be a world of ever-increasing scarcity and impoverishment, besides its adverse environmental effects. Hence population reduction programs, aiming to reduce global population to a level at which labor once more becomes more valuable than commodities, should be given the highest priority at a global level. Otherwise, with the labor supply unlimited and the skills supply nearly so, and commodities supply relatively restricted, the only wealthy people will be those who own mines or oil wells.
I find it interesting that there seems to be a clear convergence between the view of the future of a very classic conservative economist and a classic Marxist reading of of it. Both see the "increasing immiseration of the proletariat" and the only real difference that I can see between them is that the Marxist would believe and hope that this will lead to a revolution and the classic conservative, at some point, probably fears that it will.

Certainly this is a different message than the one given by globalization's cheerleaders like Thomas Friedman, or intellectually more respectable folk such as Keynesians Paul Krugman, and Robert Reich.

I cannot imagine any of the aforementioned having such a sweepingly pessimistic view of where the world is heading as Hutchinson does. They might see grave dangers in global warming, but probably they would see new, "green" industries as solving climate change and unemployment too. I have to admit that I find myself more in tune with Hutchinson on this.

Keynes, who is probably the one chiefly responsible for an American boomer like me having had a prosperous childhood in the 50s and 60s, was a self-confessed bourgeois, someone who wanted to save capitalism and his upper-middle class place in it by tinkering with the system, not scrapping it. His tinkering worked very well for my generation, certainly much better than the Friedman to Thatcher to Reagan to Greenspan to ruin, that we have just been living through.

Since I am not an economist, since I am someone who, without a pocket calculator, is helpless when confronted with even the simplest arithmetic... you might ask... I should ask myself... On what exactly to I base this preference?

The way I get there without crunching any numbers is through an effort of imagination, seeing the world as a shrinking whole, without economic frontiers with everyone jammed together, where prices can be instantly compared, where anything that can be digitized, ideas, numbers, words, images, films, blueprints, intellectual property of almost any sort which can be copied endlessly for next to no money and increasingly melts into something like air. Air which is something that I'm sure they would have always liked to charge for, make into a commodity, but have never found a way to.

A world of staggering complexity and speed, without past or future, only an overpoweringly universal, pressing, simultaneous present.

In this world there wanders a creature who for most of his hundred million years of existence was a drop in the ocean of nature, a being who  throughout most of his saga wandered naked in the company of small groups of relatives and friends, merely reaching out his hands to reap nature's generosity. A gregarious, sensitive, labile creature of intense empathy and interest in his fellow's doings, whose ability to speak empowered cooperation in hunting and accumulating knowledge and memories, who for most of his species' existence has owned nothing that he couldn't carry in his two hands.

This is the creature that confronts today's world of artifice and oppression.

We have to look at humanity as a continuum starting from Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis right up to today to see the blinding truth of Rousseau's dictum, "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains."

I agree with Hutchinson's bleak view essentially because I think that humanity is going to have a its nature as an animal. Like those performing dogs you see in the circus: wearing a hat and glasses and tottering along on its back legs, dreaming of a fire plug. DS

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The plot to destroy the judge who destroyed Pinochet

The history of the modern Spanish right wing in pictures
(plus ça change...)
David Seaton's News Links
I don't usually blog about internal Spanish politics because, interesting as they are, I would have to spend most of my time telling my readers who the characters are and filling in endless context for my English speaking audience.

However, in today's case, an extremely local Spanish story has developed universal relevance  with repercussions which may eventually change the course of Spanish history and whose reverberations are extending far beyond Spain itself.

In an amazingly bizarre reversal of roles, Baltasar Garzón, perhaps the world's most famous judge, is being put on trial and is in danger of having his career destroyed by the remnants of the same fascist political organization responsible for some of the most hideous crimes against humanity of the nauseating 20th century.

Stories like this one are somewhat difficult for Americans to understand as in many ways the USA is truly unique and "American exceptionalism" is a reality.

Like the USA, in most countries of the world, the wealth of the country, the land and the power are held by a tiny minority, who are naturally intent on maintaining their privileges at any cost.

However, no other country in history has been able to devise a system like the American one that, within a  formally democratic context, so guarantees the wealth, property and privileges of its oligarchy as America's does.

Our system, combined with the amniotic fluid of our mass media and our eternal playing with endless, new, consumer toys have saved America from some of the sordid paths that other countries have taken at times,  times when, in democracy, the population has confused human rights with, well  ... human rights.

In many societies outside the USA, when in troubled times, the local oligarchy feels threatened, they only have recourse to a "man on horseback", a supreme leader who will take the ruthless steps necessary to make them and their property safe and restore the "natural" order of things.

