23 Jul 2011

Enemies of Democracy

The Fall of Media Mogul Murdoch
by Jack Random/ July 22nd, 2011

"Rupert Murdoch is no saint; he is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power he’s carnivorous: all appetite and no taste. Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract or the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash."

— Bill Moyers Journal, June 29, 2007

Which of the following does not belong: Benedict Arnold, Boss Tweed, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, Karl Rove, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Rupert Murdoch?

Answer: None of the above.

All are notorious for their groundbreaking betrayal of American democracy from its inception to the present day.

Benedict Arnold was a commander in the Continental Army who secretly plotted to hand West Point over to the British. Boss Tweed was the strongman of New York’s Tammany Hall in the mid 1800’s who was ultimately convicted for bribery and extortion, dying in the Ludlow Street Jail.

Richard Nixon was a crook whose scorn for American democracy went so deep that he never questioned the necessity of committing crimes of espionage against a presidential opponent so weak he failed to carry his own state. Nixon got his due.

J. Edgar Hoover famously wiretapped and eavesdropped on anything that moved, from politicians and journalists to movie stars and musicians. During his five-decade reign of terror, if you didn’t have a dossier on file at the FBI you were nobody. Hoover survived Democrats and Republicans alike because he had the goods to destroy anyone who stood in his way. Blackmail and extortion were his calling card yet he has his name on the building that houses the nation’s highest law enforcement agency. American justice will never be vindicated until that inscription is taken down.

Karl Rove was the architect of the largest disenfranchisement scheme since the days of Jim Crow. He is the man who made George W. Bush President of the United States by effectively stealing two consecutive elections.

Supreme Court Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy are the only three members of the high court to vote for both Bush v. Gore 2000 and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 2010. Bush v. Gore anointed George W. Bush president without benefit of a majority vote and Citizens United opened the doors to unlimited corporate financing of political campaigns.

Now, with the revelations of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s unscrupulous operations in the phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch can take his rightful place alongside the most infamous betrayers of our democracy.

The founders in their wisdom acknowledged the critical nature of a free press, enshrining the principle in the first amendment to the constitution. Not all lived up to that wisdom (as the Alien and Sedition Acts under President John Adams attest) but, as a whole, the founders recognized that a vibrant and independent press was an essential fourth pillar of a functioning republic.

The founders did not envision a time when the press is supplanted by the media, when information and misinformation is disseminated by radio, television and the worldwide web, and when a handful of international corporations would own and control the flow of information throughout the world.

The founders never envisioned a media mogul as powerful as Rupert Murdoch. He is the CEO of News Corporation, which in turn owns Fox Broadcasting, the Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones), the Times of London, the Daily Mirror, Sky Television, the Sun, the Star and the New York Post. His tentacles extend from Australia and New Zealand to North and South America, from the British Isles across Europe to the Middle East. He is the closest thing to a media czar the world has ever known.

While his political philosophy is notoriously rightwing, he has courted alliances on both sides of the aisle, befriending conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron as well as the Labour Party’s Tony Blair. While his Fox News has consistently bent to the far right, providing a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates, Murdoch has offered counsel and support to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama as well as George W. Bush and John McCain.

Considering his relationship with both the Clintons and Tony Blair, it is plausible that Murdoch played some direct or indirect role in turning the left toward center and the center to the right. In what Bill Clinton and Blair referred to as the third way, the Democrats and Labour abandoned progressive economics while still clinging to progressive social issues. Since Murdoch considers himself libertarian, the new left (which is not left at all) is very much consistent with his own views. Most importantly, it gave him free reign to extend his media empire.

In 1995, with Bill Clinton in the White House, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Murdoch’s ownership of Fox Broadcasting was in the best interests of the public.

It pays to cultivate friends in high places.

Pimping a war for oil, consuming and transforming legitimate journalistic enterprises into broadsheets, and shamelessly operating a propaganda empire to advance his own interests were not sufficient to discredit Murdoch but hacking the phones of innocent victims and their relatives for sensationalist stories finally tipped the scale.

The tar from Murdoch’s hands has stained everyone he touched, from the current resident at Number 10 Downing Street to the once-venerated Scotland Yards. Former employees and allies are falling like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery.

Anyone who believes Murdoch’s “I’m too old to know anything” act before the Media Committee of the House of Commons is as gullible as a grassroots member of the corporate Tea Party. In the bumbling fashion of an old man in the early stages of dementia, Murdoch stated he knew nothing of the operations and techniques of the offending news corps. He claimed this despite his company paying the equivalent of $3.2 million in settlements to hacking victims on condition of non-disclosure.

What’s a few million here and there?

It remains to be seen whether this scandal has the legs to bring the mogul down. He still has friends in high places and on both sides of the Atlantic. Republicans in congress are afraid to whisper his name in anything but a positive light. Democrats are Democrats and Obama is Obama. The investigation in America will not be in earnest unless public outcry demands it and even then, Murdoch has the media to fight back.

The excuse will be that we have far more important matters with which to concern ourselves like a debt crisis that Murdoch and his ilk trumped up for media consumption. (The only real crisis lies in our refusal to remove the debt ceiling in a timely manner.)

Regardless of Murdoch’s ultimate fate, the odds of real media reform are something less than the odds of real financial reform after the near collapse of the global economy. That would require breaking up the media conglomerates and requiring news organizations to divest themselves of other corporate interests.

The chances of that are nil. So in a sense Rupert Murdoch has already won the war. He has shaped the media of the future. That it is ruthless, amoral and devoid of public interest should not surprise any of us.

It is a corporate media for a corporate world.

Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Read other articles by Jack, or visit Jack's website.

In Defense of Fair Hiring

Verité launches a toolkit for the ethical recruitment of migrant workers.

By Erin Klett
Verité, July 22, 2011

Migrant workers on temporary contracts work in greater and greater numbers in the world's factories and fields. Often they have traveled thousands of miles and across national borders for jobs that are, truly, a blessing - providing better work at better rates of pay than they could have found at home.

Căpşunari din toate ţările, Uniţi-vă!

But in too many cases these workers endure human trafficking and forced labor. These abuses can be traced back to how they were recruited and hired into their jobs.
Most migrants on temporary work contracts, and particularly those in lower-skilled jobs, were not recruited or hired directly by their employer. They were connected with their jobs abroad through one or more labor intermediaries - commonly referred to as labor brokers.

While labor brokers can be a boon to aspiring migrant workers and business efficiency, there are more than a few bad apples. Brokers often charge excessively high fees for their services, ranging in Verité's experience from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. They also frequently misrepresent the job terms and salary to the jobseeker.

In this "bait and switch" scheme, a jobseeker wagers that paying a high fee is worth it, given how much he'll make once he gets abroad. So he borrows the money, pays the fee, and takes the leap.

By the time he discovers that the job pays much less than promised, it is too late. He is already heavily in debt, stuck on a temporary work visa that ties him to a job he didn't want, vulnerable to further exploitation, and with little or no recourse either to the employer or to the broker who deceived him.
Take for example Benny, whom Verité met while doing research in the Philippines: Benny graduated from a four-year computer school and was unable to find work. He borrowed money to pay a recruiter for a job in an IT factory in Taiwan. When Benny got to Taiwan, he discovered that his recruitment debt had been increased by 150 percent, and his salary was only half what he had been expecting.
Benny worked six to seven days a week, 12 hours a day, with mandatory overtime for two years. When his contract was up, he returned home having barely dug himself out of the recruitment debt. With no savings and his family reeling from a storm that flooded their home, Benny is desperate enough to return to Taiwan to try again. This time, he says he hopes to go with an "honest" recruiter.
Examples like this make it clear that any policy or program to protect migrant workers is not complete unless it includes a focus on the path that workers take to get a job in the global economy. Social responsibility efforts and government policy both need to be broadened to take issues of ethical recruitment and hiring, and the role of labor brokers, into account. Ethical sourcing - a watchword among brands - is not complete unless fair hiring is in place.

A Fair Hiring Toolkit

This June, Verité launched the Fair Hiring Toolkit - a clearinghouse of information, tools, and techniques for taking action to manage labor brokers and protect migrant workers from exploitation in recruitment and hiring. Verité developed this material based on our more than ten years of experience in the factories and farms where migrants work.

The Fair Hiring Toolkit provides resources not only for companies—including both the buyers and suppliers of goods—but also for governments, investor groups, social auditors, labor rights advocates, and multi-stakeholder initiatives. The Toolkit aims to galvanize these stakeholder groups to action, and to coalesce their efforts around a common set of issues that must be addressed.

The Toolkit begins with a set of policies and benchmarks that companies can adopt as a starting point to ensure ethical recruitment and hiring practices. It then goes deeper, demonstrating how a company can integrate these ethical recruitment policies into its management systems and those of its labor brokers. The Toolkit also encourages and provides recommendations on how companies can collaborate with public policy actors, labor advocates, multi-brand and multi-stakeholder groups, and others.

Because of unethical and opaque hiring practices, virtually all companies that employ migrants face the risk of labor exploitation—and even forced labor—in the production of their goods. Yet despite the severity and magnitude of the problem, only a few companies have tried to understand and resolve these issues within their supply chains. Those that work on the issue generally do not talk publicly about it for fear of harming their reputations.

The Apple Example

Over the years, though, Verité has forged partnerships with a handful of forward-thinking brands to move toward fair hiring, by monitoring working conditions at farms and factories, and also evaluating the performance of labor brokers involved in recruiting, hiring, or managing migrant workers.

The first step for all companies on the path to fair hiring is understanding the problems that workers face. Apple started with the discovery, through a 2008 workplace assessment, that migrant workers were paying excessive fees to get jobs at Apple suppliers. The company then conducted a thorough investigation, the results of which pointed to a complex recruitment process and excessive fees charged to migrant workers who were making the company's products.

Unethical hiring practices had led to risks of involuntary labor and debt bondage at the workplace. Apple used the findings from the investigation to identify and prioritize the steps necessary to right wrongs and ensure the problem did not repeat itself.

Apple now has extensive code language on issues that relate to the trafficking and forced labor of migrant workers. The company has also set a limit—one month's pay—on recruitment fees that brokers in its supply chain are permitted to charge to jobseekers. It also put in place new social auditing procedures, a supplier training program on direct hiring, onsite management of foreign workers, and best practices in monitoring recruitment agencies.

Finally, Apple has pioneered the practice of returning fee overcharges to workers: Since 2008, Apple has returned more than $3.4 million in overcharges, amounting to thousands of dollars per worker in some cases.

No Company in the Dark

Leveraging the tools in Verité's Fair Hiring Toolkit, this path is open to all other brands and their suppliers. The Toolkit is the first set of resources to offer the depth and breadth of action necessary for a comprehensive approach, for a variety of stakeholder groups. It is also the first web-based, totally open-source clearinghouse of its kind.

In the words of Verité's CEO Dan Viederman, the Toolkit "basically means that no company can say they are in the dark about how to rid their supply chains of forced labor or slavery, or work around abuses by labor brokers."

