30 Sep 2010

Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich

Jenni Murray salutes a long-overdue demolition of the suggestion that positive thinking is the answer to all our problems.
The Observer/ Article history

Some of the 15,000 participants in the 2005 Playtex Moonwalk around Hyde Park, London, to raise money for the breast cancer charity Walk the Walk. Photograph: onEdition


Every so often a book appears that so chimes with your own thinking, yet flies so spectacularly in the face of fashionable philosophy, that it comes as a profoundly reassuring relief. After reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World, I feel as if I can wallow in grief, gloom, disappointment or whatever negative emotion comes naturally without worrying that I've become that frightful stereotype, the curmudgeonly, grumpy old woman. Instead, I can be merely human: someone who doesn't have to convince herself that every rejection or disaster is a golden opportunity to "move on" in an upbeat manner.

Ehrenreich came to her critique of the multi-billion-dollar positive-thinking industry – a swamp of books, DVDs, life coaches, executive coaches and motivational speakers – in similar misery-making circumstances to those I experienced. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and, like me, found herself increasingly disturbed by the martial parlance and "pink" culture that has come to surround the disease. My response when confronted with the "positive attitude will help you battle and survive this experience" brigade was to rail against the use of militaristic vocabulary and ask how miserable the optimism of the "survivor" would make the poor woman who was dying from her breast cancer. It seemed to me that an "invasion" of cancer cells was a pure lottery. No one knows the cause. As Ehrenreich says: "I had no known risk factors, there was no breast cancer in the family, I'd had my babies relatively young and nursed them both. I ate right, drank sparingly, worked out, and, besides, my breasts were so small that I figured a lump or two would improve my figure." (Mercifully, she hasn't lost her sense of humour.)

I had long suspected that improved survival rates for women who had breast cancer had absolutely nothing to do with the "power" of positive thinking. For women diagnosed between 2001 and 2006, 82% were expected to survive for five years, compared with only 52% diagnosed 30 years earlier. The figures can be directly related to improved detection, better surgical techniques, a greater understanding of the different types of breast cancer and the development of targeted treatments. Ehrenreich presents the evidence of numerous studies demonstrating that positive thinking has no effect on survival rates and she provides the sad testimonies of women who have been devastated by what one researcher has called "an additional burden to an already devastated patient".

Pity, for example, the woman who wrote to the mind/body medical guru Deepak Chopra: "Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps re-occurring? I am positive I am going to beat it, yet it does get harder with each diagnosis to keep a positive attitude."

As Ehrenreich goes on to explain, exhortations to think positively – to see the glass as half-full even when it lies shattered on the floor – are not restricted to the pink-ribbon culture of breast cancer. She roots America's susceptibility to the philosophy of positive thinking in the country's Calvinist past and demonstrates how, in its early days, a puritanical "demand for perpetual effort and self-examination to the point of self-loathing" terrified small children and reduced "formerly healthy adults to a condition of morbid withdrawal, usually marked by physical maladies as well as inner terror".

It was only in the early 19th century that the clouds of Calvinist gloom began to break and a new movement began to grow that would take as fervent a hold as the old one had. It was the joining of two thinkers, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy, in the 1860s that brought about the formalisation of a post-Calvinist world-view, known as the New Thought Movement. A new type of God was envisaged who was no longer hostile and indifferent, but an all-powerful spirit whom humans had merely to access to take control of the physical world.

Middle-class women found this new style of thinking, which came to be known as the "laws of attraction", particularly beneficial. They had spent their days shut out from any role other than reclining on a chaise longue, denied any opportunity to strive in the world, but the New Thought approach and its "talking therapy" developed by Quimby opened up exciting new possibilities. Mary Baker Eddy, a beneficiary of the cure, went on to found Christian Science. Ehrenreich notes that although this new style of positive thinking did apparently help invalidism or neurasthenia, it had no effect whatsoever on diseases such as diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhus, tuberculosis and cholera – just as, today, it will not cure cancer.

Thus it was that positive thinking, the assumption that one only has to think a thing or desire it to make it happen, began its rapid rise to influence. Today, as Ehrenreich shows, it has a massive impact on business, religion and the world's economy. She describes visits to motivational speaker conferences where workers who have recently been made redundant and forced to join the short-term contract culture are taught that a "good team player" is by definition "a positive person" who "smiles frequently, does not complain, is not overly critical and gratefully submits to whatever the boss demands". These are people who have less and less power to chart their own futures, but who are given, thanks to positive thinking, "a world-view – a belief system, almost a religion – that claimed they were, in fact, infinitely powerful, if only they could master their own minds."

And none was more susceptible to the lure of this philosophy than those self-styled "masters of the universe", the Wall Street bankers. Those of us raised to believe that saving up, having a deposit and living within one's means were the way to proceed and who wondered how on earth the credit crunch and the subprime disasters could have happened need look no further than the culture that argued that positive thinking would enable anyone to realise their desires. (Or as one of Ehrenreich's chapter headings has it, "God wants you to be rich".)

Ehrenreich's work explains where the cult of individualism began and what a devastating impact it has had on the need for collective responsibility. We must, she says, shake off our capacity for self-absorption and take action against the threats that face us, whether climate change, conflict, feeding the hungry, funding scientific inquiry or education that fosters critical thinking. She is anxious to emphasise that she does "not write in a spirit of sourness or personal disappointment, nor do I have any romantic attachment to suffering as a source of insight or virtue. On the contrary, I would like to see more smiles, more laughter, more hugs, more happiness… and the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking". Her book, it seems to me, is a call for the return of common sense and, I'm afraid, in what purports to be a work of criticism, I can find only positive things to say about it. Damn!

The BBC is on Murdoch’s side

by John Pilger

We deceive ourselves in thinking that the Beeb has a left-wing bias. The corporation is in thrall to the same interests as Rupert Murdoch’s New Corp and the saviour of Iraq, Tony Blair.


Britain is said to be approaching its Berlusconi moment. That is to say, if Rupert Murdoch wins control of Sky, he will command half the television and newspaper market and threaten what is known as public service broadcasting. Although the alarm is ringing, it is unlikely that any government will stop him while his court is packed with politicians of all parties.

The problem with this and other Murdoch scares is that, while one cannot doubt their gravity, they deflect from an unrecognised and more insidious threat. For all his power, Murdoch's media are not respectable. Take the current colonial wars. In the United States, Murdoch's Fox Television is almost cartoon-like in its warmongering. It is the august New York Times, "the greatest newspaper in the world", and others such as the once-celebrated Washington Post, that have given respectability to the lies and moral contortions of the "war on terror", now recast as "perpetual war".

In Britain, the Observer performed this task in making respectable Tony Blair's deceptions over Iraq. More importantly, so did the BBC, whose reputation is its power. In spite of one maverick reporter's attempt to expose the so-called dodgy dossier, the BBC took Blair's sophistry at face value. This was made clear in studies by Cardiff University and the German-based Media Tenor. The BBC's coverage, said the Cardiff study, was overwhelmingly "sympathetic to the government's case". According to Media Tenor, a mere 2 per cent of BBC news in the build-up to the invasion permitted anti-war voices to be heard.

Coded message

So when the BBC director general, Mark Thompson, used the recent Edinburgh International Television Festival to attack Murdoch, his hypocrisy was like a presence. Thompson is the embodiment of a taxpayer-funded managerial elite, for whom political reaction has come to dominate public service. He has even laid into his own corporation, Murdoch-style, as "massively left-wing". He was referring to the era of his 1960s predecessor Hugh Greene, who allowed artistic and journalistic freedom to flower at the BBC.

Thompson is the opposite of Greene; and his aspersion on the past is in keeping with the BBC's modern corporate role, reflected in the rewards demanded by those at the top. Thompson was paid £834,000 last year out of public funds and his 50 senior executives earn more than the prime minister, along with enriched journalists such as Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce.

Murdoch and the BBC share this corporatism. Tony Blair, for example, was their quintessential politician. Before his election in 1997, he and his wife were flown first-class by Murdoch to Hayman Island in Queensland, where he stood at the News Corp lectern and, in effect, pledged an obedient Labour administration. His coded message on media cross-ownership and deregulation was that a way would be found for Murdoch to achieve the supremacy that now beckons.

