Category Economics

Free Speech for People

There’s a campaign under way in the U.S. to “restore the First Amendment to its original purpose: to protect people, not corporations.” They need to hurry. The U.S. has long taken the road to corporatocracy. The longer this goes on the less likely they’ll ever be able to turn back.

A broken society, yes. But broken by Thatcher

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett writing for The Guardian:

The evidence shows that almost all the problems that occur most often in the poorest neighbourhoods—including those that make us a broken society—are systematically more common in more unequal societies. Rates are not just a little higher, but between two and eight times higher. Wider income gaps make societies socially dysfunctional across the board.

Last October Cameron rounded on Labour, saying: “Who made inequality greater? No, not the wicked Tories. You, Labour. You’re the ones that did this to our society. So don’t you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative party, to fight for the poorest who you have let down.”

But the truth is that we are suffering the impact of the massive increases in income inequality under Thatcher, which Blair and Brown have since failed to reverse. In the 1980s the gulf between the top and bottom 20% widened by a full 60%—much the most dramatic widening of income differences on record.

Cancel Haiti’s debt

Cancel Haiti’s Debt petition – Oxfam International

Alex von Tunzelmann, writing for The Times, explains how Haiti became so indebted in the first place:

The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

Paypal threatens democracy

No Right Turn on the risk to democracy that Paypal presents:

Paypal has blocked donations to the Arrest Blair campaign, supposedly on the basis that it “encourages illegal activity” (conducting a lawful citizens arrest of a rich and powerful figure apparently being illegal in the eyes of PayPal). It’s a blatantly political move – and its not the first time they’ve done it. Last week, they froze the assets of Wikileaks – a site which encourages and publishes anonymous leaks in the public interest, and is credited with “produc[ing] more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years”.

Security researchers blast credit card verification system

Ryan Paul writing for Ars Technica:

When making a purchase, online shoppers are confronted with a validation check that requires them to supply a password—in addition to the standard security code that is on the card itself—in order to prove that they are the real owner of a credit card. … Some of the credit card companies take advantage of [this system] by wrapping their implementations of the validation system in draconian terms of service that force users to agree to accept full liability for credit card fraud.

Howard Zinn, dies at 87

The Boston Globe’s obituary:

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as “A People’s History of the United States,” inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.

AK Press Blog interview with Howard Zinn:

Since most mainstream/Left/liberal accounts of Howard Zinn’s legacy are likely to gloss over the man’s actual politics, here’s a 2008 interview by AK author, Ziga Vodovnik.

Supreme Court puts final nail in coffin of U.S. democracy

In 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the same constitutional rights as a person. This was the beginning of the end of any meaningful form of democracy in the U.S.

David Korten alludes to the reason:

The private-benefit corporation is an institution granted a legally protected right—some would claim obligation—to pursue a narrow private interest without regard to broader social and environmental consequences. If it were a real person, it would fit the clinical profile of a sociopath.

The basic design of the private-benefit corporation was created in 1600 when the British crown chartered the British East India Company as what is best described as a legalized criminal syndicate to colonize the resources and economies of distant lands to benefit wealthy investors far removed from the social and environmental consequences. That design has ever since proven highly effective in advancing the private interests of the world’s wealthiest people at enormous cost to the rest.

The private-benefit corporation uses its economic power to privatize (internalize) gains and socialize (externalize) cost.

The power afforded to corporations in the U.S. has, until now, been slightly curtailed by limits imposed on corporate spending in political campaigns. In a sweeping decision a right-wing majority U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to lift these limits.

Corporations, and the rich behind them, finally own America. Democracy for the rich.

The 20th century has been characterised by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.
Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy

Climate change and intergenerational warfare

Alex Steffen of Worldchanging puts his finger on one of the more damning aspects of the politics of climate change, the vast chasm of perspective between the generations, Copenhagen and the War for the Future:

To be young and aware is to know you’re being lied to; to know that a bright green future is possible; to know that we can reimagine the world, rebuild our cities, redesign our lives, retool our factories, distribute innovation and creativity and all live in a world that is not only better than the alternative, but much better than the world we have now.

To be young and aware is to suspect that, in the end, the debate about climate action isn’t about substance, but about rich old men trying to squeeze every last dollar, euro, and yen from their investments in outdated industries. It is to agree with the environmentalist Paul Hawken that we have an economy that steals the future, sells it in the present, and calls it GDP. It is to begin to see your elders as cannibals with golf clubs.

U.S. militarism, oil and global warming

A friend just forwarded this article from 2007 on militarism and global warming. Consider this:

US militarism has to be considered under three headings: First, the US military is the largest single consumer of fossil fuel in the world. Second, the US economy, the largest national consumer of fossil fuel in the world, has shown that its primary mode of maintaining a supply of fossil fuel for itself is through military action (assault, intervention, occupation of other oil producing nations). Third, the US military operates in the interest of a corporate economy of which it (the military) is the foremost sector in the US.

Monbiot on peak oil and food production

Monbiot on peak oil and food production:

If the whistleblowers are right, we should be stockpiling … If we are taken by surprise, if we have failed to replace oil before the supply peaks then crashes, the global economy is stuffed. But nothing the whistle-blowers said has scared me as much as the conversation I had last week with a Pembrokeshire farmer.

Wyn Evans, who runs a mixed farm of 170 acres, has been trying to reduce his dependency on fossil fuels since 1977. He has installed an anaerobic digester, a wind turbine, solar panels and a ground-sourced heat pump. He has sought wherever possible to replace diesel with his own electricity. Instead of using his tractor to spread slurry, he pumps it from the digester on to nearby fields. He’s replaced his tractor-driven irrigation system with an electric one, and set up a new system for drying hay indoors, which means he has to turn it in the field only once. Whatever else he does is likely to produce smaller savings. But these innovations have reduced his use of diesel by only around 25%.

We practically eat oil.