Verité's Toolkit recognizes first, that companies need concrete advice on how to expand social responsibility beyond the workplace to where jobs begin, in recruitment and hiring; and second, that nothing less than a 360-degree approach to the problem—where stakeholders with various leverage points and spheres of influence work individually or in concert to reward good brokers, penalize bad ones, and protect migrant workers from abuse—will bring the results that migrant workers deserve.

22 Jul 2011

A Global Minimum Wage System

By Thomas Palley
July 21, 2011

The global economy is suffering from severe shortage of demand. In developed economies that shortfall is explicit in high unemployment rates and large output gaps. In emerging market economies it is implicit in their reliance on export-led growth. In part this shortfall reflects the lingering disruptive effects of the financial crisis and Great Recession, but it also reflects globalization's undermining of the income generation process.

One mechanism that can help rebuild this process is a global minimum wage system. That does not mean imposing U.S. or European minimum wages in developing countries. It does mean establishing a global set of rules for setting country minimum wages.

The minimum wage is a vital policy tool that provides a floor to wages. This floor reduces downward pressure on wages, and it also creates a rebound ripple effect that raises all wages in the bottom two deciles of the wage spectrum. Furthermore, it compresses wages at the bottom of the wage spectrum, thereby helping reduce inequality. Most importantly, an appropriately designed minimum wage can help connect wages and productivity growth, which is critical for building a sustainable demand generation process.

Traditionally, minimum wage systems have operated by setting a fixed wage that is periodically adjusted to take account of inflation and other changing circumstances. Such an approach is fundamentally flawed and inappropriate for the global economy. It is flawed because the minimum wage is always playing catch-up, and it is inappropriate because the system is difficult to generalize across countries.

Instead, countries should set a minimum wage that is a fixed percent (say 50 percent) of their median wage—which is the wage at which half of workers are paid more and half are paid less. This design has several advantages. First, the minimum wage will automatically rise with the median wage, creating a true floor that moves with the economy. If the median wage rises with productivity growth, the minimum wage will also rise with productivity growth.

Second, since the minimum wage is set by reference to the local median wage, it is set by reference to local economic conditions and reflects what a country can bear. Moreover, since all countries are bound by the same rule, all are treated equally.

Third, if countries want a higher minimum wage they are free to set one. The global minimum wage system would only set a floor; it would not set a ceiling.

Fourth, countries would also be free to set regional minimum wages within each country. Thus, a country like Germany that has higher unemployment in the former East Germany and lower unemployment in the former West Germany could set two minimum wages: one for former East Germany, and one for former West Germany. The only requirement would be that the regional minimum wage be greater than or equal to 50 percent of the regional median wage.

Such a system of regional minimum wages would introduce additional flexibility that recognizes wages and living costs vary within countries as well as across countries. This enables the minimum wage system to avoid the danger of over-pricing labor, while still retaining the demand side benefits a minimum wage confers by improving income distribution and helping tie wages to productivity growth.

Finally, a global minimum wage system would also confer significant political benefits by cementing understanding of the need for global labor market rules and showing they are feasible. Just as globalization demands global trade rules for goods and services and global financial rules for financial markets, so too labor markets need global rules.

In sum, globalization has increased international labor competition, which has contributed to rupturing the link between wages and productivity growth. That rupture has undermined the old wage-based system of demand growth, forcing a turn to reliance on debt and asset price inflation to drive growth. It has also increased income inequality.

Restoring the wage–productivity growth link is therefore vital for both economic and political stability. A global minimum wage system can help accomplish this.

© 2011 Thomas Palley. Republished with the author's kind permission.

This article is drawn from Chapter 12, "The Challenge of Globalization," of Thomas Palley's forthcoming book: From Financial Crisis to Stagnation: The Destruction of Shared Prosperity and the Role of Economic Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Freedom of expression subverted in Israel, US

Both the US Congress and Israel's Knesset have passed profoundly anti-democratic measures in recent months.

by William A. Cook
The French ship "Dignite al Karama" - trailed by Israeli ships above - was taken over by Israeli sailors in international waters, but many other boats in the so-called "Freedom Flotilla II" were prevented from leaving ports in Greece [EPA]
"The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public." (Human Rights Watch, "When Speech Offends", February-March 2006)
Contrary to Fox News and Benjamin Netanyahu, democracy is neither alive nor well in the United States and Israel. Indeed, it is dying a slow, agonising death as each nation writhes in pain in adjoining beds, unaware that the intravenous feeding tubes controlled by their respective Knessets drip poison into their life-sustaining veins. Israel's Haaretz newspaper, in the voice of Carlo Strenger, carries the warning:

"The flood of anti-democratic laws that were proposed, and partially implemented, by the current Knesset, elected in February 2009, constitute one of the darkest chapters in Israeli history. The opening salvo was provided by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party with its Nakba law, that forbids the public commemoration of the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war.

Since then, a growing number of attempts were made to curtail freedom of expression and to make life for human rights groups more difficult. The latest instance is the boycott law that (is) was passed (this) last Monday by the Knesset, even though its legal advisor believes it to be a problematic infringement on freedom of speech."

Curiously, the US does not have a newspaper as brave and open to civil discourse as Haaretz. Instead, we rely on the New York Times, infamous for promoting the Iraq war on its front page, thus benefiting the war industry and its corporations that control Congress. Yet Congress, like its twin in Israel, has adopted similar anti-democratic resolutions that curtail freedom of speech and action not only of American citizens, but also of the representatives of the United Nations.

Role of the United Nations

House Resolution 268, entitled "Reaffirming the United States commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations", was introduced on May 13, 2011 and passed by an overwhelming margin of 407-6.