Blair was embraced by the new BBC corporate class, which regards itself as meritorious and non-ideological - the natural leaders in a managerial Britain in which class is unspoken. Few did more to enunciate Blair's "vision" than Andrew Marr, then a leading newspaper journalist and today the BBC's ubiquitous voice of middle-class Britain. Just as Murdoch's Sun declared in 1995 that it shared the rising Blair's "high moral values", so Marr, writing in the Observer in 1999, lauded the new prime minister's "substantial moral courage" and the "clear distinction in his mind between prudently protecting his power base and rashly using his power for high moral purposes". What impressed Marr was Blair's "utter lack of cynicism" - along with his bombing of Yugoslavia, which would "save lives".

No laughing matter

By March 2003, Marr was the BBC's political editor. Standing in Downing Street on the night of the "shock and awe" assault on Iraq, he rejoiced at the vindication of Blair who, he said, had promised "to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right." As a result, Marr said, "tonight he stands as a larger man". In fact, the criminal conquest of Iraq smashed a society, killing up to a million people, driving four million from their homes, contaminating cities such as Fallujah with cancer-causing poisons and leaving a majority of young children malnourished in a country once described by Unicef as a "model".

So it was entirely appropriate that Blair, in hawking his self-serving book, should select Marr for his "exclusive TV interview" on the BBC. The headline across the Observer's review of the interview read: "Look who's having the last laugh." Beneath this was a picture of a beaming Blair sharing a laugh with Marr.

The interview produced not a single challenge that stopped Blair in his precocious, mendacious tracks. He was allowed to say: "Absolutely clearly and unequivocally, the reason for toppling [Saddam Hussein] was his breach of resolutions over WMD, right?" No, wrong. A wealth of evidence, not least the infamous Downing Street memo, makes clear that Blair secretly colluded with George W Bush to attack Iraq. This was not mentioned. At no point did Marr say to him, "You failed to persuade the UN Security Council to go along with the invasion. You and Bush went alone. Most of the world was outraged. Weren't you aware that you were about to commit a monumental war crime?"

Instead, Blair used the convivial encounter to deceive, yet again, even to promote an attack on Iran, an outrage. Murdoch's Fox would have differed in style only. The British public deserves better.

29 Sep 2010

Herta Muller despre "Banalitatea Răului" în vizită la Buricureşti, micul Periş al unei şi mai mici culturi Balcanice

Herta Muller 4596539-mediafax-foto-bogdan-stamatin

o muscă electronică stătea pe pereţii de mucava ai Ateneului Român, copleşită de vuietul asurzitor al alaiului de parteneri media, sponsori şi "fursecari" (ce fusese organizat de editura Humanitas pentru recuperarea cheltuielilor avansate în scopul obţinerii drepturilor de publicare şi profitării de pe urma curajului Hertei Muller!) comenta, "în direct", pentru "prietenii" ei virtuali de pe Fakebook (sic!):

din tot "circul" elitei vitejilor apăruţi după războiul rece şi mut al scriitorilor şi filosofilor români, care şi-au păstrat "în sertare" virtuale dizidenţa protestatară până când au putut să-şi arate, în siguranţă, adevărata faţă "anti-comunistă", transpare pregnant etosul căpşunarului geto-dac, suferind de "sindromul Certeze" al parvenirii, care a plecat în pribegie cu valiza grea a patriotismului redundant în spinare... incapabili să înţeleagă că este suficient să păstreze în guşă ceea ce au în căpuşă, mulţi dintre cei aflaţi la coadă nu vor obţine mult râvnitul autograf pe voluminoasele geamantane!

The Big Guy's On Our Side

by Robert Scheer

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

In this Feb. 2 file photo, Paul Volcker, the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chairman, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.


Paul Volcker, or the “big guy,” as President Barack Obama refers to the former Federal Reserve chair who heads his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, nailed it in a series of blistering remarks on the sorry state of our economy. But what he said was even tougher than was indicated by the media’s scattergun reporting on his speech last Thursday to the Chicago Fed. Thanks to Reuters, which posted the video coverage online, it is possible to take the full measure of his concern over where we are and how we got here.

Volcker warned that “the financial system is broken. ... We know that parts of it are absolutely broken, like the mortgage market, which only happens to be the most important part of our capital markets [and has] become a subsidiary of the U.S. government.” That sentence was quoted in brief mentions of the speech in The New York Times and other leading news outlets but not so his explanation of how this was allowed to happen: “I don’t think anybody doubts that the underlying problem in the markets is this too-big-to-fail syndrome, bailout and all the rest.”

Volcker is right that those too-big-to-fail banks were at the heart of the problem, but the folks who pushed through the legislation allowing the creation of those unwieldy financial monsters still feign innocence. They include Bill Clinton; his treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers; former Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican; and former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan. Their success in smashing the wall between investment and commercial banking is the source of our current misery.

As Volcker observed, the investment banks stopped investing in truly productive ventures and turned into “trading machines instead of investment banks,” resulting in “encroachment on the territory of commercial banks, and commercial banks encroached on the territory of others in a way that couldn’t easily be managed by the old supervisory system.”

That melding of Wall Street high rollers’ risky bets with the federally insured deposits of ordinary folks required the U.S. government to bail out the former to save the latter. That was just what a small band of eight senators predicted when they alone voted against the radical deregulation that Clinton signed into law in 1999. The urgency behind passage of that law was the temporary waiver of the Glass-Steagall Act by the Fed, an action that allowed the merger of the Travelers insurance company and Citibank to form Citigroup, creating the biggest of the too-big-to-fail banks.

That merger was celebrated in an April 8, 2008, New York Times editorial that was all too typical of the response of the big news corporations:

“They have announced a $70 billion merger—the biggest in history—that would create the largest financial services company in the world, worth more than $140 billion. If regulators approve the merger, Citigroup, as the company will be called, will serve about 100 million customers in 100 countries. In one stroke, [they] will have temporally demolished the increasingly unnecessary walls built during the Depression to separate commercial banks from investment banks and insurance companies.”

The same theme of modernization was struck by President Clinton when he signed the law making permanent the temporary exemption for the newly formed Citigroup: “Today what we are doing is modernizing the financial services industry, tearing down those antiquated laws and granting banks significant new authority.”

Clinton then handed one of the pens he had used to sign off on the new law to a beaming Sandy Weill, Citigroup’s CEO, who had it installed in the hallway of the new company. The trophy was just steps away from the office where Weill installed Rubin, who had left the Clinton Treasury post after the law that cleared the way for Citigroup went into effect. Rubin was at Citigroup for the full crazy ride but insisted in congressional testimony that despite his $15-million-a-year compensation he did not know of the company financial shenanigans he had done so much to make legal.

Citigroup, thus freed from sensible regulation, went on to become a major leader in the securitization of subprime and Alt-A mortgage debt before being put on government life support. It required $45 billion in a taxpayer bailout and Fed backing of $300 billion of Citigroup’s toxic assets to stay alive, at less than $4-a-share stock valuation. On Monday, Norway’s central bank joined a long list of plaintiffs attempting to hold Citigroup responsible for the toxic debt it had sold. Guess they are not so happy with the destruction of those “unnecessary walls” that Clinton and the editorial writers at The New York Times had so wildly celebrated.


Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s new book,

“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”

28 Sep 2010

Big Money Merges with Big Brother

by Guy Sorman

PARIS – All over the world, Internet users entertain romantic delusions about cyberspace. To most of us Web surfers, the Internet provides a false sense of complete freedom, power, and anonymity.




Every once in a while, of course, unsolicited messages and ads that happen to be mysteriously related to our most intimate habits intrude. They remind us that we Internet users are, indeed, under constant virtual surveillance. When the watchers have only commercial motives, such “spam” feels like a minor violation. But in China or Russia, the Internet is patrolled not by unsolicited peddlers, but by the police.

So Russian human-rights activists and the environmental organization Baikal Environmental Wave should not have been surprised when, earlier this month, flesh and blood policemen – not Internet bots – confiscated their computers and the files stored within them. In the time of the Soviet Union, the KGB would have indicted these anti-Putin dissidents for mental disorders. This supposedly being a “new Russia,” cyber-dissidents are accused of violating intellectual property rights.

You see, they were using Microsoft-equipped computers and could not prove that the software had not been pirated. By confiscating the computers, the Russian police could supposedly verify whether or not the Microsoft software that the activists were using had been installed legally.

On the surface, Microsoft and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s police look like strange bedfellows. But are they? Microsoft’s authorized representatives declared that they could not oppose the Russian police actions, because the Seattle-based company had to abide by Russian law. Such an ambiguous declaration can be interpreted either as active support for the Russian police or as passive collaboration. Moreover, in previous cases, Microsoft assisted the Russian police in their investigations of non-governmental organizations.

