Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Populist Revolution: Bernie and Beyond

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Ellen Brown

CommUnity of Minds–Ellen Brown writes: The world is undergoing a populist revival. From the revolt against austerity led by the Syriza Party in Greece and the Podemos Party in Spain, to Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise victory as Labour leader in the UK, to Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican polls, to Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton – contenders with their fingers on the popular pulse are surging ahead of their establishment rivals.

Today’s populist revolt mimics an earlier one that reached its peak in the US in the 1890s. Then it was all about challenging Wall Street, reclaiming the government’s power to create money, curing rampant deflation with US Notes (Greenbacks) or silver coins (then considered the money of the people), nationalizing the banks, and establishing a central bank that actually responded to the will of the people.

Over a century later, Occupy Wall Street revived the populist challenge, armed this time with the Internet and mass media to spread the word. The Occupy movement shined a spotlight on the corrupt culture of greed unleashed by deregulating Wall Street, widening the yawning gap between the 1% and the 99% and destroying jobs, households and the economy.

Donald Trump’s populist campaign has not focused much on Wall Street; but Bernie Sanders’ has, in spades. Sanders has picked as will so will I figure up the baton where Occupy left off, and the disenfranchised Millennials who composed that movement have flocked behind him. (02/03/2016)

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Wealth of richest 1% ‘equal to other 99%’

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

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BBC  Business News — The richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, according to Oxfam. It uses data from Credit Suisse from October for the report, which urges leaders meeting in Davos this week to take action on inequality. Oxfam also calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.

It criticised the work of lobbyists and the amount of money kept in tax havens. Oxfam predicted that the 1% would overtake the rest of the world this time last year.

It takes cash and assets worth $68,800 (£48,300) to get into the top 10%, and $760,000 (£533,000) to be in the 1%. That means that if you own an average house in London without a mortgage, you are probably in the 1%.

The figures carry various caveats, for example, information about the wealth of the super-rich is hard to come by, which Credit Suisse says means its estimates of the proportion of wealth held by the 10% and the 1% is “likely to err on the low side”.

As a global report, the figures also necessarily include some estimates of levels of wealth in countries from which accurate statistics are not available. Oxfam said that the 62 richest people having as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the population is a remarkable concentration of wealth, given that it would have taken 388 individuals to have the same wealth as the bottom 50% in 2010. (01/17/2016)

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Inequality and Modernization

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Ronald Inglehart

Foreign Affairs — Ronald Inglehart writes: During the past century, economic inequality in the developed world has traced a massive U-shaped curve—starting high, curving downward, then curving sharply back up again. In 1915, the richest one percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all national income. Their share plummeted in the 1930s and remained below ten percent through the 1970s, but by 2007, it had risen to 24 percent. Looking at household wealth rather than income, the rise of inequality has been even greater, with the share owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent from nine percent three decades ago. In 2011, the top one percent of U.S. households controlled 40 percent of the nation’s entire wealth. And while the U.S. case may be extreme, it is far from unique: all but a few of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for which data are available experienced rising income inequality (before taxes and transfers) during the period from 1980 to 2009.

The French economist Thomas Piketty has famously interpreted this data by arguing that a tendency toward economic inequality is an inherent feature of capitalism. He sees the middle decades of the twentieth century, during which inequality declined, as an exception to the rule, produced by essentially random shocks—the two world wars and the Great Depression—that led governments to adopt policies that redistributed income. Now that the influence of those shocks has receded, life is returning to normal, with economic and political power concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy.

Piketty’s work has been corrected on some details, but his claim that economic inequality is rising rapidly in most developed countries is clearly accurate. What most analyses of the subject miss, however, is the extent to which both the initial fall and the subsequent rise of inequality over the past century have been related to shifts in the balance of power between elites and masses, driven by the ongoing process of modernization.

In hunting-and-gathering societies, virtually everyone possessed the skills needed for political participation. Communication was by word of mouth, referring to things one knew of firsthand, and decision-making often occurred in village councils that included every adult male. Societies were relatively egalitarian.

The invention of agriculture gave rise to sedentary communities producing enough food to support elites with specialized military and communication skills. Literate administrators made it possible to coordinate large empires governing millions of people. This much larger scale of politics required specialized skills, including the ability to read and write. Word-of-mouth communication was no longer sufficient for political participation: messages had to be sent across great distances. Human memory was incapable of recording the tax base or military manpower of large numbers of districts: written records were needed. And personal loyalties were inadequate to hold together large empires: legitimating myths had to be propagated by religious or ideological specialists. This opened up a wide gap between a relatively skilled ruling class and the population as a whole, which consisted mainly of scattered, illiterate peasants who lacked the skills needed to cope with politics at a distance. And along with that gap, economic inequality increased dramatically. (01/16/2016)

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What’s wrong with wishing others a Merry Christmas?