The resolution specifically threatens the member states of the UN by condemning any "unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state" as well as the "unbalanced United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process." To accomplish this end, the resolution announces that "the Administration will veto any resolution for Palestinian statehood that comes before the United Nations Security Council", opposes recognition of a Palestinian state by other nations, and in other international forums and, in a Mafia-like manner, threatens the Palestinians with "serious implications" for assistance programmes should they not obey.

Resolution 268 condemns in advance any deliberation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by any nation, in any forum, that does not await an "agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians". Curiously enough, this same resolution states that the United States "will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas", a statement that prevents at the outset negotiations with the Palestinians, since Hamas represents over 1.5m Palestinians, thus belying the very purpose of the resolution, to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How deceptively clever.

The resolution also demands that Hamas and the people they represent accept unconditionally the position of the US and Israel that it renounce violence, recognise Israel and agree to follow the previous obligations of the PLO. There is no recognition of Israel's violence against Hamas or Gaza, nor recognition under international law that the Palestinians have rights to resist the occupation of a foreign nation.

Nor does the resolution impose on Israel a comparable stipulation to recognise the right of the Palestinians to have a state of their own. That would require that Israel recognise Palestine's existence, its borders, and the land that Israel must return to its rightful owners. The resolution makes no mention of the conditions imposed by Israel that made implementation of the Oslo Accords possible, nor does it mention Israel's rejection of the stipulations made by the Quartet - the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US - thus placing full blame for the failed "peace negotiations" on the Palestinians.

Resolution 268 dictates to the people of the world that their voices will not be heard, their desires not considered, and their empathy for a besieged people made irrelevant; only the will of the Israeli administration and the Obama administration will stand. In a calculated fashion, the resolution was passed while the Quartet met in Washington. The acid that destroys democracy drips on.

But Resolution 268 is only the most recent example of the erosion of our rights in the United States. It follows one of the most glaringly illegal and potentially destructive interventions in international affairs taken by a purportedly democratic state and fully supported by our own Knesset.

Israel's law

Israel's prevention of freedom of speech and action by the international group of peace activists desiring to express their solidarity with the imprisoned Palestinians in the second flotilla to Gaza, by coercing the economically crippled Greek government to refuse representatives from many countries to leave the Greek ports, graphically demonstrates that a government like Israel can and will enforce its will on any nation, thereby denying the rights of free people everywhere. This, despite the fact that the peace activists had complied with every legal demand.

As Human Rights Watch wrote in 2006:

"The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public. Freedom of expression is particularly necessary with respect to provocative or offensive speech, because once governmental censorship is permitted in such cases, the temptation is enormous for government officials to find speech that is critical of them to be unduly provocative or offensive as well.

The freedom to express even controversial points of view is also important for societies to address key political, social, and cultural issues, since taboos often mask matters of considerable public concern that are best addressed through honest and unfettered debate among those holding diverse points of view."

The full implications of Israel's takeover of the Greek government (with its conscious awareness that any action it took would be supported by our Congress) and hence its disregard for the will of the Greek citizen has been little regarded by our free press.

Yet perhaps nothing is so ominous as this blatant, hostile action by one foreign nation against another. What mindset permits Israel to impose its will on citizens of other nations? What provocation could possibly justify intervention of such magnitude? If Israel had evidence that the flotilla and its organisers were physical threats against the state of Israel, could they not bring that evidence before the UN and international courts to prevent the boats from sailing to Gaza? Why then the need to deny freedom of speech to citizens of many nations and commandeer another nation's government? Doesn't a democracy pride itself on rule of law?

Why, then, abandon law in favour of might? Again, in the words of Human Rights Watch: "The right to freedom of expression is…necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public".

The death of democracy

No nation on this planet, no member state of the United Nations, no individual citizen nor groups of citizens can change what Israel and the United States did to Greece and to freedom of speech. They move with impunity as they impose their wills on nations that disagree with their policies. Neither is ruled by their people; they are owned by an elite few who have surreptitiously over time taken control of our freedoms. Neither government is held accountable to the public.

Indeed, it is that very accountability that they do not want and cannot allow to happen, which is why both governments fear the "Arab spring". Given the absolute control of our Congress by Israel, as the vote on Resolution 268 exemplifies, the US has to raise the fear of terrorism in its citizenry to ensure compliance with the anti-democratic behaviour and policies it pursues. Israel does the same. Carlo Strenger puts it this way:

"What stands behind this frenzy of attempts to shut down criticism? The answer, I believe, is fear, stupidity, confusion - and now also a power-trip.

The result of Netanyahu's and Lieberman's systematic fanning of Israelis' existential fears is tangible: polls show that Israelis are deeply pessimistic about peace; they largely do not trust Palestinians, and in the younger generation belief in democratic values is being eroded.

But this pessimism and siege-mentality is not only to be found in ordinary Israeli voters, but also in the political class … They have profound misconceptions about the Free World's attitude towards Israel, and very little real understanding of the paradigm shift towards human rights as the core language of international discourse. They buy into Netanyahu's adage that Israel's existence is being delegitimised, rather than realising that Israel's settlement policy is unacceptable politically and morally to the whole world."

The US umbilical cord that sustains Israel's policies of occupation, settlements and oppression damns it before the world as people begin to find other ways to break the controls that US power provides for Israel. The flotilla activists effectively used moral sensibility to identify the illegality and inhumanity of Israel's siege of Gaza.