Clearly, human-right activists in Russia cannot and should not count on Microsoft as an ally in their efforts to build a more open society. But Microsoft’s ambiguous – at best – behavior is part of a pattern. Indeed, the record of Internet companies in authoritarian countries is both consistent and grim.

Yahoo set the pace in pioneering the active collaboration of Internet and high-tech firms with political repression. In 2005, Yahoo gave the Chinese police the computer identification code for a dissident journalist, Shi Tao. Shi Tao had sent a message in praise of democracy, which the censors had detected. Following Yahoo’s lead, the police arrested him. Shi remains in jail to this day.

At that time, Yahoo’s managers in the United States, like Microsoft in Russia, declared that they had to follow Chinese law. Shi Tao, in his jail cell, was undoubtedly pleased to learn that China is ruled by law, not by the Communist Party. After all, the rule of law is what Shi Tao is fighting for.

Google, at least for a short while, seemed to follow different guidelines in its Chinese business, appearing to adhere to its widely proclaimed ethical principle, “Don’t be evil.” To protest against censorship, the Silicon Valley-based company relocated from mainland China in 2009 to the still relatively free Hong Kong. On the Hong Kong-based search engine, Chinese internauts could read about Taiwan, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, or the Dalai Lama. On Google.cn, these sources, along with the results of searches using many other forbidden terms, simply did not appear.

Google’s move seemed to reconcile its proclaimed libertarian philosophy with its business ethics. But that reconciliation did not last long: Google, after all, had accepted censorship from the beginning of its efforts in China, in 2006, in order to gain entry into the Chinese market. After six months of life in Hong Kong, money talked: Google reinstated its mainland China service, and with the same level of censorship as before. In the end, Google, not the Chinese Communist Party, lost face.

Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft have thus followed a strikingly similar road: access to lucrative markets trumped ethical anxiety. The tools that they provide are politically neutral. Dissidents try to use them to pursue a democratic agenda. Police use them to detect and repress dissidents. Either way, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google make money – just like, say, IBM, which in the 1930’s sold its computing machines to the Nazi regime: the Nazis used these machines to make the destruction of their victims routine and bureaucratic.

Should we be shocked that Internet companies put profits ahead of morals? After all, they are ordinary, profit-seeking corporations, just like the IBM of Hitler’s era. Internet companies may, more than most, hide their true motives behind ersatz, democratic-sounding slogans, but in the end they are advertising products like any other. In advertising or self-promotion, the choice of words is determined by customer expectations, not by managers’ philosophy, as they mostly have none.

Capitalism is always a trade-off: we must live with unethical behavior by money-making corporations that provide us with useful new tools. These tools can be used by Iranians fighting dictatorship, or by Tibetan dissidents trying to save their culture. They also can be used to compute the number of exterminated Jews, to arrest a Chinese dissident, or to break a human-rights group in Russia.

Microsoft in Russia or Google in China teach us that capitalism is not ethical: it is only efficient. Entrepreneurs are greedy by definition: if they were not, they would go bankrupt. An open society will never be created or sustained by righteous entrepreneurs or be the mere byproduct of political engineering. Liberty, as always, remains the endeavor of vigilant, free men and women.

Guy Sorman, a French philosopher and economist, is the author of Economics Does Not Lie.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.
http://www.project-syndicate.org/

The Demographic Schizophrenia of the Left: Which response?

by Rene Cuperus


The problems of the European center parties are a pars pro toto for what’s happening in society at large. A possible split within the people’s parties (Volksparteien) may be a foreshadowing of the split in society. What we urgently need is a new social deal, a new pact between the privileged and the less privileged, forging a new idea of progress. A pact of socio-economic security – based on welfare state stability – and cultural openness – a tolerant, international outlook, while retaining national democracy.

In the past decades our societies have been confronted with major challenges: the globalisation of our economic and financial relations; new technologies and the rise of a post-industrial knowledge economy; ill-managed mass migration from regions not accustomed to western-liberal lifestyles and values; a European integration process that has overvalued the market and has undermined national democratic procedures.

These changes have redistributed opportunities among countries, regions and persons. They have favoured the well educated, cosmopolitan well to do. And they have disappointed the less educated, lower class Prekariat, as well as large middle income groups who favour national rather than European or cosmopolitan orientations. We are talking not about traditional class relations, but rather about political-cultural orientations and moods, about political psychological phenomena such as resentment about social déclassement and overall discontent. The American economist J.K. Galbraith analysed in his The culture of contentment (1993) the division and the lack of solidarity between a content middle class versus the disillusioned underprivileged, the American version of die Zweidrittelgesellschaft. Today the situation seems worse, whereas big parts of the middle class are not content any more under conditions of globalisation, migration and social fragmentation, making the theoretical conditions for solidaristic politics even worse.

Basically, the social-democratic response of the past decades has been one of adaption to new circumstances, far too little one of reform in line with our own values. The political and policy elites, including the social-democratic ones, have made permanent innovation the trademark of their policies, the Big Adaptation to the New Global World their only program and principle.

While our parties at the end of the nineteenth century aimed to balance industrial and traditional views on labour and happiness, the contemporary social-democratic leadership far too uncritically hailed the new, and forgot about the traditional life and values. It failed to develop and communicate ‘’just’ reform policies and thus alienated itself from the constituencies it traditionally represented. In program, style, organisation and leadership, there is an urgent need for a fresh renewal and reorientation.

One can observe a widening gap between the political and policy elites and large groups – if not the majority – of the population of the continental European welfare states. There is a massive level of unease in many Western countries, trust in institutions and politics is at a record low, there is a crisis of confidence and a crisis of political representation. The ever-growing pan-European presence of right-wing and left-wing populist movements, which often appear following a reform of the welfare state, remains an alarming and grimy reminder of the general unease in the population and the crisis of confidence which besets the established political scene. In the process of reform and adaptation to the New Global World Order, there has been a fundamental breakdown of communication between elites and the general population.

Europe faces a dangerous populist revolt against the good society of both the neoliberal business community and progressive academic professionals. The revolt of populism has, as a matter of fact, been ‘produced’ by the economic and cultural elites. Their TINA-project creates fear and resentment under non-elites. Their deterministic image of a future world of globalisation, open borders, free flows of people, lifelong-learning in the knowledge-based society is a night mare world for non-elites.

In the elite narrative, sizable parts of the middle and working class are being confronted with economic and psychological degradation. Theirs is no longer the future. They feel alienated, dispossessed and downgraded, because the society in which they felt comfortable, in which they had their respected place and which has been part of their social identity is being pushed aside by new realities. They consider social democracy as part of that ‘modernization’ that is eroding old comforts and old securities. Social democracy in far too many countries has lost touch with these sentiments and worries. It has become part of that ‘brave new world’ of the bright, well-educated, entrepreneurial and highly mobile.

As a tragic consequence, we are confronted with, what I might call, the Broken Society of the Left: the split of the social-democratic constituency into future optimists who embrace the new world of globalisation, market dynamics, individual enterprise and diversity; and the others, future pessimists, who feel threatened by these forces. What’s at stake is the alarming fragmentation of the social democratic constituency into the camps of social liberal academic professionals versus traditional trade union-social democrats; a cleavage between higher educated and lower educated, between cosmopolitan libertarian attitudes and national-populist attitudes. Will European social-democracy survive the sociology of the new global world? Will the Volksparteien, the people’s parties, survive the new sociology of our societies? That’s the 100 billion dollar question of the coming period.

We might be dealing with a world in flux and complex transformation, comparable with the transformation at the end of the 19th-century from Gemeinschaft into Gesellschaft. Where is the new Durkheim, the new Tönnies, the new Weber to give meaning to the change which we are witnessing today, from Gesellschaft into globale, multikulturelle Gesellschaft? Will European social-democracy be able to deal with the pressures, anxieties and fears which accompany this rough and turbulent transformation?

The pressures of adaptation to the new globalised world are particularly directed towards those who do not fit in to the new international knowledge based economy, the unskilled and the low-skilled. The overall discourse of adaptation and competitive adjustment has a strong bias against the lower middle class and non-academic professionals. This harsh meritocratic narrative is one of the root causes for populist resentment.

Policy and political elites are selling and producing insecurity and uncertainty, instead of showing security and stable leadership in a world of flux. With the exception of some Scandinavian countries, European policy elites do not show welfare state pride stability in times of change and reform. This ambivalence about the very foundations of the European welfare state models is in itself producing populist unrest.