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

CommUnity of Minds — Timothy Wilken writes: Recently it has become politically incorrect to wish your fellow humans a Merry Christmas. We are supposed to use the generic term Happy Holidays to avoid religious discrimination and hurting the feelings of others.

The term Christmas comes from a contraction of two words Christ and Mass. It is believed that the first Christmas was celebrated in the 4th century AD. The term Christ refers to the coming of a messiah to save the Jewish people as foretold in the Old Testament of the Bible. The term Mass referred to a special religious ceremony of the newly created Catholic Church based on the belief that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was this foretold Christ. The Mass ceremony centers around the sharing of bread and wine of Communion (the Eucharist) which represents the body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation), and Christ is sacrificed (offered up) again at each mass.

Like all new religions, the early Catholic Church began accommodating the pagan practices of that time. The merrymaking and exchanging of gifts came from the festival of Saturnalia (a festival to the god, Saturn) and the date, December 25, was an adaptation of the birthday of Mithra (the sun god). The actual birth date for Jesus of Nazareth is unknown. Christmas trees, mistletoe, candles, carols and gift giving rituals – all of these Christmas traditions are of pagan or non Christian origin.

So who are we offending by wishing someone a Merry Christmas?

There are those Christian religions that are purists. They believe in Christ and Jesus of Nazareth, but are offended by the pagan contamination surrounding Christmas. This includes the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while the Jews believe in the Old Testament chapters of the Bible, and even in the coming of Christ, they do not accept that Jesus of Nazareth was that foretold messiah so Christmas is out for them. And then there are the many religions who do not accept the Bible so the Old Testament’s foretold Christ has no meaning to them. This includes the Hindu’s, Buddhists, and Muslims. And, don’t forget the Agnostics (the existence of God is unknowable) and Atheists (God does not exist) who naturally don’t believe in Christ, and so therefore might be offended when wished a Merry Christmas. And, I am sure the reader can think of many others who may be offended that I have left out.

I find all of this rather sad. (12/26/2015)

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Were Joseph and Mary Refugees?

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

Joseph and Mary

The Huffington Post — Andy Campbell writes: Away in a manger was really, really far away.

As we celebrate Christmas amid the biggest mass migration of people since World War II, it’s worth noting how the plight of refugees fleeing turmoil in the Middle East echoes the holiday’s origins.

While the story of Christmas is one of triumph — of angels and wise men celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ — it’s also about Mary and Joseph’s dangerous journey, some 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to register for a census. In a town too full to house them. With a baby who didn’t exactly have his paperwork in order.

There’s plenty to debate about whether Jesus, Mary and Joseph were actual refugees — but history shows that they certainly followed an arduous path, under government rule, to a place where their child would not be welcome. …

And their hardships were far from over once Jesus was born. King Herod, worried that Jesus threatened his crown, had all of Bethlehem’s children 2 years old and younger slaughtered. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, by foot and on a donkey, where they lived in exile for years.

What does it feel like to be forced out of your home under threat of death, travel across nations through unwelcome terrain, only to arrive at your destination feeling helpless, unprotected and vulnerable?

Syrian refugees know, because they’ve made the same journey. (12/26/2015)

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America: Home of the wimps?

Friday, December 18th, 2015

David Cay Johnston

CommUnity of Minds — David Cay Johnston writes: Listening to Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday night, you would think that America has become a nation of wimps, cowering in fear for no good reason over a murderous band of Middle Easterners with little power to harm us.

Polls show strong support for Donald Trump, who wants to spy on mosques and ban all Muslims from entering the country. Ben Carson fears a Muslim president would follow Sharia, unaware of the most basic principles of our Constitution. Sen. Ted Cruz spreads sophisticated versions of the same un-American rhetoric and calls President Barack Obama “an apologist” for terrorists during appearances on conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck’s show.

All three, along with the other Republican candidates, say if elected they will protect us from “radical Islamic terrorists.” But the reality is that their vile comments threaten America far more than those they attack.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a pipsqueak. It has no capacity to occupy a single inch of American soil and never will. It is no military threat to America or Europe. All it can do is recruit foolish people to harry us with violent crimes that have no military significance.

Yet under the influence of such political hyperventilating, Americans express their fears to journalists and pollsters about this mouse that cannot even roar. Their anxiety is as ludicrous as the plot of the 1959 Peter Sellers farce about the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick invading Manhattan so that, by surrendering, it could get American aid for its wine industry.