And while Israel successfully torpedoed the flotilla in Greek ports through a massive political propaganda campaign of manufactured lies, coercion and threats of lawsuits against shipping companies and insurance carriers, it also successfully torpedoed truth, turning even more of the world against a state that thrives on distortion, deception and devastation.

What both Israelis and Americans must realise, as these anti-democratic actions by both nations attest, is that democracy in both nations has been subverted in favour of those who command our representatives to actions that betray the essence of democracy and the will of the people. Democracy has been turned over to those who undermine the moral foundations on which it was built: equality for all, justice for all, dignity and respect for all; with government serving the people, not a corporate board. When the representatives of the state determine what people must accept, what they can and cannot do or say; when the power of two nations subverts the will and actions of all other nations, then democracy is dead.

William A. Cook, Ph.D., is a professor of English at the University of La Verne and the author of Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy; The Rape of Palestine; and The Plight of the Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

5 Jul 2011

Exclusive: Julian Assange of WikiLeaks & Philosopher Slavoj Žižek In Conversation With Amy Goodman

In one of his first public events since being held under house arrest, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in London Saturday for a conversation with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, moderated by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman. They discuss the impact of WikiLeaks on world politics, the release of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and Cablegate — the largest trove of classified U.S. government records in history. “From being inside the center of the storm, I have learned not just about the structure of government, not just about how power flows in many governments around the world that we’ve dealt with, but rather how history is shaped and distorted by the media,” Assange said. Assange also talks about his new defense team, as well as U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, the accused Army whistleblower who has been jailed for the past year. Assange is currently under house arrest in Norfolk, outside London, pending a July 12 appeals hearing on his pending extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual misconduct case. He has now spent six months under house arrest, despite not being charged with a crime in any country. Assange was wearing an ankle monitor under his boot and Saturday’s event concluded shortly after 6 p.m. so he could return to his bail address by his curfew. The event was sponsored by the Frontline Club, founded in part to remember journalists killed on the front lines of war. Today we play highlights from part one of their discussion. [Includes partial transcript]

4 Jul 2011

Is the Crisis of Capitalism Terminal?

by Leonardo Boff*

I believe the present crisis of capitalism is more than cyclical and structural. It is terminal. Are we seeing the end of the genius of capitalism, of always being able to adapt to any circumstance? I am aware that only few other people maintain this thesis. Two things, however, bring me to this conclusion.

The first is the following: the crisis is terminal because we all, but in particular capitalism, have exceeded the limits of the Earth. We have occupied and depredated the whole planet, destroying her subtle equilibrium and exhausting her goods and services, to the point that she alone can no longer replenish all that has been removed.

Already by mid XIX century, Karl Marx prophetically wrote that this tendency of capital would destroy the twin sources of its wealth and reproduction: nature and labor. That is what is happening now.

Especially in the last century, Nature was stressed as never before, including the 15 great disasters she experienced throughout her four billion year history. The verifiable, extreme, phenomena in every region, and the changes in the climate that tend towards ever increasing global warming, support Marx’s thesis. How can capitalism continue without Nature? It has reached an insurmountable limit.

Capitalism reduces, or eliminates, labor. There are great laborless inventions. A programmed and robotic production apparatus produces more and better, almost without labor. The direct consequence of this is structural unemployment.

Millions of people will never join the labor market, not even as a reserve army. Instead of depending on labor, capital is learning to do without it. Unemployment in Spain approaches 20% of the general population, and 40% of youth. In Portugal, it is 12% of the population, and 30% among the young. This results in a grave social crisis, like that which Greece is undergoing at this very moment. All of society is sacrificed in the name of an economy that is not designed to take care of human needs, but to pay the debts to the banks and the financial system. Marx is right: exploited labor is no longer the source of its wealth. The machine is.

The second reason is linked to the humanitarian crisis that capitalism is creating.

Before, it was limited to the peripheral countries. Now it is global, and it has reached the central countries. The economic question cannot be resolved by dismantling society. The victims, connected by new venues of communication, resist, revolt and threaten the present order. Ever more people, especially the young, reject the perverse capitalist political economic logic: the dictatorship of finance that, through the market, subjugates the States to its interests, and the profitability of speculative capital, that circulates from one stock market to another, reaping profits without producing anything at all, except more money for the stockholders.

Capital itself created the poison that could kill it: by demanding that its workers have ever greater technical training, to create accelerated growth and greater competitiveness, it unintentionally nurtured people who think. They are slowly learning the perversity of the system, that all but skins people alive in the name of pure material accumulation, and shows its heartlessness by demanding greater and greater efficiency, to the point of profoundly stressing the workers, pushing them to desperation, and in some cases, even to suicide, as has occurred in several countries, including Brazil.

The streets of several European and Arab countries, the “indignants” who fill the squares of Spain and Greece, are an expression of a rebellion against the current political system, controlled by the markets and the logic of capital. The young Spaniards shout: «it is not a crisis, it is theft.» The thieves are comfortably housed on Wall Street, in the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and in the Central European Bank. In other words, they are the high priests of the exploitative global capital.

As the crisis worsens, the multitudes who can no longer tolerate the consequences of the super exploitation of their lives and of the life of the Earth, will grow; and will revolt against the economic system that is in agony, not because it is old, but because of the strength of the poison and the contradictions it has created, punishing Mother Earth and afflicting the lives of her sons and daughters. (ALAI)

Editor’s Note: Leonardo Boff is a noted South American liberation theologian; the Earthcharter Commission. http://leonardoboff.com/ (Free translation from the Spanish sent by Melina Alfaro, Refugio del Rio Grande, Texas, EE.UU

1 Jul 2011

Inequality in China: Rural poverty persists as urban wealth balloons

As mighty China, the World economy's fibrilator, is celebrating its Commie Party's 90th anniversary, the remarkable progress of the Soon-to-Become No.1 cannot hide the great inequalities persisting in its corporate make-up, ever since "uncle Miltie" (aka Milton Friedman) taught them in the eighties, the means by which to cultivate a Corporate economy with a Communist face...