Unease and Distrust in contemporary European society must be located at more levels than that merely of the welfare state reform. We are experiencing a shift right across the board: the magic of the post-war period seems to be all used up: the post-war ideal of European unification, the post-war welfare state model and the post-Holocaust tolerance for the foreigner; they all seem to be eroding and under pressure. The overall process of internationalisation (globalisation, immigration, European integration) is producing a gap of trust and representation between elites and population around questions of cultural and national identity, modernity versus tradition.

The problems of the centre parties are a pars pro toto, a mirror for what’s happening in society at large. The pressures of division and fragmentation on the social democratic parties are the pressures within society. A possible cleavage or split in our party may be a foreshadowing of the split in society at large. What is fundamentally under attack is the social cohesion, the social fabric, the solidarity of our societies. What could be under attack is the European social model, and European social democracy as one of its foundations and pillars.

Social democracy defined as the coalition, the connector between privileged and underprivileged, between lower and higher middle class. So the big challenge for contemporary social democracy is how to keep our parties together, and by doing so keeping society together.

The crisis is not in our values and ideals, but in the way we implement them in the new world of globalisation, post-industrialisation and individualisation, live up to them, deliver on them, according to our voters.

What should be done?

What we urgently need is a new social deal, a new pact between the privileged and the less privileged, forging a new idea of progress. A pact of socio-economic security (based on welfare state stability) and cultural openness (a tolerant, international outlook, while retaining national democracy).

We must develop a program that addresses the social-economic insecurities and capabilities of the broader social-democratic constituency, as well as the cultural anxieties, and that appeals to both traditional working class voters and the middle classes. A program that dares to promote continuity and tradition (Tony Judt), instead of obsessively advocating modernity and innovation. A new narrative that can encompass the daily experiences and stories of our voters. Restoring the social-democratic Kümmererpartei (Johannes Rau), not to follow the voters in a populist way, but to reconnect to voters for trust and democratic deliberation, to learn and educate and to show moral leadership in a trustworthy and authorative way. i.e. to find the way back to our voters as a project of what German SPD-partyleader Sigmar Gabriel has called the Deutungshoheit (the ideological hegemony) in society.

Save and renew the Volkspartei, as a bridge between the winners and losers of the new world trends. This new ‘Volkspartei’ will emerge from progressive coalition-building encompassing other left political parties, as well as progressive individuals regardless of party-affiliation and ’progressive’ organizations, such as trade unions, churches and NGO’s.

Renew but maintain, against all American and Asian odds, the European welfare societies under conditions of mass migration and globalisation. Compete on the basis of human well-being and welfare against the narrow neoliberal concept of economic growth. Let European social democracy remain the pillar for a modernised European social market model develop a sensibility for cultural and identity politics. The big discontent and unhappiness in affluent welfare democracies are to a serious extent about community, social cohesion, security: postmaterialist problems of social psychology.

Restore the divide between left and right in politics, in order to fight the dangerous populist cleavage between the establishment and (a false entity of) the people.

We must be tough on populism and tough on the causes of populism.

Finally, the European social-democratic movement nowadays is too much paralysed by blues. Instead it should revitalise itself by getting soul back into the movement. Just change the music record.

Keynes and Social Democracy

by Robert Skidelski


For decades, Keynesianism was associated with social democratic big-government policies. But John Maynard Keynes’s relationship with social democracy is complex. Although he was an architect of core components of social democratic policy – particularly its emphasis on maintaining full employment – he did not subscribe to other key social democratic objectives, such as public ownership or massive expansion of the welfare state.

In The General Theory of Employment, Wages and Interest, Keynes ends by summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the capitalist system. On one hand, capitalism offers the best safeguard of individual freedom, choice, and entrepreneurial initiative. On the other hand, unregulated markets fail to achieve two central goals of any civilized society: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.” This suggested an active role for government, which dovetailed with important strands of left-wing thought.

Until The General Theory was published in 1936, social democrats did not know how to go about achieving full employment. Their policies were directed at depriving capitalists of the ownership of the means of production. How this was to produce full employment was never worked out.

There was an idea, originally derived from Ricardo and Marx, that the capitalist class needed a “reserve army of the unemployed” to maintain its profit share. If profits were eliminated, the need for that reserve army would disappear. Labor would be paid what it was worth, and everyone willing to work would be able to find a job.

But, apart from the political impossibility of nationalizing the whole economy peacefully, this approach suffered from the fatal flaw of ignoring the role of aggregate demand. It assumed that demand would always be sufficient if profits were eliminated.

Keynes demonstrated that the main cause of bouts of heavy and prolonged unemployment was not worker encroachment on profits, but the fluctuating prospects of private investment in an uncertain world. Nearly all unemployment in a cyclical downturn was the result of the failure of investment demand.

Thus, the important thing was not to nationalize the capital stock, but to socialize investment. Industry could be safely left in private hands, provided the state guaranteed enough spending power in the economy to maintain a full-employment level of investment. This could be achieved by monetary and fiscal policy: low interest rates and large state investment programs.

In short, Keynes aimed to achieve a key social democratic objective without changing the ownership of industry. Nevertheless, he did think that redistribution would help secure full employment. A greater tendency to consume would “serve to increase at the same time the inducement to invest.” And the low interest rates needed to maintain full employment would lead in time to the “euthanasia of the rentier” – of those who live off the rents of capital.

Moderate re-distribution was the more politically radical implication of Keynes’s economic theory, but the measures outlined above were also the limits of state intervention for him. As long as “the state is able to determine the aggregate amount of resources devoted to augmenting the instruments [i.e., the capital base] and the basic reward to those who own them,” there is no “obvious case” for further involvement. The public was never to substitute for the private, but merely to complement it.

Today, ideas about full employment and equality remain at the heart of social democracy. But the political struggle needs to be conducted along new battle lines. Whereas the front used to run between government and the owners of the means of production – the industrialists, the rentiers – now, it runs between governments and finance. Such measures as the efforts by the European Parliament to regulate the derivatives market or the British government’s ban on short selling in the wake of the financial crisis or the demand to caps bankers’ bonuses are contemporary expressions of the wish to reduce the power of financial speculation to damage the economy.

The new focus on the need to tame the power of finance is largely a consequence of globalization. Capital moves across borders more freely and more quickly than goods or people do. Yet, while large global firms habitually use their high concentration of financial resources to press for further de-regulation (“or we will go somewhere else”), the crisis has turned their size into a liability.

Being too big to fail simply means being too big. Keynes saw that “it is the financial markets’ precariousness which creates no small part of our contemporary problem of securing sufficient investment.” That rings truer today – more than 70 years later – than in his own day. Rather than securing investment for productive sectors of the economy, the financial industry has become adept at securing investment in itself.

This, once again, calls for an activist government policy. Yet, as Keynes would have argued, it is important that the expansion of government involvement is informed by sound economics rather than political ideology, social democratic or otherwise.

State intervention needs to bridge gaps that the private sector cannot reasonably be expected to do on its own. The current crisis has shown with utmost clarity that private markets are unable to self-regulate; domestic regulation is therefore a key area in which government has a role to play. Similarly, time-inconsistency issues prevent large international firms from compartmentalizing their markets. Re-erecting barriers to capital flows in the form of international taxes, thereby cordoning off crises before they turn global, is therefore another task for government.

Keynes’s main contribution to social democracy, however, does not lie in the specifics of policy, but in his insistence that the state as ultimate protector of the public good has a duty to supplement and regulate market forces. If we need markets to stop the state from behaving badly, we need the state to stop markets from behaving badly. Nowadays, that means stopping financial markets from behaving badly. That means limiting their power, and their profits.

Copyright Project Syndicate

Squalid Isolation – Social Cohesion, Quality of Life and Losing the Ties that Bind

by Gabor Gyori

A few weeks ago I called on social democracy to come to terms with the fact that many of its voters are not on loan to other parties, but for the most part gone for good. One of the key problems behind this, I argued, is that the traditional bases of all mass parties are disintegrating, fragmenting, etc.

Though this insight is not revolutionary, there is little political engagement with the issue and what is worse, there is no policy engagement with the underlying problem that is far more pressing than the electoral and organisational woes of social democracy: the political story is part of the larger problem that social networks and social trust are severely weakened and increasingly leave us with societies only held together by shiny biometric passports that let us travel to more places than ever before.

