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.