Saturday, November 26, 2011

Failure of the Super Committee Might Be the US's Best Hope for Economic Recovery

"Drawing blood” from the economy by cutting government expenditures at a time of high unemployment and underused resources will only ensure the patient’s death, not recovery. 
By Marshall Auerback, AlterNet
Posted on November 26, 2011

The bipartisan super committee has failed to meet the self-imposed November 23rd deadline to enact $1.2trillion of cuts over the next ten years. That failure, as Paul Krugman notes in the New York Times, is a good thing:
“Any deal reached now would almost surely end up worsening the economic slump. Slashing spending while the economy is depressed destroys jobs, and it’s probably even counterproductive in terms of deficit reduction, since it leads to lower revenue both now and in the future.”

If the super committee failed to come up with an alternative plan by Thanksgiving, and the cuts will hit defense and domestic programs equally. But those cuts won’t begin to go into effect until January 2013, two months after next fall’s election, which also means that the programmed fiscal restriction planned for next year won't come into effect. The likelihood of failure is provoking a negative reaction in both the markets and the mainstream press. But in spite of that, failure might be the difference between sluggish, moderate growth in the U.S. and double dip recession.

The travails of the euro zone are perpetual front page news right now, but let's try to put them aside for a moment and focus solely on the U.S. The latest U.S. economic data suggests that the economy has continued to muddle along at a positive rate of growth somewhat below its trend rate of growth. This has happened even though an unwind of the 2009 $860 billion stimulus package is now leading to moderate reductions in government spending.

October core retail sales were up +0.6%. The three-month annualized change now stands at +6.6%. This is consistent with personal consumption expenditure growth of perhaps +3.0%. The increase is consistent with the above trend U.S. economic growth.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher thinks such growth is sustainable. He expects U.S. economic output to grow +2.5% to +3.0% in this quarter and expects it to improve next year.

But not if the super committee goes big and enacts huge budget cuts. In that kind of scenario, economic growth in the U.S. next year will be held back (or worse) by programmed fiscal restriction as even greater amounts of income are withdrawn from the economy, especially if cuts are implemented in programs such as Social Security. Lower incomes means lower sales, and sales are what ultimately drive economic activity. 

Remember: businesses lay people off when their customers stop buying, for any reason. So the reason we lost 8 million jobs almost all at once back in 2008 wasn't because all of a sudden all those people decided they'd rather collect unemployment than work. The reason all those jobs were lost was because sales collapsed.

I am also skeptical of the validity of the recent strong trend in consumer spending because it appears to be a product of consumers drawing down on savings, which began to be rebuilt in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. Unfortunately, consumers no longer have the credit availability to do that. Nor do they have the incomes to sustain taking on ever increasing burdens of private debt, as was the case in the 1990s.

And let’s be clear: Despite the distortions floated by many politicians and pundits in the mainstream press, most of the growth of the government’s deficit can be attributed to the rotten economy–which destroyed jobs and thus tax revenue. As the U.S. private sector retrenched to rebuild its balance sheet, the government’s balance moved toward deficit. This had very little to do with “excessive” and “unsustainable” entitlement programs. The positive contribution of the U.S. fiscal stimulus (with supporting monetary policy) cannot be overstated, even though many notable mainstream economists (such as Robert Barro, or Greg Mankiw) claim it made the recession worse. Without the two-pronged attack – first of shoring up the financial system to ensure the banks could lend and second, the substantial increase in government net spending (which was both the product of discretionary fiscal decisions and what economists call "automatic stabilizers" like unemployment benefits) – the world economy would have collapsed into Depression. That is not to say that the fiscal interventions were sound and well designed. I generally think they were unsound in the sense that they did not support job creation as much as they should have. But that is a separate issue.

The outlook for 2012 then depends very much on fiscal policy. Right now according to the Congressional Budge Office (CBO), we are programmed for fiscal restriction of perhaps 2.5% of GDP or more in 2012. That could overcome the natural tendency of economies to grow, especially with real interest rates at negative levels. The question then arises, will we really go through an election year with so much fiscal restriction? The answer, of course, is in the hands of the politicians. As it now stands, the President wants a $447 billion dollar jobs plan. That is equal to almost 3% of GDP. He wants most of it to be financed with borrowings in 2012, with offsetting tax increases in future years. Passage of all of this jobs plan would turn programmed fiscal restriction into marginal fiscal stimulus.

The Republican position has been that, even if they go along with parts of this job stimulus plan like an extension of the payroll tax cut, they demand offsetting greater expenditure cuts.

In other words, even if they concede to some of Obama’s demands, they insist on maintaining the overall fiscal restriction that is now programmed because they say that demonstrating a commitment to “budget discipline” will enhance business confidence and allow the private sector to create more jobs.

So let’s assume that the GOP is right: imagine a new government being elected on the promise of cutting national debt and in its first budget outlines a very clear plan to seriously cut the national budget deficit, reduce taxes (but definitely not put them up), cut public employment and free up the regulative environment. And let's say that such a government also pronounced its “pro-business” credentials (self-styled).

In that situation, if the Republican view was correct, we would expect to observe within a few months (certainly within a year) of the new government a reduction in private uncertainty, which, if the concept has any operational application, should influence discretionary behavior such as spending and employment.

It would be reasonable to expect business confidence to rise, which should mean that private investment would accelerate as business owners anticipate a consumer revival. It would be reasonable to expect firms to be keen to get staff in place to meet the renewed expectations of increased orders. It would be reasonable to expect consumers to become more confident and this confidence to translate into their consumption expenditure.

So... how does one explain the UK, which continues to deteriorate in spite of making very clear its plans and implementation for budget cutting? And how does one explain Australia, which has also been working toward reducing government spending, even as its unemployment rate has begun to tip up again?

The economics of the super committee, indeed that of virtually all of the mainstream Washington policy establishment, is still predicated on the economic equivalent of Medieval blood-letting. Continuing to “draw blood” from the US economy via ongoing cuts in government expenditure at a time of high unemployment and underused resources will ensure the patient’s death, not recovery.

The Jobs Crisis: What Did Roosevelt Do That Obama Should?

Friday 25 November 2011

The nation is experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Princeton economist and former Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Blinder, calls the current crisis a "national jobs emergency."