The paradox of today’s society is that on the face of it, it appears more vibrant and activist than ever: there are, for example, the vast anti-Iraq demonstrations, the myriads of NGOs – some of which are quite successful – and the online social networks that completely transform the way we think about relationships and how we maintain them.

At the same time interpersonal ties, trust in other people and institutions, including democracy itself, decline ominously. A people that become more lonesome also become less amenable to notions of solidarity and community.

And it appears that the blame does not entirely fall on Facebook et al., if they are to blame at all. Inequality figures among the complex reasons, as does the increasing heterogeneity of lifestyles and life experiences (the elite-populist divide is part of this). In the West, there is also the experience of multiculturalism, which is enriching for many and alienating for others.

What is being eroded now is thus not only the social democrats’ voter base, but much of the social cohesion and basic solidarity that made the social democratic and Christian democratic welfare state project possible in the first place.

These all herald problematic consequences for democracy, social justice, the individual, and yes, the (market) economy as well.

For lack of space I can’t go into sufficient detail about the looming problems, but beyond the obvious institutional dilemmas (hollowed-out democratic institutions), there are tragic hidden consequences, such as the effects of growing social isolation on health, which Robert Putnam, the scholar most identified with this field of research, paints in quite dramatic terms: ‘People will get sick and die, because they don’t know their neighbors…And the health effects of social isolation are of the same magnitude as people smoking’.

This is not to say that the problem is universal or equally distributed. As the East/West divide is concerned, for instance, Westerners are both less afflicted and face less dramatic trends, while the Eastern Europeans started their democratic and market economy experiment with very little social trust to begin with – not exactly the most promising preconditions – only to lose a lot on the way. And it shows in numerous ways that make the latter societies less liveable, socially colder, and definitely less open to whatever the political left has to say (neo-populists excluded).

While progressives (rightfully) try to determine the fair levels of taxation, the right environmental policies, etc., and generally seek a way to adapt social democratic values to a rapidly changing society, we have very little grasp of and next to nothing to say about this hugely problematic aspect of societal change.

So what is to be done then? For starters, I have my doubts whether this is a problem that public policy can solve; at most, we may be able to alleviate it. For a variety of very good reasons, the notion that government dabble in people’s private lives – even if it is the most public aspect thereof – is deservingly disturbing. This side of the former Iron Curtain all the more so. Great feats of social engineering are thus out, in many respects social development will take its course and we can’t completely undo or alter it.

But even when policy can’t turn the tide (cf. globalisation), it can certainly finesse it, make it friendlier, especially given the vital need for maintaining a level of solidarity and a basic joint purpose in society.

Putnam has grappled with this question and said ‘I don’t think we should have a government Department of Friendship that introduces people to one another.’ But as he notes, things can be done, beginning with genuine measures of social links.

Here in Eastern Europe, where the European Union and other international funds keep afloat independent NGOs and the politically engaged civil society tied – often unfairly – to whoever is in opposition at any given time (governments supply their own, at least), the connection between money and building social institutions is all too apparent.

Some of the money spent on building civil society is wasted, but that is not necessarily atypical of government spending (especially in this region), and as far as worthy objectives go, I hope I’ve at least managed to point out that this is one worth considering further study and intense policy debate.

Finally, another approach towards community building leads through the classroom. I am not an education expert, so I will tread carefully here, but it does appear to me that schools that focus intensely on community-building tend to be more successful, relatively speaking, at churning out socially active individuals than schools that do not (this is based on purely inductive inference). Without necessarily adopting the entire educational package of such schools, it would be useful to consider whether this particular element is one worth adapting to public education in general.

These are two specific ways to start thinking about responses to the problem, but I hope there are a lot more out there. To bring them out, progressives need to turn this into one of the key policy debates for the coming decades.

Solidarity in a Pluralist Age

by Charles Taylor

Solidarity is essential to democratic societies; otherwise, they fall apart. They cannot function beyond a certain level of mutual distrust or a sense on the part of some members that other members have abandoned them.


Many view the development of an individualistic outlook as the greatest threat to solidarity nowadays. But this is closely linked to a diminishing sense of common identity.

It is no accident, for example, that Europe’s most successful welfare states were created in ethnically homogeneous Scandinavia. People in those countries had the sense that they could understand their neighbors and fellow citizens, and that they shared a close link with them.

The challenge nowadays is to maintain that sense of intense solidarity amid diversifying populations. There are two ways to do this. One is to hark back to older modes of solidarity. French identity, for example, is based on the country’s unique brand of republican secularism, known as laïcité. But France’s efforts to shore up solidarity by insisting on laïcité and erecting a dam against Muslim immigrants are both ineffective and counter-productive, because they exclude from a sense of fully belonging to the nation many people who are actually in France already.

The other way to preserve solidarity is to redefine identity. All democratic societies today are faced with the challenge of redefining their identity in dialogue with some elements that are external, and some that are internal. Consider the influence of feminist movements throughout the West. These are not people who came from outside their countries. They are people who in some ways lacked full citizenship, who demanded it, and who redefined the political order by obtaining it.

Today the great task is to calm the fears that our traditions are being undermined; to reach out to people who are coming into our lands from other countries; and to find a way of recreating our political ethic around the kernel of human rights, equality, non-discrimination, and democracy. If we succeed, we can create a sense that we belong together, even though our reasons for believing so may be different.

But increasing individualism – a focus on one’s own ambitions and economic prosperity – in many countries poses a stubborn obstacle to realizing this vision. Indeed, the utter lack of a sense of solidarity among so many people – horrifyingly evident in the US health-care debate – is now undermining the very basis of what a modern democratic society is.

A society’s sense of solidarity can be sustained only if all of its different spiritual groups recreate their sense of dedication to it: if Christians see it as central to their Christianity, if Muslims see it as central to their Islam, and if the various kinds of lay philosophies see it as central to their philosophies.

Religion provides a profound and powerful base of solidarity, and to marginalize it would be a big mistake, just as marginalizing atheistic philosophies would be a mistake. Democratic societies, in their tremendous diversity, are powered by many different engines of commitment to a common ethic. They cannot afford to switch off any of these engines and hope to maintain a political community.

Historically, the political ethic of confessional societies has been grounded in a single, basic foundation. In Europe, various kinds of laïque societies have tried to invent themselves out of the ruins of the Christian foundation, but they have made the same mistake in another way, with a kind of Jacobin insistence on the civil religion of the Enlightenment.

Well, we can no longer have a civil religion – not one based on God, nor on laïcitéand the rights of man, nor, indeed, on any particular view. We live, today, in uncharted territory. We face a challenge that is unprecedented in human history: creation of a powerful political ethic of solidarity self-consciously grounded on the presence and acceptance of very different views.

This can succeed only if we engage in vigorous exchange with each other in order to create a kind of mutual respect for these different views. The advancing force of Islamophobia in Europe and the US, with its attempt to reduce Islam’s complex and varied history to a few demagogic slogans, is the kind of utterly ignorant stupidity – there’s no better description of it – on which democratic societies founder.

But that is true of any kind of dismissive view of the “other.” Our societies will hold together only if we talk to each other with openness and frankness, and, in doing so, recreate a certain sense of solidarity from all our different roots.

Copyright Project Syndicate

Do Republicans Want to Bring Back Social Darwinism?

Robert Reich's blog/ by Robert Reich

The economic policies Republicans promote could come from the mouths of heartless 19th century industrialists.



John Boehner, the Republican House leader who will become Speaker if Democrats lose control of the House in the upcoming midterms, recently offered his solution to the current economic crisis: "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmer, liquidate real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. People will work harder, lead a more moral life."

Actually, those weren't Boehner's words. They were uttered by Herbert Hoover's treasury secretary, millionaire industrialist Andrew Mellon, after the Great Crash of 1929.

But they might as well have been Boehner's because Hoover's and Mellon's means of purging the rottenness was by doing exactly what Boehner and his colleagues are now calling for: shrink government, cut the federal deficit, reduce the national debt, and balance the budget.

And we all know what happened after 1929, at least until FDR reversed course.

Boehner and other Republicans would even like to roll back the New Deal and get rid of Barack Obama's smaller deal health-care law.

The issue isn't just economic. We're back to tough love. The basic idea is to force people to live with the consequences of whatever happens to them.

In the late 19th century it was called Social Darwinism. Only the fittest should survive, and any effort to save the less fit will undermine the moral fiber of society.