By Dr. Damian Tobin,
School of Oriental and African Studies
29 June 2011 Last updated at 22:36 GMT

The rapid growth of China's economy over the past three decades has been greeted with largely unquestioned assumptions that increasing affluence would lead to a happier, wealthier and more equitable society.

Many in China's rural provinces are left behind as urban wealth grows quickly

Of course, such assumptions came with an implicit acceptance that some would get rich faster, but also that these benefits would eventually trickle down.

The emergence of a middle class, combined with high levels of personal savings and low levels of personal debt, offers tantalising evidence of China's new-found wealth.

Yet, behind these headlines, there is compelling evidence that although economic growth has created vast wealth for some, it has amplified the disparities between rich and poor.

These disparities indicate an often hidden vulnerability in China's rapid growth, but one which is neither unique nor new to China's leadership.

Wealth Contradictions

One of the most fascinating contradictions of China's rapid growth under the auspices of the communist party has been the rapid emergence of private wealth.

The privatisation of state enterprises and the housing and social benefits that accompanied them, the re-zoning of rural land for industry, and a construction boom, created enormous possibilities for personal wealth.

The 2010 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report noted that these forms of wealth, which accounted for much of the $9,600 in real assets per adult in China, were extremely important forms of wealth creation.

But they also came at a cost.

The report showed that although the average wealth per Chinese citizen was $17,126 - almost double that of other high growth economies such as India - median wealth was just $6,327.
The latter suggests that wealth created has not been evenly distributed.

Such inequalities also highlight a contradiction in that although the monetisation of previously state-owned assets undoubtedly benefited many of China's emerging middle class, it ultimately came at a cost to the public who would now have to finance these goods and services out of personal savings.

Divide between urban and rural ...

The wealth data, although a less rigorous measure of inequality, is also reflected in more conventional measures of inequality.

China's cities are growing rapidly

In 2010, China's Gini-coefficient - a measure of how wealth is distributed in a society - stood at 0.47 (a value of 0 suggests total equality, a value of 1 extreme inequality).

In other words, inequality in China has now surpassed that in the United States, and surged through the 0.4 level in the mid-2000s.

A Gini-coefficient of 0.4 is generally regarded as the international warning level for dangerous levels of inequality.

Looking only at the data for the whole country, however, conceals the growing disparity between urban and rural areas.

Even after three decades of rapid growth China remains a very rural economy.

Despite the continued growth in urbanisation, some 50.3% of China's mainland population (or 674.15 million people) continue to live in rural areas.

In 2010, rural residents had an annual average per capita disposable income of 5,900 yuan ($898). That's less than a third of the average per capita disposable income of urban residents, which stood at 19,100 yuan ($2,900).

As the chart shows, the gap between urban disposable and net rural income has persistently widened since 1978.

... is getting larger

Disparities in income data are also reflected in household consumption patterns and the access those households have to basic consumer services.

The Engel coefficient, which measures how much of their income households have to spend on food, has been consistently higher for rural households.

Many cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, now have coefficients lower than 30, reflecting the vast differences between these cities and the rest of China.

These patterns are hardly surprising, given that rural households must necessarily spend a higher proportion of income on food.

It is also unsurprising, given that even as late as 2009 three of China's poorest provinces - Tibet, Yunnan and Sichuan - were identified by China's banking regulator as having more than 50 unbanked counties.

This meant that they lacked even basic access to financial services.

What is surprising is how different urban and rural households are when it comes to durable goods such as cars, washing machines and fridges, considered normal essentials for households in the developed world.


More worrying is that the above trends may conceal an emerging rural divide.

The rural Gini-coefficient increased from 0.35 to 0.38 between 2000 and 2010, suggesting growing inequality within rural areas.

Of particular concern is the large pool of migrant labour.

At the end of 2009, China had an estimated 229.8 million rural migrant workers, of which about 149 million are thought to work outside their registered home area.

The official average monthly wage for these workers, many of whom work in manufacturing and assembly, amounted to 1,417 yuan, though unofficial reports suggest many earn less that 1,000 yuan a month.

Moreover, because these migrants work outside their registered area, the low wage rates conceal enormous personal sacrifices, which include long working hours, poor housing conditions, and, most significantly, a loss in welfare benefits associated with the household registration system known as Hukou.

A price worth paying?

The question for China is whether the scale of such inequalities is a tolerable price of growth.

Much like in Romania, migrant workers are feeding China's economic boom, though some struggle to feed themselves
It is not a new question.
Even by 1978, urban per capita incomes were already growing at more than double the rate of rural farm incomes, and the post-1978 reforms appear to have further widened this gap.

It is clear that China's leadership has recognised how damaging such disparities can become in what is now the world's second-largest economy.

The government wants to lift some 40 million or so rural residents out of poverty; since 2004 it has worked to raise minimum wages for migrant workers, improve rural incomes through tax cuts and enforce labour contract law.

The Chinese leadership also tries to force labour-intensive and low-value added industries to move to rural areas.

Although such reforms have been described as a return to central planning or supply-side management, they suggest a recognition that the benefits of growth have not necessarily trickled down to Chinese society's poorest.

The Pursuit of Happiness: 2011

The founding mothers of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the US were socialists, activists who came from committees against its war in Vietnam.