The "official" unemployment rate in September was 9.1 percent - nearly twice the rate a decade ago - leaving 14 million people out of work.

It's not just the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Great Recession. The American economy has been underperforming for years. Business Week calls 1999-2009 "The Lost Decade for Jobs" as private-sector employment grew by a paltry net 1.1 percent - the lowest increase for any ten-year period since the 1930s.

The original version of President Obama's increasingly embattled jobs plan aimed to provide a much-needed extension of unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut for working Americans, but outlined only scarce measures to dent the catastrophic rate of unemployment. What we need today is a massive jobs program like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) launched by President Franklin Roosevelt. The WPA put millions of people back to work in the midst of the Great Depression, restoring their dignity, putting money in their pockets and quite literally saving lives.

The crisis is much worse than most of us think. According to the US Department of Labor, the real unemployment rate is 16.5%, when you count people whose unemployment benefits have run out and still are not working, part-time workers who want full-time jobs, and discouraged workers who have simply stopped looking. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that the number of long-term unemployed, meaning those unemployed for more than six months, hovers at a postwar record level of 45 percent. All these figures are much higher for black and Latino workers.

No one is insulated. Workers at every educational level have seen their unemployment rates double since 2007 - high school graduates, college graduates and even those with graduate degrees. The severity of the crisis has overturned conventional wisdom that higher education is a cure for joblessness. The unemployed do not need more education - they need work.

What Did Roosevelt Do That Obama Is Not Doing?
In the winter of 1933, with unemployment reaching 25 percent, Roosevelt established the Civil Works Administration, an emergency jobs program that put 4.2 million unemployed to work within six months. He also started the Civilian Conservation Corps to employ a half-million young men with minimal skills in useful work in the nation's parks, forests and rangelands. Meanwhile, Roosevelt launched the Public Works Administration, which funded long-term infrastructure projects such as highways, bridges, dams and public buildings.

The WPA followed in 1935, employing 8.5 million more between 1935 and 1943. It put those men and women to work on projects requested by state and local governments, such as roads, schools, sewers and airports, and operated local arts, educational and media programs.

Once the New Deal was launched in 1933, the US economy began to grow again by leaps and bounds - at a rate of nearly 10 percent per year. By 1937, production had doubled and the unemployment rate had dropped by half. By 1941, before the war began, the economy was back where it would have been had the Depression never happened. With the wartime build-up, mass unemployment became a distant memory.

To tackle our current unemployment crisis, the federal government should spend $500 billion a year over the next three years on emergency jobs programs like those of the New Deal. The first step would be to give every state and local government the funds to restore their budgets. The loss of 680,000 teaching, police, transit, and other public-sector jobs over the last three years has contributed measurably to the downturn.

The second step would be direct programs to create new full-time jobs for the unemployed - at the median wage of $16.27 an hour - in areas where the need is obvious: in schools (e.g., teachers, school maintenance and enrichment programs); human services (e.g., child care, home care and health care); and energy conservation (e.g., retrofitting homes and public buildings).

To this should be added a third step: financing large-scale public works programs to build schools, bridges, a "smart" electrical grid, zero-emission buses, high-speed rail, wind farms and affordable housing. The pathetic state of our national infrastructure has been decried for years by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the country a D grade, and the United States ranks 32nd in the world in infrastructure, according to McKinsey Global Institute.

A substantial increase of government spending for public works will create expanded opportunity for youth, women and minority workers to enter state-certified apprenticeship programs in the construction trades and to earn a middle-class income.

How to Pay for Such a Jobs Program?
First, the federal government can run temporary deficits. While the federal deficit is relatively high at 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010, it is still dramatically lower than the peak of 30 percent of GDP during World War II. Contrary to popular thinking, government spending in a recession can lower the deficit by taking people off the unemployment roles and putting money in the hands of ordinary people to bolster consumer demand, which stimulates business and returns more tax revenues.

But since we are worried about the current federal deficit and the budget woes of state and local governments, we must heed investor Warren Buffett's call to "stop coddling the rich" by raising taxes on millionaires and closing corporate loopholes.

The upper 1 percent's share of national income increased from 9 percent in 1976 to 24 percent in 2007, according to a report by UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Nearly half of total income went to the upper 10 percent in 2007, compared to 33 percent 30 years earlier. The top income tax rate on the highest earners was 70 percent between 1940 and 1980 - when the economy was performing much better than it is today - and now it is just 35 percent.

Moreover, corporate profits increased at an annual rate of $1.6 trillion in 2010 - a record for the postwar period. The Tax Policy Center reports that federal revenue from corporate taxes has dropped by half over the last 60 years, while corporations like Verizon, Bank of America and General Electric pay essentially no taxes due to loopholes in the tax code.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a 5.6 percent surcharge on incomes exceeding $1 million, as proposed by the Obama administration, will raise $40 billion a year. Ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the upper 2 percent, set to expire in 2012, will generate more than $80 billion a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Economists Robert Pollin and Dean Baker estimate that a 0.5 percent transaction tax on the transfer of stocks and securities will yield $175 billion annually from the largest financial institutions and speculators. The Center for Tax Justice calculates that federal tax revenue will increase by $365 billion a year if corporate tax loopholes and subsidies are eliminated.

Republicans oppose taxing the rich, just as they did in the 1930s. It will take popular mobilization by labor, faith, civil rights, women's and youth organizations to overcome such resistance - just as it did then. Occupy Wall Street may be the beginning of a movement for a new New Deal. Collective action worked in the 1930s and it could work again now.

How Corporations Became "People"

Occupiers could direct their energy not only at Wall Street, but also at its enablers, in Congress, and ultimately, at the high court. 
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on November 25, 2011

Perhaps there were truly free markets before the industrial revolution, where townspeople and farmers gathered in a square to exchange livestock, produce and handmade tools. In our modern world, such a market does not exist. Governments set up the rules of the game, and those rules have an enormous impact on our economic outcomes.

In 2007, the year of the crash, the top 1% of American households took in almost two-and-a-half times the share of our nation's pre-tax income that they had grabbed in the 40 years folliwing World War Two. This was no accident – the rules of the market underwent profound changes that led to the upward redistribution of trillions in income over the past 30 years. The rules are set by Congress – under a mountain of lobbying dollars – but they are adjudicated by the courts.