That is the story of Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet, the Argentine Junta and a hundred other tyrants, large and small, through recent history. That was the story of Francisco Franco, "Caudillo de España por la Gracía de Díos".

But for its institutions, but for the grace of God, that would be the story of the United States of America too. And who knows what may be waiting around the corner?

The sort of exercise of power that Hitler, Pinochet and Franco employed requires a lot of what specialists call "wet work": torture, targeted assassinations, prison camps and the like. That is what Garzón was investigating, that is why he is in trouble now. People who are into "wet work", torture, targeted assassinations, prison camps and the like, don't appreciate his efforts.

To get up to speed, let's take a little stroll down memory lane:
When you think of mass graves in contemporary Europe you probably think of Bosnia, yet sunny Spain is far more sown with unidentified corpses and dwarfs Chile in the number of missing persons: over 50,000 of them. They are mostly the victims of the Falange's death squads (the Spanish fascist party), murdered in the rearguard of the civil war for being leftists, or simply pro-democracy like Lorca, or for no reason at all. Their bones lie scattered under the woods and deep in ravines. At ditches by the roadsides there are so many that the very word for roadside in Spanish, cuneta, is still used as a byword for "political crime". And they've been there for more than six decades. Guardian, 31 October 2009
Judge Garzón decided to treat these crimes against humanity in just the same way as he had treated those in Chile and Argentina... this is what happened:
Spain’s best-known investigative magistrate, Baltasar Garzón, is now being prosecuted in a politically driven case that should have been thrown out of court. Judge Garzón is charged with ignoring a 1977 amnesty law when he decided to investigate the disappearances of more than 100,000 people during Spain’s 1930s civil war and the decade of Francoist repression that followed. The charges were brought by two far-right groups who fear an open investigation of the Franco-era record. Unfortunately, one of Mr. Garzón’s fellow magistrates sustained the complaint and brought formal charges this week. As a result, he will now be suspended from his duties pending trial. If convicted, he could be barred from the bench for up to 20 years, effectively ending a career dedicated to holding terrorists and dictators accountable for their crimes. That would please his political enemies, but it would be a travesty of justice. Editorial - New York Times, 09, April 2010
You may be asking yourself, as are many Spanish people today, "what is this all about, hasn't Spain been a democracy since 1978, how can a fascist party, one that would be illegal in most European countries, destroy the career of Spain's most prestigious judge?"

The answer is that Garzón has applied the same standards to Franco as he applied to Pinochet and in so doing exposed the original sin of Spain's democracy, the amnesty of 1977 that made possible the famous, "Spanish Transition".

Another stroll down memory lane:

In 1975, when Franco finally died, and he took his time believe me, he had been in power for nearly 40 years.

Supposedly, when Franco was lying on his deathbed, he heard the noise of people gathered outside the window and asked his subordinates what was going on. "It is the people," he was told, "they have come to say goodbye." "Oh," he said, "where are they going?"(hat to Lenin's Tomb)
Surviving that long in power was quite a trick, the photo-montage that tops this post explains part of it graphically. (*following this post is a short explanatory appendix/long footnote to accompany the photo)

Here would be a good place to make a critical point that will help Americans, not familiar with Spain, to understand the situation today.

We have been talking a lot about Franco, because his head was on the Peseta and his name is a household word, but Franco was no mad and isolated dictator like Mobutu Sese Seku or Papa Doc Duvalier, he was, in fact the temporary leader, the head boy, the community organizer if you will, of a motley coalition that has been around for centuries consisting roughly of: the army, the security forces, the church, the big land owners, the judiciary and the bankers and various samples of the good and the great (the Falange was merely their goon squad).

This was/is an ancien regime for whom  Martin Luther, Voltaire, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson were/are just as dangerous enemies as Joseph Stalin. This coalition was difficult to handle and Franco used equal measures of guile and brutality to do so. More than a "man on horseback", Franco was a bronco rider from hell.

So what we call "Franco", was in fact a regime which had been in power for nearly 40 years (some would say 500 years) when its titular head shuffled off this mortal coil. This regime had had the time and the absolute power to penetrate and dominate every public facet of Spanish society. In the decade or so immediately after the Civil War they purged, tortured, imprisoned and shot thousands of their defeated countrymen and women and effectively cowed and terrorized the Spanish population into almost total submission.

The problem was that after the war Europe changed and in order to join the Common Market (later the EU) certain cosmetic changes had to be made. These changes could only be made after Franco's death. With the indigestible symbol of Franco, bondsman of Hitler and Mussolini, gone, the Spanish oligarchy was willing to open their hand a little in order to reap the benefits of belonging to the European project.