"Tomorrow" by Eric Drooker. Visit the artist's website (www.drooker.com)

Yet, way before the advent of the neocon corporatist meta-narrative, the feminist movement would lose its vitality for a number of reasons some of which related to the dirty work done by CIA operatives, such as Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem at a news conference in January 1972. Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress

"Many were and still are shocked to see Steinem’s CIA connections. They have been kept from wide publication until recently and of course they were never seen on television. These facts were first unearthed in Ramparts magazine in March 1967, as part of a revelation of the CIA’s role in international youth festivals (“Who Paid the Piper”). They were followed by later revelations in The Village Voice in 1979, which exposed Steinem’s particular role within the CIA and the Women’s Movement (“Inside the CIA with Gloria Steinem” by Nancy Borman, May 21, 1979). Steinem’s voice was never the only voice in the feminist movement. However, her rich funding and expertise combined with our naïveté to blunt the impact of class awareness and power for the mass of U.S. women."

Our Forgotten Tradition

by Paul Buhle
May 27, 2011

Just when the confused and often deeply troubled relation of those two global subjects, “United States” and “socialism,” seemed to disappear — and not for the first time — the New Right warned against the dark threat of Obamist socialism, whatever that meant to the likes of Glenn Beck. John Nichols, Nation magazine editorial board member, columnist, and political savant on MSNBC’s Ed Show, cleverly seizes the advantage. Socialism, contrary to generations of conservative (often also, liberal) propagandizing, may not be un-American after all.

Way back in the 1880s, when the socialist movement in Germany was gathering new members by the thousands, German immigrants in the United States, among many other observers, wondered why the most industrially advanced country in the world had so few enrolled socialists. Vulgar answers were offered immediately and have been recycled ever since: what would Americans — prosperous, fat, happy, and individualistic — want with cooperative, fund-sharing doctrines when any one of them might become a millionaire?

Of course, that might not be the whole story. The United States long held the dubious distinction of having the largest difference between the best-paid and the worst-paid sections of the working class, to which we can intelligently add the lower-middle class. Waves of new immigrants working the worst jobs found themselves alongside or only just higher than the large population of nonwhites. Railroad magnate Jay Gould swore (or was it a barbarous jest?) that he could hire half the working class to kill the other half if he wanted. Socialist movements demanded a sense of solidarity that has been rare enough, even among the various ethnic Catholic blue-collar groups — the classic European socialist recruits — let alone industrial workers in general.

And that’s not the whole story of socialism in America, anyway, by a long shot. Socialist ideas first rooted on this side of the ocean among utopians, in their mostly short-lived communities (the religious-based ones lasted longer), and then among free-thinking German escapees from the failed 1848 Revolution, who had in mind ethics as much as economics. John Nichols’s version seeks to revive this aspect for anyone who sees U.S. society heading toward a crash of social services, ecological stability, and all else that makes American life decent and livable.

In his version, socialists don’t necessarily need to call their version “socialism,” and frequently have not. Thus he begins with Emma Lazarus, not Emma Goldman, and proceeds to Walt Whitman, who in old age considered himself “more radical than the radicals” but left it to his protégé, the half-Jewish Horace Traubel, to become intimate friends with Eugene V. Debs and publish a socialist weekly for decades in Philadelphia. Nichols’s point is that really egalitarian ideas borrow from the socialist framework and have enriched that framework, as those ideas have proved necessary across the generations. Naomi Klein, Laura Flanders, Gore Vidal, and Bill Moyers — their praise for the book spread across the back cover — second Nichols’s nomination of this provocative view.

Nichols declines any straightforward chronological argument. We find ourselves jumping from Tom Paine and Abraham Lincoln to Norman Thomas (“Mr. Socialism” during the 1930s-40s, with almost a million votes for his presidency in 1932), and for contrast, Glenn Beck, whose ignorance about Paine and Lincoln is as staggering as his chutzpah. Lovers of nineteenth-century history will find a further catalogue of favorite great hearts, Frances “Fanny” Wright to George Henry Evans, Horace Greeley to Frederick Douglass.

A poster from Debs's 1904 presidential campaign. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Then, as befits a seventh-generation Wisconsinite, Nichols turns to the former social-democratic republic of Milwaukee, where even the giant beer-brewers were sure to advertise in the socialistic daily paper and open their factories to Socialist Party lunchtime speakers. At the high point of the Socialist Party, Indiana native Debs ran with Milwaukee machinist Emil Seidel, and together they garnered 6 percent of the vote, quite an accomplishment against the financial as well as patronage power of the two parties and the hatred of socialism preached from churches (less often from synagogues). Socialists brought good, honest government to Milwaukee, fine planning, clean water, efficient hospitals, healthy beaches, and excellent public education. The experiment spread to more cities and towns (mostly places where the middle class was small, certain ethnic groups prominent) than most Americans would think. Then it was cut short by the impending bloodbath that socialists opposed with bravery and perhaps a touch of foolhardiness: the First World War. The federal government, under noted liberal (and brutally racist native Southerner) Woodrow Wilson rigorously repressed them, and the socialists never really recovered.

But as Nichols goes to great pains to point out, they still had really good ideas. Norman Thomas, once a household name, is now largely forgotten, and the effort to bring him back here is admirable. More difficult but more important to Nichols is the saga of Michael Harrington, whose best-selling exposé, The Other America, inspired the Kennedy administration’s War On Poverty, and more indirectly, LBJ’s “Good Society.”