Trump’s remarks inciting hatred of Muslims (and Mexicans) have made him ISIL’s chief recruitment officer. ISIL has no better friend than Trump, though his ignorance and narcissism blind him to this awful reality.

ISIL markets the idea that Islam is under attack, persuading people long on zeal and short on good sense to embrace its apocalyptic fantasies that the end is near. ISIL is an enemy not just of America and the West, but also of any Muslims who do not hew to its vision of religious piety, itself a murderous apostasy that offends the Prophet Muhammad and his teachings.

Carson, Cruz and others help ISIL by encouraging the idea that America and its allies are at war with Islam, something that George W. Bush and Obama frequently emphasized is not the case.

Now the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has joined in. At a town hall last week in Waterloo, Iowa, after the massacre in San Bernardino, California, she pandered, saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK to be afraid.”

No, it is not OK to be afraid. And shame on her for saying that, lending credence to the modern Know-Nothings in the Republican Party.

Being afraid is what ISIL, the remnants of Al-Qaeda and their murderous friends want. What they cannot withstand are smart responses that degrade their capacity and demonstrate American distaste for government violence beyond the minimum necessary in response.

What we should fear are pandering politicians. We should be anxious when politicians promise safety at the price of trashing our Constitution, our values and our history.

Anyone who has read the writings of Osama bin Laden and his ideological spawn knows that their objective is to get America to destroy itself by getting into endless land wars in the Middle East.  (12/18/2015)

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The Public Bank Solution: San Francisco

Monday, August 5th, 2013

CommUnity of Minds — Ellen Brown writes: When the Occupiers took an interest in moving San Francisco’s money into a city-owned bank in 2011, it was chiefly on principle, in sympathy with the nationwide Move Your Money campaign. But recent scandals have transformed the move from a political statement into a matter of protecting the city’s deposits and reducing its debt burden. The chief roadblock to forming a municipal bank has been the concern that it was not allowed under state law, but a legal opinion issued by Deputy City Attorney Thomas J. Owen has now overcome that obstacle.

Establishing a city-owned San Francisco Bank is not a new idea. According to City Supervisor John Avalos, speaking at the Public Banking Institute conference in San Rafael in June, it has been on the table for over a decade. Recent interest was spurred by the Occupy movement, which adopted the proposal after Avalos presented it to an enthusiastic group of over 1,000 protesters outside the Bank of America building in late 2011. David Weidner, writing in The Wall Street Journal in December of that year, called it “the boldest institutional stroke yet against banks targeted by the Occupy movement.” But Weidner conceded that:

“Creating a municipal bank won’t be easy. California law forbids using taxpayer money to make private loans. That would have to be changed. Critics also argue that San Francisco could be putting taxpayer money at risk.”

The law in question was California Government Code Section 23007, which prohibits a county from “giv[ing] or loan[ing] its credit to or in aid of any person or corporation.” The section has been interpreted as barring cities and counties from establishing municipal banks. But Deputy City Attorney Thomas J. Owen has now put that issue to rest in a written memorandum dated June 21, 2013, in which he states:

“1. A court would likely conclude that Section 23007 does not cover San Francisco because the City is a chartered city and county. Similarly, a court would likely conclude that Article XVI, section 6 of the State Constitution, which limits the power of the State Legislature to give or lend the credit of cities or counties, does not apply to the City. . . . [A] court would likely then determine that neither those laws nor the general limitations on expending City funds for a municipal purpose bar the City from establishing a municipal bank.2. A court would likely conclude that the City may own stock in a municipal bank and spend City money to support the bank’s operation, if the City appropriated funds for that purpose and the operation of the bank served a legitimate municipal purpose.”

A number of other California cities that have explored forming their own banks are also affected by this opinion. As of June 2008, 112 of California’s 478 cities are charter cities, including not only San Francisco but Los Angeles, Richmond, Oakland and Berkeley. A charter city is one governed by its own charter document rather than by local, state or national laws.

That leaves the question whether a publicly-owned bank would put taxpayer money at risk. The Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned bank, has posed no risk to depositors or the state’s taxpayers in nearly a century of successful operation. Further, in this latest recession it has helped the state achieve a nationwide low in unemployment (3.2 percent) and the only budget surplus in the country.

Meanwhile, the recent wave of bank scandals has shifted the focus to whether local governments can afford to risk keeping their funds in Wall Street banks. (08/05/2013)

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Taxing the Rich to make Investments that grow the Middle Class

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Read more here. (09/23/12)

What Makes You Think We Can Grow Out of This?