But before Spain's oligarchy would sign on to even the most superficial changes they required a general amnesty that would cover the "iron years" of repression. They got it an 1977 and thus the quite progressive Constitution of 1978 was allowed to be made the law of the land

The good and the great felt reasonably safe with the arrangement as Franco had once told his associates not to worry overmuch about what would come after he died, because he had left everything, "tied up and well tied up".

Untying the knots that Franco tied has kept Spanish democrats busy since 1975.

Lets see how Franco's coalition, the army, the security forces, the church, the big land owners, the judiciary and the bankers have stood up to all this "un-knotting".

In 1981 there was a failed coup d 'etat, that scared everybody to death,  a near run thing, which the then American Secretary of State, Al Haig, called "an internal Spanish matter" and left the infant democracy out to dry.

The post coup cleaning up process led to a lot of army ultras getting early retirement. Spain's subsequent joining NATO and her armed forces becoming all volunteer, led to professionally more demanding missions outside Spain and abandoning its only previous role, which was to repress the Spanish population. The Spanish army is no longer considered a danger to democracy. (Caveat: Allende's most trusted general was Pinochet).

The Spanish police forces were at first very uncooperative with the new regime, but a major reorganization, the passing of the generations, better professional training, the fight against Eta and decentralization have made the once feared Spanish police as much "family" as the British bobby on the beat is in London. A remarkable achievement.

There has been no land reform to speak of in Spain, and with the real estate bubble, land has shot up in value, so the landowners are quiet.

As to the bankers, with democracy Spain's major banks have become multinational giants, making crazy money. Good government regulations have saved them from their own greed and they appear to be in good health... for the moment. No complaints from them either, no nostalgia for Franco.

The Spanish Church was making lots of ultra-right noise until recently over the governments loosening of the abortion law and gay marriage, but the pedophilia scandal seems to have taken the wind out of their sails. We'll see how long that lasts.

This leaves the judiciary, where, as we can see in Garzón's case, Franco is alive and well. How does this happen?

As I have had it explained to me, it is all quite simple. To become a judge in Spain, after graduating from law school you must sit for a very difficult competitive examination. To prepare for this examination takes several years of full time study. Obviously, only a person with well off parents can finish university and then spend years studying without an income producing job. This means that most of the Spanish judges are inevitably from well to do, therefore, right wing families. Eh Voilá.

The socialist minister of justice that tried to substitute competitive examinations for judgeship for a masters degree course in university, thus opening up the judiciary to candidates of more modest means was forced to resign... (for going hunting wild pigs with Garzón, of all people).

So evidently it is the Spanish judiciary which is the basket where Franco's  eggs are held today (warning: this is an off-color wordplay in Spanish).

And this brings us to what is perhaps the real, although much more prosaic reason behind Garzón's particular "stations of the cross": the "Gürtel" scandal.

This case was brought to Garzón in February of 2009 by a disgruntled member of the conservative opposition party and involves an amazingly massive and rather colorful political-financial scandal, which is so huge that it might literally sink the ultra-conservative, Popular Party. it is a story of über-funky political larceny on a scale that has even me, a native of Chicago, gasping for breath.

I can find no links in the English language that explains its intricacies, and I certainly am not going to devote much space to describing it. Suffice to say that the sordid transcripts of the telephone conversations recorded by the police have entered Spanish folklore.

In the end it is all the same though. As the New York Times puts it Garzón's professional life is "a career dedicated to holding terrorists and dictators accountable for their crimes." 

A modern Quixote, a white knight, defending the weak against the strong, the powerless many against the powerful few.

Defending the weak against the strong, this is his sin, for this he must be chastised, his ears pinned back, for this he must be taught a lesson so that anyone who might ever think of following in his footsteps will cease and desist.

If they succeed, his professional epitaph might be, "here lies the man who tried to drive a stake through Franco's heart". DS

PS. At last count his Facebook fan page was pushing 122,000 fans. BTW: If you'd like to sign a petition supporting Judge Garzón, click here and then pass the link on.

*Extended footnote explaining the photo-montage:
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) Franco had been in bed with Hitler and during WWII, between 1941 and 1943, he sent Hitler a division (the "Blue" division) of Falangist volunteers, who as an integral part of the Wehrmacht , wearing German uniforms, fought on the Eastern Front, thereby freeing German soldiers to go west and (to put it bluntly) kill Americans. Soon, seeing that, with the forces lined up against him, Hitler was surely going to lose the war, Franco backed off, blew off Hitler, and Spain remained officially neutral for the rest of the war.