Here, a real problem disguised up to the 1950s sneaks into the argument unbidden. After the Second World War, influential advocates for social change felt compelled to couch their arguments in the language of an Americanism against outside threats, almost a natural extension of New Deal arguments during the Second World War, but with a dangerous twist. The military-industrial-complex, as Eisenhower named the phenomenon, added union jobs, a kind of racial integration took place through an unprecedented expansion of the standing military force, and Michael Harrington’s political companion (as well as drinking buddy) was ferocious Cold Warrior Daniel Patrick Moynihan, intellectually best known for attributing the poverty of African-Americans to the absence of strong father figures. In other words, prominent socialists (most often, influential liberals of a socialistic bent) seemed to premise the idea of a better America on Pax Americana, with few apologies for past wrongs against non-whites.

Michael Harrington, the real hero of this book in at least its final chapters, valiantly tried to move beyond these limitations, and by the mid-term elections of 1976, seemed to win a large bloc of the Democratic party to the “Swedish Alternative,” an egalitarian world policy combined with stronger social benefits at home. The erstwhile supporters of George McGovern were beaten back by Demo-hawks, even before Ronald Reagan assumed the historic task of rolling back the New Deal gains. And “economic reform” came to mean the opposite of its original intent: hereafter, it meant elevating the wealthy and comfortable at the expense of the poor, with the considerable support of Democrats, and naturally raising the Pentagon budget to hitherto unimagined heights.

Nichols makes a strong and effective argument that we are nearing the end of this particular road. The East Bloc fell in 1990 and despite China, and despite Iran, no Monsters Abroad, armed with what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in one of his nuttier Cold War moments described as a “demonic faith” (no, Islam is not the Devil Religion that Glenn Beck suggests), will take its place. Democrats, reduced to a money-machine organization with an ideology to match, have brought historic liberalism to something like its end point. Now we need alternatives.

Would we call those alternatives socialist? At a moment when the Right regards every measure of public safety, protection of the water supplies, even the presence of Social Security and public (oops, “government”) schools, as manifestations of demonic socialism, perhaps the word and the larger idea can be reclaimed. Me, I like the nineteenth-century phrase (used as a title by an early and popular socialist tract) the “Cooperative Commonwealth.” I want to live in one of these and so, I am sure, does the remarkable journalist and TV personality John Nichols.

Paul Buhle, from Madison, Wisconsin, is retired from Brown University and produces nonfiction comics.

'War on terror' set to surpass cost of Second World War

By Rupert Cornwell, in Washington

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The total cost to America of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the related military operations in Pakistan, is set to exceed $4 trillion – more than three times the sum so far authorised by Congress in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.

Click HERE to view graphic (101 kb)

This staggering sum emerges from a new study by academics at the Ivy-league Brown University that reveals the $1.3 trillion officially appropriated on Capitol Hill is the tip of a spending iceberg. If other Pentagon outlays, interest payments on money borrowed to finance the wars, and the $400bn estimated to have been spent on the domestic "war on terror", the total cost is already somewhere between $2.3 and $2.7 trillion.
And even though the wars are now winding down, add in future military spending and above all the cost of looking after veterans, disabled and otherwise and the total bill will be somewhere between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion.

The report by Brown's Watson Institute for International Studies is not the first time such astronomical figures have been cited; a 2008 study co-authored by the Harvard economist Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, a former Nobel economics laureate, reckoned the wars would end up costing over $3 trillion. The difference is that America's financial position has worsened considerably in the meantime, with a brutal recession and a federal budget deficit running at some $1.5 trillion annually, while healthcare and social security spending is set to soar as the population ages and the baby boomer generation enters retirement.

Unlike most of America's previous conflicts moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan have been financed almost entirely by borrowed money that sooner or later must be repaid.

The human misery is commensurate. The report concludes that in all, between 225,000 and 258,000 people have died as a result of the wars. Of that total, US soldiers killed on the battlefield represent a small fraction, some 6,100. The civilian death toll in Iraq is put at 125,000 (rather less than some other estimates) and at up to 14,000 in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, no reliable calculation can be made.

Even these figures however only scratch the surface of the suffering, in terms of people injured and maimed, or those who have died from malnutrition or lack of treatment. "When the fighting stops, the indirect dying continues," Neta Crawford, a co-director of the Brown study, said. Not least, the wars may have created some 7.8 million refugees, roughly equal to the population of Scotland and Wales.

What America achieved by such outlays is also more than questionable. Two brutal regimes, those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, have been overturned while al-Qa'ida, the terrorist group that carried out 9/11, by all accounts has been largely destroyed - but in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is democracy exactly flourishing, while the biggest winner from the Iraq war has been America's arch-foe Iran.

Osama bin Laden and his henchmen probably spent the pittance of just $500,000 on organising the September 2001 attacks, which killed 3,000 people and directly cost the US economy an estimated $50bn to $100bn. In 2003, President George W Bush proclaimed that the Iraq war would cost $50bn to $60bn. Governments that go to war invariably underestimate the cost – but rarely on such an epic scale.

If the Brown study is correct, the wars that flowed from 9/11 will not only have been the longest in US history. At $4 trillion and counting, their combined cost is approaching that of the Second World War, put at some $4.1 trillion in today's prices by the Congressional Budget Office.


Yet, this should really come as no surprise, if one considers that only providing the American armies invading Afghanistan and Iraq with air-conditioning for their tents costs a staggering US$ 20 "billions" i.e. "milliards" to you and me...

BBC Radio 4
US military's $20bn air con bill

The US military's bill for air-conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan each year is about $20bn - about a third of the entire UK defence budget.

Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson, who used to be chief logistician for General Petraeus in Iraq, explains the reasons behind the massive cost of keeping cool...