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS), with a right-wing majority under Chief Justice John Roberts, has become a body that leans too far toward the “1%” to be considered a neutral arbiter. So whether they know all the ins and outs of the court's profound rightward shift or not, those protesting across the country as part of the Occupy movement are motivated by its corruption as well.

While conservatives constantly rail against judges "legislating from the bench," it is far more common for right-leaning jurists to engage in “judicial activism” than those of a liberal bent. That's what a 2005 study by Yale University legal scholar Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golder found. According to the scholars, those justices most frequently labeled "conservative" were among the most likely to strike down statutes passed by Congress, while those most frequently labeled "liberal" were the least likely to do so.

A 2007 study by University of Chicago law professor Thomas J. Miles and Cass R. Sunstein looked at the tendency of judges to strike down decisions by federal regulatory agencies, and found a similar trend. The Supreme Court's "conservative" justices were again the most likely to engage in this form of "activism," while the "liberal" justices were most likely to exercise judicial restraint.

The most notorious case of activism by the Roberts court was its ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations -- and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions) --- from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election for federal office (or 30 days before a primary).

At a 2010 conference, former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, put the potential impact of Citizens United in stark terms. “We’re now in a situation,” he told the crowd, “where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’”

To arrive at their ruling, the court’s conservative majority stretched the Orwellian legal concept known as “corporate personhood” to the limit, and gave faceless multinationals expansive rights to influence our elections under the auspices of the First Amendment.

“They wanted to hear the possibility that that’s the way the constitution would read to them,” said Grayson. “So they picked an issue out of the air that nobody had conceived of [as a First Amendment case] because 100 years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections in America, and they not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a Constitutional right.”

Early on, the plaintiffs themselves had decided not to base their case on the First Amendment. It was the conservative justices themselves who ordered the case re-argued fully a month after a ruling had been expected, asking the lawyers to present the free speech argument they’d earlier abandoned.

In his dissent, Justice Stevens noted that it was a highly unusual move, and that the court had further ruled on a Constitutional issue that it didn’t need to consider in order to decide the case before it -- the diametric opposite of the principle of “judicial restraint.” He charged that the conservative majority had "changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law."

That's nothing new. The Citizens United decision simply advanced a bizarre legal doctrine, developed during the last 150 years, that effectively codifies the power of corporate interests.

Corporate personhood's origin in English law was reasonable enough; it was only by considering companies “persons” that they could be taken to court and sued. You can’t sue an inanimate object.

During the 19th century, however, the robber barons, aided by a few corrupt jurists deep in their pockets, took the concept to a whole new level in the United States. According to legal textbooks, the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as you or I was codified in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. But historian Thom Hartmann dug into the original case documents and found that this crucially important legal doctrine actually originated with what may be the most significant act of corruption in history.

It occurred during a seemingly routine tax case: Santa Clara sued the Southern Pacific Railroad to pay property taxes on the land it held in the county, and the railroad claimed that because states had different rates, allowing them to tax its holdings would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th  Amendment. The railroads had made the claim in previous cases, but the courts had never bought the argument.

In a 2005 interview, Hartmann described his surprise when he went to a Vermont courthouse to read an original copy of the verdict and found that the judges had made no mention of corporate personhood. “In fact,” he told the interviewer, “the decision says, at its end, that because they could find a California state law that covered the case ‘it is not necessary to consider any other questions’ such as the constitutionality of the railroad’s claim to personhood.”

Hartmann then explained how it was that corporations actually became “people”:
In the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding, it’s just a commentary to help out law students and whatnot, summarizing the case—the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The discovery “that we’d been operating for over 100 years on an incorrect headnote” led Hartmann to look into the past of the clerk who’d written it, J. C. Bancroft Davis. He discovered that Davis had been a corrupt official who had himself previously served as the president of a railroad. Digging deeper, Hartmann then discovered that Davis had been working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Hartmann noted that even after the ruling, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy.
Nike asserted before the Supreme Court . . . as Sinclair Broadcasting did in a press release last month, that these corporations have First Amendment rights of free speech. Dow Chemical in a case it took to the Supreme Court asserted it has Fourth Amendment privacy rights and could refuse to allow the EPA to do surprise inspections of its facilities. J.C. Penney asserted before the Supreme Court that it had a Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from discrimination —the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to free the slaves after the Civil War—and that communities that were trying to keep out chain stores were practicing illegal discrimination. Tobacco and asbestos companies asserted that they had Fifth Amendment rights to keep secret what they knew about the dangers of their products. With the exception of the Nike case, all of these attempts to obtain human rights for corporations were successful, and now they wield this huge club against government that was meant to protect relatively helpless and fragile human beings.
Such is the power of a corrupt judiciary.

Returning to the present, while Citizens United is arguably the Roberts court's most widely criticized ruling, it was not the only time the majority has bent over backward to protect the interests of corporate America and the 1%. Legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick, writing on Slate, condemned the court's “systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised.” Those who care about spiraling inequality, she wrote, “need look no further than last term at the high court to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.”

The takeaway is that those camping out in town squares across the country must direct their energy not only at Wall Street, but also at its enablers, in Congress, and ultimately, at the high court.

Weeding Out Corporate Psychopaths


Given the state of the global economy, it might not surprise you to learn that psychopaths may be controlling the world. Not violent criminals, but corporate psychopaths who nonetheless have a genetically inherited biochemical condition that prevents them from feeling normal human empathy.

Scientific research is revealing that 21st century financial institutions with a high rate of turnover and expanding global power have become highly attractive to psychopathic individuals to enrich themselves at the expense of others, and the companies they work for.

A peer-reviewed theoretical paper titled The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis details how highly placed psychopaths in the banking sector may have nearly brought down the world economy through their own inherent inability to care about the consequences of their actions.

The author of this paper, Clive Boddy, previously of Nottingham Trent University, believes this theory would go a long way to explain how senior managers acted in ways that were disastrous for the institutions they worked for, the investors they represented and the global economy at large.

If true, this also means the astronomically expensive public bailouts will not solve the problem since many of the morally impaired individuals who caused this mess likely remain in positions of power. Worse, they are the same people advising governments on how to resolve this crisis.