Even having remained neutral, things looked pretty black for Franco at the end of WWII: to give you an idea, a great part of the French resistance movement was made up of Spanish republican loyalists and there were a quite a few Europeans that were very eager to cross the Pyrenees and add Franco to the bag holding the corpses of Hitler and Mussolini.

It was time for Franco to get into bed with someone else, this time... the Americans. Franco positioned himself as the great enemy of "godless communism".

Harry Truman would have nothing to do with Franco, because his wife, Bess Truman, a devout Baptist, wouldn't let him, as  Franco, besides persecuting communists, persecuted Baptists too.

Eisenhower, however, had less scruples, which accounts for the second photo in the series. In exchange for this embrace Franco let Eisenhower store atomic bombs in an airbase on the outskirts of Madrid. (The bombs are gone now, but the AFRS radio station that went with them is much missed.)

Just to bring you up to date on Franco's heirs, the last photo in the series shows the former rightist prime minister, José María Aznar, who as teenager supported the Falange, in the arms of President Bush.

Aznar, having discovered that the president of the United States was even more right wing than he was, followed the old Franco tactic and tried to become Bush's "new best friend" by helping (against over 90% of Spanish public opinion) to enable Dubya in his quest to invade Iraq. This ended so badly for him that his party was thrown out of power after Al Qaeda's attack on Madrid.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Third world is as third world does

Koch Industries, a huge privately-owned US company dominated by oil and chemical interests, is plowing millions of dollars into campaigns to discredit climate science and clean energy policies, a report alleged Tuesday. Between 2005 and 2008, the Kansas-based conglomerate that "most Americans have never heard of" spent nearly 25 million dollars to fund "organizations of the 'climate denial machine,'" environmental protection group Greenpeace said in the report.(...)Between 2006 and 2009, Koch Industries and the family that founded and still controls the conglomerate spent 37.9 million dollars on direct lobbying on oil and energy issues.(...) "The combination of foundation-funded front-groups, big lobbying budgets, political action campaign donations and direct campaign contributions makes Koch Industries and the Koch brothers among the most formidable obstacles to advancing clean energy and climate policy in the US," Greenpeace said. AFP

From 1950 to 1963--even under that radical Republican President Dwight Eisenhower--the federal tax rate on personal income over $400,000 never dropped below 91 percent. Between 1936 and 1980 it never dropped below 70 percent. But today, the top personal income tax rate after the 2001 Bush tax cut is just 35 percent(...) The tax rate on capital gains--which most benefits those in the highest income brackets--dropped to 15 percent in 2003, down from as high as 39.9 percent in 1977.(...) Check out these stunning stats: Between 1960 to 2004, the top 0.1 percent of U.S. taxpayers have seen the share of their income paid in total federal taxes drop from 60 to 33.6 percent. The top 400 income-earners have seen the share of their income they pay in federal income tax alone plummet from 51.2 percent in 1955 to 16.6 percent in 2007. In 2007, if the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers had paid total federal taxes at the same rate as they paid in 1960, the federal treasury would have collected an additional $281.2 billion. If the top 400 had paid the same rate as it did in 1955 it would have meant an additional $47.7 billion in revenue. (The incomes of the top 400 have multiplied by 27 times--adjusted for inflation--since 1955, yet back then they paid over three times more of their incomes in federal income tax.) Katrina Vanden Heuvel - The Nation

The crash of 2008 should surely have taught us that many of the profits reaped by Wall Street are pure rent seeking, the extraction of value from others' economic activities by disrupting ordinary business relations without providing anything economically worthwhile in return. Martin Hutchinson - The Prudent Bear
David Seaton's News Links
I think that there is a general misconception that the so called "Third World" countries are intrinsically poor. This is often not the case. In many instances these countries are in fact enormously rich in natural resources of every kind, with fertile soil and large, youthful populations.

However frequently these resource rich "Third World" countries  have certain common characteristics: poor public education and services, a small, weak, or nonexistent middle class and a very powerful, if tiny and parasitical, rentier,  minority that possesses practically all the wealth of the country and controls its politics and dwells surrounded by bodyguards, isolated from the general  run of the population.