Republicans have wanted to destroy Social Security since it was invented in 1935 by my predecessor as labor secretary, the great Frances Perkins. Remember George W. Bush's proposal to privatize it? Had America agreed with him, millions of retirees would have been impoverished in 2008 when the stock market imploded.

Of course Republicans don't talk openly about destroying Social Security, because it's so popular. The new Republican "pledge" promises only to put it on a "fiscally responsible footing." Translated: we'll privatize it.

Look, I used to be a trustee of the Social Security trust fund. Believe me when I tell you Social Security is basically okay. It may need a little fine tuning but I guarantee you'll receive your Social Security check by the time you retire even if that's forty years from now.

Medicare, on the other hand, is a huge problem and its projected deficits are truly scary. But that's partly because George W. Bush created a new drug benefit that's hugely profitable for Big Phrma (something the Republican pledge conspicuously fails to address). The underlying problem, though, is health-care costs are soaring.

Repealing the new health-care legislation would cause health-care costs to rise even faster. In extending coverage, it allows 30 million Americans to get preventive care. Take it away and they'll end up in far more expensive emergency rooms.

The new law could help control rising health costs. It calls for medical "exchange" that will give people valuable information about health costs and benefits. The public should know certain expensive procedures only pad the paychecks of specialists while driving up the costs of insurance policies that offer them.

Republicans also hate unemployment insurance. They've voted against every extension because, they say, it coddles the unemployed and keeps them from taking available jobs.

That's absurd. There are still 5 job seekers for every job opening, and unemployment insurance in most states pays only a small fraction of the full-time wage.

Social insurance is fundamental to a civil society. It's also good economics because it puts money in peoples' pockets who then turn around and buy the things that others produce, thereby keeping those others in jobs.

We've fallen into the bad habit of calling these programs "entitlements," which sounds morally suspect -- as if a more responsible public wouldn't depend on them. If the Great Recession has taught us anything, it should be that anyone can take a fall through no fault of their own.

Finally, like Hoover and Mellon, Republicans want to cut the deficit and balance the budget at a time when a large portion of the workforce is idle.

This defies economic logic. When consumers aren't spending, businesses aren't investing and exports can't possibly fill the gap, and when state governments are slashing their budgets, the federal government has to spend more. Otherwise, the Great Recession will turn into exactly what Hoover and Mellon ushered in -- a seemingly endless Great Depression.

It's also cruel. Cutting the deficit and balancing the budget any time soon will subject tens of millions of American families to unnecessary hardship and throw even more into poverty.

Herbert Hoover and Andrew Mellon thought their economic policies would purge the rottenness out of the system and lead to a more moral life. Instead, it purged morality out of the system and lead to a more rotten life for millions of Americans.

And that's exactly what Republicans are offering yet again.



Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama's transition advisory board. His latest book is Supercapitalism.

War on Dissent: FBI Agents Raiding Peaceful Anti-War Activists

Consortium News/ by Coleen Rowley

FBI counter-terrorism agents are offered perverse career incentives that pressure them to conduct actions against groups that pose no danger.

September 26, 2010 The war on dissent, rather than terrorism, continued full steam with FBI SWAT teams breaking down doors at 7 a.m. Friday morning and raiding the homes of several anti-war leaders and activists in Minneapolis, Chicago and possibly a couple other Midwest cities.

Members of the FBI's "Joint Terrorism Task Force" spent a few hours at each Minneapolis residence, seizing personal photographs and papers, computers and cell phones as well as serving Federal Grand Jury subpoenas on the various activists.

Obviously the scathing review of post 9-11 FBI "terrorism investigations" targeting various peace and social justice groups – issued just days earlier by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) – gave no pause to the FBI to reflect before continuing to do more of the same.

Nor did accompanying media revelations about the FBI having improperly conducted surveillances of an antiwar rally in Pittsburgh; the Catholic Worker peace magazine; a Quaker activist; the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh; members of the environmental group Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and a small student group of anti-war activists in Iowa City, Iowa, who were targeted for nine months in 2008.

National news stories revealed that in one of the investigations, FBI Director Robert Mueller inadvertently provided a fabricated justification for the surveillance of an antiwar rally.

A Boston Globe article, "Red-Baiting, Circa 2002 - 2006," reported last Wednesday:

“The Justice Department's Inspector General report released this week pulled few punches in admonishing the FBI for targeting anti-war groups and advocacy organizations with no apparent justification, and for placing non-violent activists in those groups on terrorist watch lists.

“The report chastised the bureau for having a ‘weak’' rationale for some of its investigations; investigating where there was ‘little indication of any possible federal crimes’'; and extending ‘the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without adequate basis.’'The agency was also taken to task for improperly retaining information about the targeted groups in its files and for classifying investigations of peace groups ‘under its “Acts of Terrorism’ classification.’

“These are serious abuses. Using anti-terrorism laws to target domestic protest organizations is redolent of the actions of the Justice Department against law-abiding protesters during World War I and the Vietnam War -- actions that are rightly remembered as disgraceful.

“FBI Director Robert Mueller was misled by subordinates into telling Congress, falsely, that surveillance of a peaceful 2002 anti-war rally was ‘an outgrowth of an FBI investigation.’' In fact, it was the product of an agent receiving a ‘make-work’' assignment on a ‘slow day’.''

But perhaps what is more important here than a "let's make work on a slow day" is the perverse career incentives that serve to pressure FBI counter-terrorism agents to produce "stats" (statistics).

An agent gains "stats" for serving subpoenas, national security letters for records, executing search warrants, contacting confidential sources, etc., whether or not any relevant evidence is obtained via this "work" and whether or not it leads to prosecution or preventing a crime.

It is a well known fact that nearly 1,000 people were rounded up and detained (mostly in New York City) immediately after 9-11. None of those detained were ever identified as "terrorists" but that's when these career-enhancing "stats" began to be awarded for each detention, arrest, subpoena, search warrant, etc.

The IG, however, has only reviewed FBI "terrorism" investigations thus far from 2002 to 2006. What happened in Iowa City in 2008 shows the FBI did not cease its improper investigations after 2006.

Documents obtained through FOIA showed the FBI and its local law enforcement partners targeted students and anti-war activists in Iowa City, following them to parks, food co-ops, libraries, bars and restaurants, etc., over a nine-month period with little factual justification other than the allegation that the group was plotting to protest the Republican National Convention.

The FBI even managed to secretly search the anti-war members' personal trash.

It would therefore seem that someone should quickly contact the IG and ask for review of those cases since 2006. Additionally "whistleblower complaints" can be made concerning fraud, waste, abuse and illegality by citizens to the Office of Special Counsel.

Friday's raids in Minneapolis occurred after the prior Attorney General Guidelines were erased that used to require a level of factual justification before domestic groups could be spied on. Additionally, the Patriot Act and an earlier 1996 law broadly prohibiting "material support to terrorism" were allowed to stand even though these laws make speech advocating human rights a terrorist crime.

The final problem is the law enforcement mindset first seen back in 2003 from a spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) who was forced to defend his agency's unjustified targeting of anti-war protesters without any factual evidence.

CATIC spokesman Mike van Winkle, apparently without thinking too hard, reasoned that evidence wasn't needed to issue warnings on war protesters.

"You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest)," said van Winkle, "You can almost argue that a protest against (the ‘war on terror’) is a terrorist act."


Coleen Rowley is a former FBI Agent. She holds a law degree, and served in Minneapolis as "Chief Division Counsel," a position which included oversight of Freedom of Information, as well as providing regular legal and ethics training to FBI Agents.

Drug Use Cited in the Killings of 3 Civilians

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — Members of an American Army unit consumed with drug use randomly chose Afghan civilians to kill and then failed to report the abuses out of fear they would suffer retaliation from their commander, according to testimony in military court here on Monday.

Corp. Jeremy Morlock

The testimony, in a hearing to determine whether one of those soldiers, Specialist Jeremy N. Morlock, would face a court-martial and a possible death sentence, came the same day that a videotape in the case was leaked showing Specialist Morlock talking to investigators about the killings in gruesome detail with no apparent emotion.

Top Army officials worry that the case against Specialist Morlock and four other soldiers accused in the killings of three Afghan civilians will undermine efforts to build relationships with Afghans in the war against the Taliban.

The soldiers are accused of possessing dismembered body parts, including fingers and a skull, and collecting photographs of dead Afghans. Some images show soldiers posing with the dead. As many as 70 images are believed to be in evidence.

Some of the soldiers have said in court documents that they were forced to participate in the killings by a supervisor, Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who is also accused in the killings. All five defendants have said they are not guilty.