To tackle this problem, we must instead examine this rare and curious condition, and why recent corporate history may have elevated precisely the wrong type of people to positions of great power and public trust.

Unfeeling, but not insane

Psychopathy should not be confused with insanity. It is best described by Robert Hare, global expert and psychologist, as “emotional deafness” — a biochemical inability to experience normal feelings of empathy for others.

This shark-like fixation on self-interest means that psychopaths often feel a clear detachment from other people, viewing them more as sheep to be preyed upon than fellow humans to relate to. For instance, psychopaths in prison often use group therapy sessions not as a healing process, but as an opportunity to learn how to simulate normal human emotions.

Studies on twins have revealed that psychopathy shows a strong genetic signature and there remains no effective treatment. Recent research has linked the condition to physical abnormalities in the amygdala region of the brain.

Only a small subset of psychopaths become the violent criminals so often fictionalized in film. Most simply seek to blend in and conceal their difference in order to more effectively manipulate others. This frightening condition has existed throughout human history, though likely in a marginal and socially parasitic way.

While psychopaths are often portrayed by Hollywood as brilliantly clever, a hypothetical race of Hannibal Lecters would likely perish since they lack the ability to trust each other. Put another way, the human race — a relatively weak, slow, hairless tropical primate — has succeeded so spectacularly in every ecosystem on the planet not because we are so bad, but because we are so good.

Most dangerous 1%

The human ability to build social capital means that people can cooperate and trust each other. We can reliably predict the behavior of others even if we have never met them. Social capital is the glue that holds together our communities, complex societies, large institutions and the economy. The one and only superpower possessed by psychopaths is their ruthless ability to spend the social capital created by others.

Scientists believe about 1% of the general population is psychopathic, meaning there are more than three million moral monsters among normal United States citizens. There is emerging evidence that this frequency increases within the upper management of modern corporations. This is not surprising since personal ruthlessness and fixation on personal power have become seen as strong assets to large publicly traded corporations (which some authors believe have also become psychopathic).

However, appearance and performance are two different things. While psychopaths are often outwardly charming and excellent self-promoters, they are also typically terrible managers, bullying co-workers and creating chaos to conceal their behavior.

When employed in senior levels, their pathology also means they are biochemically incapable of something they are legally required to do: act in good faith on behalf of other people. The banking and corporate sector is built on the ancient principle of fiduciary duty — a legal obligation to act in the best interest of those whose money or property you are entrusted with. Asking a psychopath to do that is like recruiting a pyromaniac to be a firefighter.

The folly of mixing psychopathy and senior corporate management has been borne out by recent history. At the end of the last decade, numerous banking institutions representing hundreds of years of corporate financial stability ceased to exist within a few short months due to the reckless acts of a few individuals — none of whom has ever been charged with a crime.

And therein lies the rub. As ruthless as psychopaths are, their pathology dictates that they will ultimately act to the detriment of the organizations and investors they are paid so well to represent.

Fertile for psychopaths: New corporate culture

If this theory is correct, how did this become such a crisis in recent decades? Boddy suggests that corporations have changed from relatively stable institutions where psychopaths would have a difficult time concealing themselves, to highly fluid organizations where it is much easier for them to disappear within the chaos in their wake. Boddy writes:
“(The) whole corporate and employment environment changed from one that would hold the Corporate Psychopath in check to one where they could flourish and advance relatively unopposed. As evidence of this, senior level remuneration and reward started to increase more and more rapidly and beyond all proportion to shop floor incomes and a culture of greed unfettered by conscience developed. Corporate Psychopaths are ideally situated to prey on such an environment and corporate fraud, financial misrepresentation, greed and misbehavior went through the roof, bringing down huge companies and culminating in the Global Financial Crisis that we are now in.”

Boddy is not hopeful that the current round of expensive public bailouts will solve the problem. If psychopaths have in fact installed themselves in the upper reaches of the world’s financial institutions, their genetic deficiency dictates that their greed knows no bounds. They will continue to act in anti-social, remorseless ways, amplified by their enormous corporate influence until the institutions they represent and perhaps the entire global economy collapses. Obviously, more academic research in this area is urgently needed.
Boddy concludes his recent paper with this grim prediction:
“Writing in 2005, this author . . . predicted that the rise of Corporate Psychopaths was a recipe for corporate and societal disaster. This disaster has now happened and is still happening. Across the western world, the symptoms of the financial crisis are now being treated. However, this treatment of the symptoms will have little effect because the root cause is not being addressed. The very same Corporate Psychopaths, who probably caused the crisis by their self-seeking greed and avarice, are now advising governments on how to get out of the crisis. That this involves paying themselves vast bonuses in the midst of financial hardship for many millions of others is symptomatic of the problem. Further, if (this theory is correct) then we are now far from the end of the crisis. Indeed, it is only the end of the beginning. Perhaps more than ever before, the world needs corporate leaders with a conscience . . . Measures exist to identify Corporate Psychopaths. Perhaps it is time to use them.”

Time has come for testing

Boddy’s last statement contains a kernel of hope. If our world has become chaotic due to institutionalized psychopathy, imagine how much better it could be if such dangerously impaired individuals were excluded from positions of power and influence.

Precedence exists for dealing with such situations. Randomized workplace drug testing became the norm in the 1980s. At the time, civil libertarians strongly objected on the basis that it violated personal privacy protections. However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1989 that such testing was constitutional and now about 25 per cent of Fortune 500 companies routinely require their employees to submit to such tests.

Perhaps investors at major financial institutions should require that senior level managers submit to established tests to ensure they are not psychopathic. This is not an issue of civil liberties since the precedent has already been well established regarding drug impairment in the workplace. Likewise, it is not a regulatory issue since private shareholders have every right to demand that executives demonstrate they are not biochemically impaired and therefore unable to carry out their fiduciary duties on behalf of investors. If corporate boards are hiring psychopaths as executive management, they are not carrying out their due diligence and could be held legally liable for their oversight.

Companies should also consider providing employees with specific whistleblower provisions to expose potential psychopaths in the workplace. A 2010 study by Boddy showed that corporate psychopaths caused more than one quarter of all workplace bullying, though they accounted for only one per cent of the workforce.