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

http://www.synearth.net/imgs/USdebt.pngCommUnity of Minds — Donald Halcom writes: As I sit here pondering the current status of the USA, I am struck by the conclusion that all of the politicians, business men, and economist have reached. They all believe that the only solution to the current economic mess of the USA is growth. Only growth will solve our problems. In fact only sustained growth will do it. When all these people believe the same thing then I suspect that something is wrong. The mechanism by which the growth is to be obtained differs with respect to political persuasions, but it is always growth that will perform the miracle. The question then occurred to me —– Is sustained growth over decades even possible? Is such an assumption even valid?

The last time the world was in this predicament was after WWII.  All of Europe and the Orient were in shambles. The USA had a national debt of more than its GDP like it does now. The USA had one advantage. It was the only economy left whose manufacturing base was still viable. The USA had essentially financed WWII for the allies by selling bonds.

In 1945 the national debt as a percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) was 109%. Over the next 35 years the debt was paid down by the government represented by all the presidents (Democrat and Republican) from Truman to Carter until the debt as a percent of the GDP was 33%. When Reagan was elected president things changed. The debt began to rise almost continuously till in 2012 it was 102 percent of the GDP. The last four years have given the most precipitous rise. The next graph shows the recent history. In about 31 years we have accrued a debt as a percent of GDP almost equal to the debt of WWII.

Since WWII the USA has become a different country. We now have a world full of economic competitors. Our old monopoly is gone. Europe, parts of South America, the Middle East, the Far East and a few countries in Africa have all become major rivals for resources and trade.

The above data indicates that politics have been a major factor in the increase of the National Debt but that alone was not the problem. The demands of Banks, Wall Street and Hedge Funds have been major factors in increasing our economic woes. The debt from 2007 to the present, indicate these factors. Some claim that had we used the proper governmental legislation, then the debt crisis from 2007 onward could have been avoided. This is true, but that is water over the dam. Mankind has never been omniscient and will not be so in the future.

A balanced economy is like a see-saw, if you put too much weight on one end, it stops working. This is not rocket science. Our economy became unbalanced when too much money flowed to one end. How did this happen? Here goes. (09/13/12)

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Beware of Greeks Bearing Referendums

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

http://www.newyorker.com/images/contributors/p154/contributor_johncassidyphoto2_p154_cropxrail.jpgThe New Yorker — John Cassidy writes: On Monday night, the nation’s Prime Minister, George Papandreou, shocked his colleagues, his countrymen, and the rest of the world by announcing he would hold a referendum on a new bailout package, which other European countries agreed upon last week as part of a broader effort to contain the continent’s debt crisis. Today, markets everywhere are plunging, which is hardly surprising.

Just when it seemed like there was going to be a respite from the debt crisis, albeit perhaps a temporary one, Papandreou has thrown the whole thing into question again. If the Greeks were to vote down the European rescue package, which involves yet another round of austerity measures, they would be opting for a sovereign debt default, and, in all probability, Greece’s exit from the euro zone. Even if the Greeks approve the package, the markets face two months of chronic uncertainty before a vote not expected until January.

With a parliamentary majority of just three votes for his Socialist Party government, Papandreou appears to have seen a referendum as a clever political gambit. While most Greeks oppose the tax increases and budget cuts that have come with successive European bailouts, they still strongly support membership of the European Union. In offering voters a referendum, Papandreou is effectively asking his countrymen to choose which option they like least: more austerity or an exit from the euro zone.

As of today, though, it looks like the Prime Minister was being too clever by half. From every side came angry denunciations of his action. The Irish foreign minister accused him of lobbing a “grenade” into the European rescue efforts, adding, “Legitimately there is going to be a lot of annoyance about it.” In Germany, politicians called for preparations to eject Greece from the E.U.

Greeks, too, are outraged. Six of Papandreou’s party colleagues called on him to resign. One quit the PASOK party. “They must be crazy,” a senior executive at one of Greece’s biggest companies told Reuters. “(T)his is no way to run a country.” With a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government scheduled for Friday, it is quite conceivable that by the end of the week Papandreou will be out office.

And yet, for all that, he has a point about Greece needing to make a definitive decision about what course it wants to follow. For months now, his political opponents have criticized him for accepting the onerous terms of the European bailouts, which include job cuts, tax increases, and privatization programs. But Greeks also seem reluctant to embrace the alternative path, which involves defaulting on its debts, leaving the euro zone, at least temporarily, and trying to make its way alone. Outside the euro zone, Greece could relaunch its old currency, the drachma, which would trade at a much lower rate than the euro, meaning its exports would be cheaper abroad. The country’s banking system would probably collapse—it’s pretty much a basket case already—inflation would rise, and there would be a period of chaos. But, relieved of its debts, the economy would eventually start growing again. At least that’s what happened to Argentina, which, back in 2002, defaulted on its debts and abandoned a one-to-one peg between the peso and the dollar. (11/03/11)

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