You would be mistaken if you thought that because their countries are  considered "poor", because most people of those countries live in miserable poverty, that the rich of those countries are less wealthy than their "First World" counterparts.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many examples, but here is an easy one: the world's richest man is a Mexican named Carlos Slim. Here is how Wikipedia describes his case:
The Mexican magnate's rising fortune has caused a controversy because it has been amassed in a developing country where per capita income does not surpass $14,500 a year, and nearly 17% of the population lives in poverty. Critics claim that Slim is a monopolist, pointing to Telmex's control of 90% of the Mexican landline telephone market. Slim's wealth is the equivalent of roughly 2% of Mexico's annual economic output. Telmex, which is 49.1% owned by Slim and his family, charges among the highest usage fees in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to Professor Celso Garrido, an economist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Slim's domination of his country's conglomerates chokes off growth of smaller companies, resulting in a shortage of good jobs and driving many Mexicans to seek better lives north of the Rio Grande.
If you look at the quotes at the top of this post, you'll probably be able to see what I am driving at. The United States is also a a country endowed with immense natural wealth and a youthful population, with a very weak social net, whose public education system has deteriorated notably, whose once world-leading middle class is being gradually degraded. A country of egalitarian republican traditions, now burdened with huge and growing inequality gap, whose politics and media are manipulated by a tiny minority of its super rich.

Stop and think about the Greenpeace report quoted at the top of the page: only two men, the Koch (that's pronounced "koʊk" not "cock") brothers, are able to manipulate the national global warming debate of the world's greatest producer of carbon dioxide, thereby endangering the very future of life on our planet for all its inhabitants, everywhere. We call this "democracy" and we call this "freedom".

That is the key characteristic of the "Third World" countries I have described: there is little or no pretense that all of the citizens are engaged in a common project or are in any way equal, the impoverished majority simply being a mass of servants, cannon fodder, prostitutes or stoop labor at the beck and call of a tiny group of people who might as well belong to another species for all the concern they feel for the plight of those around them.

The direction the United States is taking is clear though, and certainly in some areas it has already achieved the squalor we associate with the third world. The recent accident in the West Virginia coal mine bears this out.

The owner of that mine or the Koch brothers are no more affected by the condition of their fellow citizens than Carlos Slim is affected by the poverty of most of his fellow Mexicans.

If, in fact, we really see Liberty as the true path to Equality and Fraternity. if we truly believe that every human being has a right to health, education and peace, then, instead of lecturing others on democracy, we had better mind our knitting. DS

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Parade

 Walking the walk
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Luke 18-25
The Walton family with a cumulative wealth in excess of $90bn equals that of the poorest 40% of America's people (some 120 million). Richard De Zoysa - "American declinism and the impact of petro-socialism"

We’re still borrowing two to three billion dollars a day, principally from China, to maintain the world’s highest standard of living based on conspicuous consumption, at a time of growing world shortages. It doesn’t compute. But so far no one’s found an alternative.” Arnaud de Borchgrave

Why is it that here in the United States we have such difficulty even imagining a different sort of society from the one whose dysfunctions and inequalities trouble us so? We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it. Why is it so beyond us to conceive of a different set of arrangements to our common advantage? Tony Judt
David Seaton's News Links
In his famous lecture at New York University, which I quote from The New York Review of Books transcript, Professor Judt asks the $64 question, "Why is it that here in the United States we have such difficulty even imagining a different sort of society?" Judt answers his own question in brilliant fashion. It is a long, exquisitely argued and essential read, one which I much recommend.

My answer to the same question in no way contradicts Tony Judt's, it is simply shorter, more blunt and more brutal. Why can't Americans imagine a different sort of society? Because keeping Americans from thinking straight is the major task of America's communications industry.

Let's take Richard De Zoysa's example: "The Walton family with a cumulative wealth in excess of $90bn equals that of the poorest 40% of America's people (some 120 million)."

OK: What would happen if 120,000,000 Americans, as one man, got it into their head to vote for the IRS to confiscate 80 billion dollars of the Walton family's money, leaving the Waltons to scrape by on just ten billion bucks?

You can buy a lot of health care, a lot of education and a lot of pensions for that kind of money, but we are being told endlessly that America's none too generous system of entitlements must be "revised", because soon there will be no money left to pay for them.

The idea of taxing the super-rich to pay for public health, education and infrastructure is so simple and so powerful that the effort to make it taboo to even think about it could only be brought off by a public relations effort similar to the traditional warnings that certain recreational practices could make you go blind or cause hair to grow on the palms of your hands... but evidently with much more success.

How is this possible?

Very simple: the people who own all the think tanks, the mainstream media, radio, television networks and the like are also super-rich and would naturally like to avoid paying any taxes at all if they could help it.

If this eventually leads to 40% of the poorest Americans living in a state of squalor rivaling the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or the slums of Calcutta, well, as Jim Bunning, the Republican senator from Kentucky, said about the people whose unemployment insurance had run out: "tough shit".

While millions of American children live in poverty, getting a substandard education, billionaires can live in gated communities and find solace rereading the works of Ayn Rand. Neat, huh?

Happy Easter to all my readers, or as the old American saying has it, "Christ has risen, but our prices remain the same". DS