Besides being traumatic and humiliating to other workers, this bullying is also very expensive. Boddy calculated that bullying by corporate psychopaths cost companies in the U.K. more than £3.5 billion per year in lost productivity and attrition. Extrapolating these results to the United States, these deviant individuals are responsible for more than $35 billion in direct annual losses to U.S. businesses.

Politicians, too?

And what about elected officials? There is no higher standard of trust in our society than standing for public office. Campaigning politicians are expected to submit to almost absurd levels of scrutiny about their private lives, character and personal relationships. Should not candidates begin providing voters proof that they are medically capable of acting in the interests of the public that may elect them?

The Occupy Wall Street protesters demanding an end to the reign of the “1%” may have unwittingly stumbled on the crux of the issue. Science tells us that 99% of humans have normal emotional function. One per cent are psychopaths. We ignore that truth at our peril.

“The Degree To Which You Resist Is The Degree To Which You Are Free.”

I've noticed a meme beginning to fester among liberal insiders who are positing that the Occupy Wall Street movement is starting to "distract" the citizenry from the wicked machinations of Republicans of the legislative class.


The OWS movement is not a distraction from—but serves as an alternative to—the disingenuous theatrics staged by the political hacks of this faux republic. Conversely, movement members have grasped that it is the hollow grandstanding--the modus operandi of the present U.S. political system itself--that serves as distraction from the realities of the day.

Those drawn to the OWS movement realize this: Vast sums of money are required to get the attention of and gain influence over the entrenched class of self-serving political insiders who hustle their wares in Washington, D.C.

Year after year, election cycle after election cycle, Washington’s political class has revealed whose interests it serves. Accordingly, let the 1% and their political operatives continue on their present myopic, self-serving, society-decimating course: By doing so, they will just bring more outraged people into the streets and hasten their own undoing.

Yet, because arrogant power, girded by duplicity and ruthlessly maintained, does not yield without a fight, we should expect more of the following:
Stories are circulating that Clark, Lytle, Geduldig & Cranford, a well-connected Washington lobbying firm, with ties to the financial industry, have floated a $850,000 plan to pillory Occupy Wall Street. This should not come as a surprise. Living in a society dominated by the power of massive corporations, and the inequitable wealth these self-perpetuating organizations have at their disposal, we will be relentlessly subjected to the narratives they generate.
"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." — Steve Biko

Since birth, most of us have been enveloped by the consumer state's commercial hologram. Almost every daily act we perform and attitude we evince is in some measure determined by the dictates, demands and the incessant, commercial come-ons (the defacto propaganda) of the corporate state e.g. from what time you rise in the morning, to the food you eat, to what you clothe yourself in, to how you spend your days, to what time you go to sleep at night, to what stories you are audience to--the cultural myths you have internalized--by means of mass media saturation, to the manner you celebrate festivals and holidays, to how your illnesses and of those around you will play-out, even the circumstances of how you will approach and succumb to your death.

Because these are the waters in which we swim, most will accept societal and cultural circumstances as a given…believing, for example, that when they posit a political utterance that the opinion expressed has been formed exclusively of their own mind, by the exercise of free will.

Accordingly, a large percent of the populace of the U.S. believes consumerism is a form of freedom…that the exercise thereof mainly involves being at liberty to trundle to a mall and be in possession of the right to choose between a big-ass cookie or a giant Cinnabon…that freedom of choice is expressed by over-priced running shoes--or security can be found in a massive SUV.

In this manner, the propaganda campaigns of the corporate/national security state have proven effective at promoting and perpetuating the inequitable status quo in place at the present time. Do not underestimate the well-rewarded, professional con men employed in the criminal enterprise known as "public relations." Remember, these masters of deceit sell wars, fought by the poor, in which, the underclass kill and die for the profits of a ruthless few. War is a money train for the rich and connected but a death wagon for the rest of humankind.

Ready yourself to be buffeted by a barrage of virtual reality blunderbuss--volley after volley of mainstream media launched Big Lies--and the ground fire of social media small distortions. Don't walk unarmed into the line of fire.

Remember this: Most likely, the corporate state has, to some degree, colonized your mind, as it is well on its way to destroying the ecosystem of the entire planet.

Conversely, let your soul occupy you. While there might be an ongoing effort to scour Liberty Park of liberty, they cannot do likewise to your heart without your consent. Turn the tables on them: Evict the corporate occupiers from the public realm within--as all the while, you challenge propaganda whenever it crosses your path…on the streets, at your workplace, at family gatherings, and on social media-- because a lie left unchallenged begins to be accepted as truth. And worse, invades, colonizes and exploits (and often kills) a portion of the soul of the world.

Importantly, do not underestimate the ruthless nature of calcified power.

Regarding the subject: On Thursday, Nov. 17, near Foley Square, there was blood on Broadway. At the scene, I witnessed thuggish, NYPD motorcycle cops driving directly into groups of peaceful demonstrators, with the intent of antagonizing those gathered, and when people stood their ground and refused to be bullied--then phalanxes of blue shirt bastards, swinging nightsticks, waded into the crowd.

Even with my wife, tugging at the back of my jacket, attempting to tow, as we say down south, my narrow ass away from the direction of injury or jail, I could not contain my outrage; I growled at a smirking cop, gloating over the carnage, "just keep it up, you mindless thug, when you get folks angry enough, the boot just might be on the other neck...namely yours."

In hindsight, in my own defense: Being on scene and witnessing peaceful people attacked and brutalized, one is apt to become seized by rage.

But what is the mayor of New York City and his Police Commissioner’s excuse?

Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelley and the ranks of NYPD have proven themselves willing to barricade and checkpoint the city into chaos…as opposed to enduring ongoing moments of freedom of assembly and free expression.

And this is why we must not retreat. Their tactics of repression are very expensive to the city budget, and money is the only thing they love.

Hence, they have, in turn, provided us with a tactic we can use; we can hit them where they feel it. (Conversely, they can take blow after blow to their dignity--because they are devoid of that character trait.)

The ground is shifting below our feet and this phenomenon involves more than the echoing footfalls of marchers and the trudging of militarized formations of riot cops on city streets worldwide.

The first vibrations, closer to tremors, transpired because the ground below us has been fracked of dreams...the void engendered seismological activity. Now, from Cairo, Egypt's Tahrir Square to Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece to Liberty Park, in New York, New York to Oscar Grant Park, in Oakland, California, we have become like tuning forks, in sympatico with the resonances of the tormented earth.

Subsequently, the walls of the neoliberal prison are cracking…We are no longer isolated, enclosed in our alienation, imprisoned by a concretized sense of powerlessness; daylight is beginning to pierce the darkness of our desolate cells.

“The state can't give you freedom, and the state can't take it away. You're born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.” ~ Utah Phillips

What Bank Regulation?

A new report finds that federal prosecutions for bank fraud have plummeted almost 30 per cent in the last five years despite the well-documented abuses that have fired up Occupy sites around the country. This chart says it all.

US Congress Seeks to Cut Food Stamp Program

Problems for poor to intensify if food-stamps program that assists 45 million people gets reduced.

Advocates for the poor and often hungry in the US say that problems for the nation's needy could intensify if the agriculture department bows to pressure from congress to reduce food-assistance schemes.

Politicians are looking at ways to stimulate the economy and balance the federal budget with a proposed $4.2bn cut in its food-stamps program that currently assists 45 million people.

According to a recent US government report, some 15% of Americans are relying on food stamps. That is a 50 per cent jump from last year at a cost of $65bn per year.

Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey reports from New York.

The Pepperspraying Cop Meme

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ask the Candidates Real Questions — Like These

Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern says it’s time for citizens to put politicians on the spot with some more pointed questions

Pity the pundits. It must be hard to pretend to be a journalist and live in constant fear of being one question or comment away from joining the jobless.

This Thanksgiving holiday weekend we can be thankful for the obscene transparency of the “mainstream” pundits’ efforts to avoid at all cost offending the corporations that own and use them.

Rather, media personalities who wish to be around for a while must do what they can to promote the notion of American exceptionalism and the need to sacrifice at home in order to defend and expand the Empire — “so that we don’t have to fight them here.”

From a global perspective looking back a few decades, it is hard to believe that major powers like China and Russia were fiercely competing with each other for improved relations with the U.S., and that we were able to play one off against the other to advance America’s interests.

They are now laughing at us — smiling at how far we have outreached ourselves in our attempts to project power and corner the world market.

It is, actually, hard to believe: Marines now stationed in Australia, which our national security experts apparently believe is near China (well, kind of near); U.S. troops now in Africa where there’s still a lot of untapped oil; U.S threats to use a “military option” against Iran.

And the coup de grace: the feckless effort to build anti-ballistic missile defense systems that can defeat all countermeasures — the U.S. defense-industrial project that has long been one of the most expensive and lucrative corporate welfare programs.

Check out the breaking story, which brings still more good news for the military-industrial complex: Russia is threatening to defeat American missile defense systems in Europe, absent a bilateral agreement regulating them. And so, it’s back to the drawing board and then the production line in the quixotic search for technical systems that cannot be countered. Is this a great country for weapons researchers and manufacturers, or what?

The pundits will explain, and our diplomats will try to convince others, particularly incredulous Europeans, that such defense systems are needed to defend against an eventual missile threat from Iran, which our national security gurus believe to be near Europe (well, kind of near).

All this at a time when one out of three children in America live in poverty. Our Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), substantially owned and operated by the arms makers, war profiteers and their friends, does what it can to disguise this, as well as other grim statistics.

Be thankful, say the One Percent. Relax already. After all, even poor children — or most of them, anyhow — can watch football on TV and be enticed by heroic advertisements to join the military or some other part of the national security apparatus. Thus, maybe they can qualify for a credit card that enables them to shop like crazy on Black Friday and on future Black Fridays.

To further buck up national morale, our TV networks can be counted on to carry the usual orgy of flag-waving “God-bless-America” renditions – accompanied by those explicit and implicit tutorials on American exceptionalism, expressed with jet-fighter flyovers and cutaways to U.S. troops “defending our freedoms” in Afghanistan and other faraway places.

The message from the One Percent – the ultra-wealthy whom Republican lawmakers are fond of lauding as the “job creators” – was that ALL of you must be grateful this Thanksgiving holiday, including the ungrateful Ninety-Nine Percent, some of whom are grumbling about inequities at “Occupy” protests around the country.

Ask Real Questions
Is there a medicine for this infection of militarism, consumerism and mindless politics? I think there is, but only if we all do our part. We need to find ways to raise the kinds of questions that FCM pundits and journalists avoid like the plague. Go to the rallies, the press conferences, the campaign speeches; press for cogent answers to the real questions.
That’s what I’m going to try to do in the coming weeks and months. Here are three lines of questioning I think we might try to pursue with the candidates themselves. You may wish to try them out yourselves and/or devise your own. I include below the three questions, supplemented by background and potential lead-ins:

*     *     *     *     *

Question 1
Background: The aims of U.S. foreign policy in the post-World War II period were essentially to enforce a global system in which the Western powers under American leadership would maintain global dominance. This essentially meant being in control of the world’s resources at the expense of non-Western nations.

This fundamental objective of U.S. foreign policy in the post-war period shines through with bare-knuckled candor in a TOP SECRET policy document written by George Kennan in February 1948. He was head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and this was its first memorandum. Here is an excerpt:
“We have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population. … Our real task in the coming period is to maintain this position of disparity. … To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming. … We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism. … We should cease to talk about vague, unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we will have to deal in straight power concepts.”

Lead-in: Five years after approval of the basic policy aim of controlling more than our share of “the world’s wealth,” the policy was implemented by throwing millions of dollars at the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran. You see, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh had the revolutionary, unacceptable notion that more of the profits from Iranian oil should stay in Iran for the Iranian people and not simply go to oil giants like the predecessor of British Petroleum (BP).

The Question: Do you think we had a right to overthrow the leader of Iran in 1953? And would you again give millions of dollars to the CIA to overthrow the Iranian government under your presidency?

*     *     *     *     *

Question 2
Background: Further on Iran: During the Dec. 5, 2006, Senate hearing on the nomination of Robert Gates to be Secretary of Defense, he was questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and the threat to Israel if it did. Gates said that he believed Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons and was lying when it said it wasn’t.

However, amazingly, Gates added that Iran’s motivation was largely self-defense. Sen. Graham asked:
“Do you believe the Iranians would consider using that nuclear weapons capability against the nation of Israel?”

Gates replied:
“I don’t know that they would do that, Senator. … And I think that, while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf.”

This remarkably candid reply explains Iran’s possible motive in seeking nuclear weapons as deterrence against aggression by nuclear powers in the region, including Israel and the United States. In other words, according to Gates, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons in the first instance” to prevent others from attacking it, rather than to attack other states — like Israel.

This comes close to saying that the U.S. should be able to live with a nuclear-armed Iran (and Israel should be able to as well). And, remember, all this talk is properly put in the subjunctive mood. It remains a very big IF; namely, on whether or not the Iranian leaders opt to go for a nuclear weapon.

We were formally reminded last March that the jury is still out on this key question. James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, testified to Congress that the intelligence community judges that Iran has not yet made that decision. So, despite all the current media hype regarding Iran’s nuclear program, there remains some reason to hope against hype, so to speak.

In the above reply, Gates also acknowledged what U.S. officials officially seek to obfuscate: that Israel has nuclear weapons. Remember, at the time of his confirmation hearing, Gates had already served as CIA director and held other senior national security position in several administrations.

He had been around long enough both to know the details of Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal and the longstanding U.S. policy NOT to acknowledge that Israel has nukes. That policy was designed to have the double benefit of not undermining Israel’s policy of studied ambiguity on the issue and of not requiring the U.S. to take a position for or against Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and its refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed.

America’s supposedly “objective” FCM also readily puts on the blinders when focusing on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program and simultaneously ignoring Israel’s real one. The truth is that there are no U.N. weapons inspectors crawling into crevices in Israel, as they regularly do in Iran.

Lead-in to question: A portion of intelligence funding goes to support intelligence analysis. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates worked in the analysis part of the CIA. [Actually, as an apprentice analyst 40 years ago, he worked in the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch that I led. His portfolio was Soviet policy toward the Middle East.]

Fast-forward 35 years to Dec. 5, 2006, when the Senate held a one-day hearing on Gates’s nomination to become Secretary of Defense. When Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Gates whether he thought the Iranians would consider a nuclear attack on Israel, Gates answered [as already mentioned above]:
“I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf.”

This is tell-it-like-it-is intelligence analysis [which exceeded my hopes as his erstwhile mentor]. It even included matter-of-fact mention of Israel’s nuclear capability, which President Barack Obama himself has refused to acknowledge. When Helen Thomas pressed the issue at Obama’s inaugural press conference (Feb. 9, 2009), the President awkwardly ducked the question, explaining he did not want to “speculate.”

The Question: Do you agree with Mr. Gates that Iran would see a nuclear capability “in the first instance as a deterrent?” And how many nuclear weapons do Western experts believe Israel has? President Carter has said 150, but that was some time ago.

A Follow-up: Let’s assume Iran does get a nuclear weapon: Do you think it would commit suicide by firing it off in the direction of Israel?

*     *     *     *     *

Question 3
Background and Lead-In: This question deals with torture, an issue that has been given new life recently, with more and more Republican presidential candidates speaking in favor of it. We have surely come a long way since Virginia patriot Patrick Henry insisted passionately that “the rack and the screw,” as he put it, were barbaric practices that had to be left behind in the Old World, or we are “lost and undone.”

The Question: On Sept. 6, 2006, Gen. John Kimmons, then head of Army intelligence told reporters at the Pentagon, in unmistakable language: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.” Gen. Kimmons knew that President George W. Bush had decided to claim publicly, just two hours later on the same day, that the “alternative set of procedures” for interrogation — methods that Bush had approved, like water-boarding — were effective. Whom do you think we should believe: President Bush? Or Gen. Kimmons?

Adbusters Targets Corporate Propaganda With #OccupyXmas

by Laura Stone 
The yurts are barely dismantled and the tents only just rolled up, but there is already a new movement on the horizon — Occupy Christmas.

Canadian magazine Adbusters — which prompted the Occupy Wall Street camp and subsequent set-ups around North America, including Toronto’s St. James Park — has put out a call for another round of capitalism-disturbing

This time, the target is the gift-giving season.

“Christmas has been hijacked for us,” said Kalle Lasn, editor-in-chief at Adbusters, a non-profit, Vancouver-based alternative magazine. “It’s become this ugly, soulless, consumer-fest.”

In a note on their website, the magazine asks supporters to “launch an all-out offensive to unseat the corporate kings on the holiday throne.”

It is all planned to start this Black Friday on November 25, a notorious day of shopping excess in the United States and also the date of the publication’s 20th annual Buy Nothing Day. American media reports suggest planned protests at stores such as Walmart.

Lasn said Occupy Christmas would extend from the end of November to the sales in early January. He added that the closure of Occupy camps in several Canadian cities, including Toronto, signals the end of “phase one” of the movement but warned of a “spring offensive” in the new year.

The ideas for Occupy Christmas, which Lasn likens to “shenanigans,” include:
— a Santa sit-in, whereby protesters sit outside a store and encourage people to cut up their credit cards;
— a Jesus walk, where people put on a mask in the Holy Son’s likeness and walk through malls, to create an eerie sentiment;
— a “whirly mart,” in which would-be shoppers fill their carts with products but abandon them at the cash register.

“This movement is somewhat about angering people,” Lasn said.

At the soon-to-be shuttered Occupy Toronto site, participant Shirley Ceravolo said she’d be interested in joining the Christmas movement.

“It’s a great idea. You don’t need to spend money to show your family and friends that you love them,” said Ceravolo. “Santa is just a symbol of corporate propaganda.”

But some think targeting Christmas goes a step too far.

“There’s a difference between protesting in a public park and on private property,” said Sally Ritchie, vice-president of communications and marketing at the Retail Council of Canada, which represents 43,000 storefronts.

“It’s illegal to do it on private property, such as malls or stores, because it’s dangerous and it interferes with rights of other people.”

Ritchie said the holiday season is most important to retailers.

“Christmas is vitally important to retailers ….it’s their make or break time,” said Ritchie, who added the industry contributes $74 billion annually to the Canadian economy.

“This is going to hurt very vulnerable, small independent retailers. They live and die on Christmas.”

Steve Tissenbaum, a professor of business strategy at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said disruptions in stores may simply force more people to do their shopping online.

And while it could raise awareness around corporate culture, Tissenbaum said the Christmas season is too meaningful to too many people to simply be abandoned.
“I think they’ll alienate people more so than build on the cause.”

Adbusters created an #OCCUPYXMAS hashtag to mark the movement for those to follow and share online. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 1,600 people had tweeted the page and some 20,000 had liked it on Facebook.

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class's venality

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened.

The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalized police force, and forbids federal or militarized involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that right-wing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS.

Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilization against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually "OWS has no message". Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online "What is it you want?" answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process.  

No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorize mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarized reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the "scandal" of presidential contender Newt Gingrich's having been paid $1.8m for a few hours' "consulting" to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies' profits is less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists' privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can't suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organized Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened last  week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organized suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

Naomi Wolf
Author, social critic, and political activist Naomi Wolf is the author of The New York Times bestseller The End of America (Chelsea Green) and, more recently, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. Wolf’s landmark international bestseller, The Beauty Myth, challenged the cosmetics industry and the marketing of unrealistic standards of beauty, launching a new wave of feminism in the early 1990s.

The Open Mind: Bill Moyers Journal... The Conversation Continues

Originally aired on July 9, 2011

The Roads To War And Economic Collapse

November 23, 2011: The day before the Thanksgiving holiday brought three extraordinary news items.  One was the report on the Republican presidential campaign debate. One was the Russian President’s statement about his country’s response to Washington’s missile bases surrounding his country. And one was the failure of a German government bond auction.

As the presstitute media will not inform us of what any of this means, let me try.

With the exception of Ron Paul, the only candidate in either party qualified to be the president of the US, the rest of the Republican candidates are even worst than Obama, a president who had the country behind him but sold out the American people to the special interests.

No newly elected president in memory, neither John F. Kennedy nor Ronald Reagan, had the extraordinary response to his election as Barak Obama. A record-breaking number of people braved the cold to witness his swearing in ceremony. The mall was filled with Americans who could not see the ceremony except as televised on giant screens.

Obama had convinced the electorate that he would end the wars, stop the violation of law by the US government, end the regime of illegal torture, close the torture prison of Guantanamo, and attend to the real needs of the American people rather than stuff the pockets of the military/security complex with taxpayers’ money.

Once in office, Obama renewed and extended the Bush/Cheney/neoconservative wars.

He validated the Bush regime’s assaults on the US Constitution. He left Wall Street in charge of US economic policy, he absolved the Bush regime of its crimes, and he assigned to the American people the financial cost necessary to preserve the economic welfare of the mega-rich.

One would think such a totally failed president would be easy to defeat.  Given an historic opportunity, the Republican Party has put before the electorate the most amazingly stupid and vile collection of prospects, with the exception of Ron Paul who does not have the party’s support, that Americans have ever seen.

In the November 22 presidential “debate,” the candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, revealed themselves as a collection of ignorant warmongers who support the police state. Gingrich and Cain said that Muslims “want to kill us all” and that “all of us will be in danger for the rest of out lives.”

Bachmann said that the American puppet state, Pakistan, is “more than an existential threat.”  The moron Bachmann has no idea what is “more than an existential threat.”

However, it sounded heavy, like an intellectual thing to say for the candidate who previously declared the long-defunct Soviet Union to be today’s threat to the US.

Any sentient American who watched or read about the Republican presidential debate must wonder what there is to be thankful for as the national holiday passes.

The Russian government, which prefers to use its resources for the economy rather than for the military, has decided that it has been taking too many risks in the name of peace. The day before Thanksgiving, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, in a televised address to the Russian people, that if Washington goes ahead with its planned missile bases surrounding Russia, Russia will respond with new nuclear missiles of its own, which will target the American bases and European capital cities.

The President of Russia said that the Russian government has asked Washington for legally binding guarantees that the American missile bases are not intended as a threat to Russia, but that Washington has refused to give such guarantees.

Medvedev’s statement is perplexing. What does he mean “if Washington goes ahead?”  The American missile and radar bases are already in place. Russia is already surrounded.  Is Medvedev just now aware of what is already in place?

Russia’s and China’s slow response to Washington’s aggression can only be understood in the context of the two countries’ experience with communism. The sufferings of Russians and Chinese under communism was extreme, and the thinking part of those populations saw America as the ideal of political life. This delusion still controls the mentality of progressive thinkers in Russia and China.  It might prove to be a disaster for Russia and China that the countries have citizens who are aligned with the US.

Belief in Washington’s trustworthiness even pervades the Russian government, which apparently, according to Medvedev’s statement, would be reassured by a “legally binding guarantee” from Washington.  After the massive lies told by Washington in the 21st century–”weapons of mass destruction,” “al Qaeda connections,” “Iranian nukes”–why would anyone put any credence in “a legally binding guarantee” from Washington? The guarantee would mean nothing. How could it be enforced?  Such a guarantee would simply be another deceit in Washington’s pursuit of world hegemony.

The day prior to Thanksgiving also brought another extraordinary development–the failure of a German government bond auction, an unparalleled event.

Why would Germany, the only member of the EU with financial rectitude, not be able to sell 35 per cent of its offerings of 10-year bonds?  Germany has no debt problems, and its economy is expected by EU and US authorities to bear the lion’s share of the bailout of the EU member countries that do lack financial rectitude.

I suspect that the answer to this question is that the failure of the German government’s bond auction was orchestrated by the US, by EU authorities, especially the European Central Bank, and private banks in order to punish Germany for obstructing the purchase of EU member countries’ sovereign debt by the European Central Bank.

The German government has been trying to defend the terms on which Germany gave up control over its own currency and joined the EU. By insisting on the legality of the agreements, Germany has been standing in the way of the ECB behaving like the US Federal Reserve and monetizing the debt of member governments.

From the beginning the EU was a conspiracy against Germany. If Germany remains in the EU, Germany will be destroyed. It will lose its political and economic sovereignty, and its economy will be bled in behalf of the fiscally irresponsible members of the EU.

If Greeks will not submit to the tyranny, why should Germans?