In one incident, Specialist Morlock recounted in the video, he described Sergeant Gibbs identifying for no apparent reason an Afghan civilian in a village, then directing Specialist Morlock and another soldier to fire on the man after Sergeant Gibbs lobbed a grenade in his direction.

“He kind of placed me and Winfield off over here so we had a clean line of sight for this guy and, you know, he pulled out one of his grenades, an American grenade, popped it, throws the grenade, and tells me and Winfield: ‘All right, wax this guy. Kill this guy, kill this guy,’ ” Specialist Morlock said in the video.

Referring to the Afghan, the investigator asked: “Did you see him present any weapons? Was he aggressive toward you at all?”

Specialist Morlock replied: “No, not at all. Nothing. He wasn’t a threat.”

As Monday’s hearing was getting under way, CNN and ABC News broadcast the video. In the CNN clip and the ABC clip, Specialist Morlock, speaking in a near monotone, looks like a teenager recounting a story to his parents.

CNN also broadcast video of the interview of a soldier who is not accused in the killings but has been accused of lesser crimes, Cpl. Emmitt R. Quintal.

When asked by an investigator when and how often members of the unit used illegal drugs, Corporal Quintal, seated in camouflage fatigues, said it occurred on “bad days, stressful days, days that we just needed to escape.”

The interview with Specialist Morlock was conducted in Kandahar in May, while he was en route to a medical evaluation for what his lawyers said was possibly a traumatic brain injury suffered during his deployment. They say he was taking medication prescribed by military doctors for sleep deprivation, pain and muscle stress, though they said they could not yet establish exactly when he had taken the medication and how it might have affected him.

Specialist Morlock, who grew up in Wasilla, Alaska, appeared in court on Monday but did not testify.

Michael Waddington, his lawyer, questioned Army investigators by phone from their duty station in Afghanistan. Mr. Waddington repeatedly asked whether they found Specialist Morlock to be under the influence of medication in the interviews. Some investigators described Specialist Morlock as tired and sometimes slouching, but they said he was coherent and had a strong recollection of details.

The video, provided to defense lawyers to help them prepare their cases, was not intended by the military to be made public.

“The disclosure of these video recordings is troubling because it could adversely affect the military justice process,” said Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman.

The power of images in the case was apparent last week, when the commander of the Stryker brigade in which the soldiers serve ordered photographic evidence to be strictly controlled by investigators at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with access limited to lawyers.

A memo circulated by a military defense lawyer the previous week described an inadvertent release of photographs, including three that show American soldiers holding up the heads of dead Afghans. It was unclear whether all of the pictures showed soldiers in the cases, though military prosecutors said Monday that Specialist Morlock was in at least one image, apparently with a dead Afghan.

Photographic evidence could play an important role in the Army’s case, as will statements from soldiers. No bodies have been recovered, and a military investigator testified on Monday that the nature of the areas where the crimes occurred, including religious views of residents and potential danger to American soldiers, prevented them from conducting crime scene investigations.

“To exhume a body would cause a lot of issues, even if it was for a good purpose,” said Special Agent Anderson D. Wagner.

Mr. Wagner noted that at least two statements, from Specialist Morlock and another soldier charged, Pfc. Adam C. Winfield, corroborated elements of each other’s story. He also said there was little physical evidence connecting the soldiers to the killings. “I don’t know the final thing that killed those guys, whether it was a bullet or whose grenade it was,” Mr. Wagner said.

The Army’s case is complicated by claims that it ignored warnings that there was trouble in the unit. Private Winfield’s father has said he repeatedly tried to alert military officials that his son had told him through Facebook in February that a murder was committed by members of his unit in January. The soldiers are accused of killings in January, February and May.

Mr. Waddington said in an interview that his client was present where the three crimes are said to have taken place, but that he had not killed anyone.

Mr. Wagner, the investigator, said that during his interview in May, Specialist Morlock had feared retaliation for talking.

Lawyers for Specialist Morlock told reporters during a break that the case reflected a “failed policy” in Afghanistan, and that soldiers like Specialist Morlock should never have been allowed to continue with their unit given the medication they say he was on and the alleged widespread use of drugs in the unit. Seven other soldiers in the unit are accused of other crimes, including hashish possession.

It could be weeks before the military investigator presiding over the hearing, Judge Thomas Molloy, determines how to charge Specialist Morlock.


Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington.

Mental State of Their Own

25 Sep 2010

Colbert Testifies With Truthiness

With a wit unheard of on Capitol Hill, Stephen Colbert has taken his message of truthiness and testified in front of Congress on behalf of migrant farmworkers, citing his expertise on the matter after spending an entire day in the picking fields.

Ha-bloody-Ha! IAEA rejects Arab move over Israel

UN watchdog rejects resolution calling on Israel to join Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Handwriting on the Wall: More Acceptance of Relative Decline

by Gary Leupp / September 24th, 2010



In the biblical story of Daniel, the Babylonian emperor Balshazzar, engaged in drunken revelry with his courtiers using goblets plundered during the conquest of Jerusalem, drinking toasts to the gods of gold and silver, is startled to see a hand appear on the wall of the banquet hall. (Daniel 5:5-7) The hand writes: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsim.

Some Bible scholars think these were words for coins circulating in the empire, or measures of metal used in commerce. (Tekel is the same as the Hebrew shekel.) So the message was something like, “Dollars, dollars, quarters, half dollars.”

What could it mean, wondered Balshazzar and his courtiers? The emperor’s advisors were mystified. So Daniel, a wise man among the Jews of the Babylonian Exile who enjoyed the favor of the court, was called upon to interpret the meaning of this amazing event.

Daniel explained that God was using clever puns involving money to foretell the empire’s doom. Mene (or mina) can mean “measured” or “numbered” as well as “judged.” Tekel (or shekel) can mean “weighed on the scales.” Upharsin is a coin one-half the size of a mene, but also is a pun for “Persian.” So Daniel told Balshazzar:

"This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; UPHARSIN, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:25)"

Indeed that very night the emperor was slain and a Mede (Darius) became ruler. Soon the empire was conquered by Cyrus the Persian.

The Book of Daniel was written in the second century BCE. It refers to rulers who lived four centuries earlier and shouldn’t be taken literally. The first half is an exquisitely written novelette in which Daniel “prophesizes” things that had already occurred. The Babylonian Empire had been succeeded by the Median, Persian, and then following the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire. (And then the Romans gradually build their empire, doomed to decline.)

Earlier in the Book of Daniel (2:31-45), the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel to explain to him the meaning of a dream involving a statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs from brass, legs of iron, and feet part iron and clay. Daniel explains that Nebudchadnezzar is himself the head of gold but “after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth.” These are often interpreted to mean the succession of Median, Persian, and Greek empires. The last was ruling the Middle East at the time this book was written. The author wanted to say that while the Greeks ruling Judea appeared powerful, they were fundamentally weak. (This is what the phrase “feet of clay” has come to mean.)

The whole point is: empires eventually fall. (Their decline and fall is just a particularly dramatic example of what Buddhists call “the law of impermanence.”) One doesn’t have to suppose that a deity oversees human events to acknowledge the historical fact that no empire is forever.

And the handwriting is indeed on the wall. This what the moving finger writes today, on walls in the halls of power all over Washington and on Wall Street:

Mene, mene. Your days are numbered.

Your dollar’s value is falling. Between 2000 and 2009 it fell by 33% in relation to the euro and 23% to the yen. And your share in the global GDP is declining. The EU now leads the U.S., according to IMF figures, at 28% of the total. The U.S. produces 25% and China and Japan together 17%. In 1945 the U.S. figure was around 50% of the total. It was over 30% in 2000. You must accept the inevitability of further decline.

Teke. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Poll after poll show that the world’s people find your government morally lacking—indeed viciously brutal in pursuit of its imperialist goals. There has been no change in policy between the Bush and Obama administrations. Your government slaughters civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, increasingly through the cowardly use of drone-fired missiles. You refuse to punish those responsible for cruel wars based on lies. You say you will pressure Israel to get its settlers out of the West Bank, then you back off, because of the power of the Israel Lobby. Your Congress actually congratulates Israel when it blitzkriegs Gaza or attacks an aid ship in international waters killing nine unarmed people including a U.S. citizen. Everyone knows you lie, and cover up atrocities. You have zero moral credibility in this world.

Upharsim. Your kingdom is divided.

Your society is deeply, bitterly divided. Income inequality has been increasing since the 1970s and is the highest in the industrialized world, resembling the situation as of 1929. The top 1% of households own at least 35% of all privately held wealth and the bottom 80% of households just 15% of the wealth. The poverty level is back to 1960s (pre-“War on Poverty”) level while the number of millionaires—many of them finance capitalists deliberately exploiting investors’ and home-buyers’ gullibility–soars.

Whether your country will retain its current borders, or split up like Balshazzar’s empire, remains to be seen. But the class division is very real, and the struggle of those most hurt in your society may help bring your empire down.

Such is the handwriting on the wall. “The moving finger writes,” wrote the great eleventh century Persian poet Omar Khayyam (who had read Daniel and was alluding to the story of the handwriting on the wall).

Nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

The empire will fade and decline, like the Roman and Spanish and British and Soviet, and all other empires before it. Pious evangelicals and Harvard academicians can’t save it.

*

I thought about the Daniel story while reading an article in the most recent issue of the American Conservative. It cites a Chicago Council of Global Affairs survey that reported “a majority of Americans is taking a very sensible view of how activist and interventionist the U.S. should be in the future. There appears to be much more acceptance of relative decline in U.S. preeminence and the rise of more independent powers….”

Specifically, a large majority thinks the U.S. shouldn’t be the “world’s policeman,” shouldn’t try to “solve problems” unilaterally, and welcome the fact that countries like Turkey and Brazil are becoming more independent of the U.S. in the conduct of their foreign policy. They think that rather than trying to limit China’s power the U.S. should engage it and cooperate with it in a friendly way.

I find the report encouraging. Perhaps people are thinking: What is wrong with allowing others to emerge and share center stage? We’re tired of being in charge of the world.

The neoconservative strategy following the Cold War has been to allow no rival, to maintain global “supremacy” or “full spectrum dominance.” But how can you do that when China (a generally peaceful power, that happens to own almost a quarter of the U.S. national debt) threatens to surpass the U.S. in economic clout within 20 years?

Indeed what is wrong with becoming a Britain or a Spain, or a France or a Holland or Japan? Generally speaking, people in these countries don’t lament the decline of their empires. Few Japanese want to revive the empire that once extended from Sakhalin to Samoa. They’re content to live in a normal peaceful country that cooperates with others.

I don’t want to idealize any of these advanced capitalist countries. They remain imperialist in the Leninist sense. Their capitalists export capital in search of the highest possible rate of profit, and they seek to control markets and raw materials. They cooperate with the U.S. in its wars of aggression. They are governed by people whom we can judge seriously “wanting” and are all in need of radical change. But they have experienced “relative decline” and lived through it—as the people of this country can.

Early in this country’s history settlers identified with the ancient Hebrews led out of Egypt into the “Promised Land” of Canaan. They thought that (just as the Hebrews had taken the land of the Canaanites, annihilating them in the process at God’s command) so God had given North America to white Europeans. It was their right to take it from the native “savages.” At the time of the Mexican War, the vast expansion of the republic through military aggression was justified by the “Manifest Destiny” concept. Obviously it was the destiny of Anglo-Saxons to occupy the continent, from sea to shining sea—and it didn’t stop at the beach. Jingoists crowed that it was inevitable that the Stars and Stripes would be planted across the sea, on the soil of Asia. This of course was soon realized in the Treaty Ports of Japan, after Japan had been bullied into opening them by Admiral Perry’s threatening visits of 1853-4. And the flag was raised on the soil of the Philippines in 1898 when the former Spanish colony was seized by the U.S. There have always been plenty of (white) people of this country who’ve thought they were special and had the right to brutalize inferior peoples. Or at least tell them what to do.

But why not just realize and say: We’re just a country like other countries. Or we would like to be. We reached our peak half a century ago and are now in decline. And that is okay. During the period of peak prosperity U.S. military forces killed millions of Koreans and Vietnamese in order to maintain and expand the empire. This is nothing to be proud of. In our Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union we armed and trained tens of thousands of Islamist warriors to wage jihad against a secularist regime in Afghanistan, creating in the process groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

You can get thrown into the lion’s den for saying this, but the deeds of the U.S. have come back to haunt us. There are drawbacks to being an imperialist, bloodstained superpower.

Why does the U.S., protected by two vast oceans and peaceful borders with friendly nations, with no significant military rivals, need an empire of 700 bases in 130 countries? Why does it need to pretend to be “protecting” people (as in Okinawa) who haven’t asked for their presence and ask who’s protecting them from the U.S. troops? People who are asking them to please leave?

Why does the U.S. need to constantly topple regimes posing no threat to itself, always on the basis of lies? Why does it need to bully its allies (whose people want nothing to do with the Iraq and Afghan wars) to get support, or to maintain an alliance (NATO) that has long outlived its original Cold War purpose? Why must it insist on dominance? In whose interest is all this?

The U.S. ruling elite—including the neocons, the oil barons, the crooked traders, the Pentagon generals in arms with the arms industry, the idiot politicians who always vote the way AIPAC tells them to, the whole rung of top capitalists profiting from the bailout—are like the revelers at Balshazzar’s banquet. They are arrogant plunderers, drinking toasts to the gods of gold and silver in stolen goblets.

But maybe the party’s over. Fortunately, a system that is illogical and indefensible is also unsustainable. The Crash of 2008 suggests this, along with failure in two imperialist wars. I’d come over the years to doubt Marx’s conviction that the overthrow of capitalism was “inevitable,” but it remains my hope. And it will happen when people awaken to the fact that, as Engels once declared (in connection with German occupation of parts of Poland), a nation that oppresses other nations cannot become free. The “greater acceptance of decline” suggests that this truth is dawning on more and more people in this country.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsim.



Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu. Read other articles by Gary.



What Does ‘Combat’ Mean?

Posted on Sep 24, 2010


AP / May Alleruzzo

U.S. soldiers race across the border into Kuwait in August, part of the last combat brigade to leave Iraq. Despite the drawdown, 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq.

“Since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, U.S. troops have waged a gun battle with a suicide squad in Baghdad, dropped bombs on armed militants in Baquba and assisted Iraqi soldiers in a raid in Falluja.” Which leads us to ask, just what is a “combat operation,” anyway? —JCL

Reuters:

"Since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, U.S. troops have waged a gun battle with a suicide squad in Baghdad, dropped bombs on armed militants in Baquba and assisted Iraqi soldiers in a raid in Falluja.

Obama’s announcement on August 31 has not meant the end of fighting for some of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel remaining in Iraq 7-1/2 years after the invasion that removed Saddam Hussein.

“Our rules of engagement have not changed. Iraq does remain from time to time a dangerous place, so when our soldiers are attacked they will return fire,” said Brigadier General Jeffrey Buchanan, a U.S. military spokesman."

Read more...

The Super-Rich Get Richer, and Everyone Else Is Going Down the Drain

by Robert Reich

Only twice before in American history has so much been held by so few, yet they're going to keep their fat tax cuts.


The super-rich got even wealthier this year, and yet most of them are paying even fewer taxes to support the eduction, job training, and job creation of the rest of us. According to Forbes magazine’s annual survey, just released, the combined net worth of the 400 richest Americans climbed 8% this year, to $1.37 trillion. Wealth rose for 217 members of the list, while 85 saw a decline.

For example, Charles and David Koch, the energy magnates who are pouring vast sums of money into Republican coffers and sponsoring tea partiers all over America, each gained $5.5 billion of wealth over the past year. Each is now worth $21.5 billion.

Wall Street continued to dominate the list; 109 of the richest 400 are in finance or investments.

From another survey we learn that the 25 top hedge-fund managers got an average of $1 billion each, but paid an average of 17 percent in taxes (because so much of their income is considered capital gains, taxed at 15 percent thanks to the Bush tax cuts).

The rest of America got poorer, of course. The number in poverty rose to a post-war high. The median wage continues to deteriorate. And some 20 million Americans don’t have work.

Only twice before in American history has so much been held by so few, and the gap between them and the great majority been a chasm — the late 1920s, and the era of the robber barons in the 1880s.

And yet the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which conferred almost all their benefits on the rich, continue.

Democrats have decided to delay voting on whether to extend them for the top 2 percent of Americans or for the bottom 98 percent until after the mid-term elections.

Democrats have thereby given up a defining issue that could have enabled them to show the big story of the last three decades — the accumulation of almost all the gain from economic growth at the top — and to make a start at reversing it.

When will they ever learn?



Robert Reich is professor of public policy at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration.