Article 43

 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

American Implosion

image: dying america

The Final Stage of Collapse and the Institutionalization of Mass Violence

By Umair
Eudaimonia
October 30, 2018

Consider three events from the last two weeks in America. Fascists beat people on the streets of Manhattan. An organized campaign of mass political bombing, by an ardent member of an authoritarian movement, was thwarted just in time. And yet that very same authoritarian movement, expressing no remorse, let alone culpability, began to demonize refugees approaching the border as a caravan packed with mafias and terrorists - precisely the kind of delusion that had probably inspired the bomber.

American collapse is becoming American implosion, my friends. How so? As always, you are to judge, and I will simply state my case.

A decade or so ago, I used to point out - or at least try to - that America was a failing state. Now the pundits, cosseted in their bubbles, neatly swaddled in the safety blankets of ideology = a little more cruelty, it’s good for everyone, laughed and cried: “failing! LOL” how!? “Get a grip, dude!ʔ Yet even then, if you cared enough to look, you could see, very clearly even then, the problems that would lead directly to American collapse. Skyrocketing inequality, a struggling middle, shrinking real incomes, failing public institutions of every kind, a long history of tribalism, seemingly no escape from all the preceding - hence, a growing sense of despair, rage, and frustration, a catastrophic loss of trust in institutions, faith in the future, and optimism for society. Bang! A perfect, classic, setup for social collapse. Itגs not that Im some kind of oracle by any means - its that I was one of a handful of people who bothered to look up at the gathering dust. I wondered, in fact, why more didn’t. But I digress.

And then America did collapse. Funnily enough, ironically enough, when no one thought it would or even could. In three precise ways, which is what Id always meant by American collapse. Society collapsed structurally, into a place where the middle was a minority, and mobility and opportunity were things of the past. The economy collapsed from one that offered something like a dream, to one in which 80% of people live paycheck to paycheck, will never retire, exploited mercilessly, and just as cleverly, by the very capitalism they go on believing in faithfully and cheering for. Hence, as a result, the polity collapsed, too - from something like a barely-democracy, to one which didn’t function at all, as extremists took it over, and began the project of regress, stonewalling, paralyzing, and jamming up the gears of an already sputtering machine. System failure wham!! crash.

In such a society, there is only one route left - each stratum, each caste, must prey on the one below it, punching it down further, for the illusion of prosperity to appear. Bang! Already, perhaps you see the problem: now, such a society is descending into the abyss. There is nowhere to go but lower when everyone is pulling the next now down a little further. Where is the bottom, exactly?

This is the demagogues moment. “It’s their fault! Those dirty Jews, Mexicans, Muslims, those women, those gays!” That much is the story of the last decade, and its culmination, which was the election of a demagogue’s social collapse becoming a grim reality, without often fully or consciously understanding, really, that it is collapsing, or why, or even how. Only desperately trying to survive it. I’ll come back to that.

All this was the story of the last few years in America. But now collapse is becoming something different. It is approaching its final and terminal phase, which is implosion. Let me be precise in what I mean by that. A society collapses socially, politically, and economically - from an open society into a caste society, from democracyגs fundamental goods of equality, justice, freedom, and truth, into authoritarianism’s bads, of hate, spite, paranoia, lies, rage, vice, and from prosperity into predation.

But what comes next?

What comes next, my friends, is the institutionalization - the formalization, if you like, of all those things. And that is the final stage of collapse. When a society has built institutions which pervert democracy, and enshrine and formalize authoritarianism, fascism, and so on, then the work of collapse is done. Society is reborn now - from light into darkness - as a blind, keening thing, screaming for blood. It is just a knife, a gun, a fist now - a system of violence. But I will come to all that.

Democracy offers us the great primary goods above - which are the most valuable ones of all. Authoritarianism offers us, in their place, corresponding bads. It tells us to prey on our neighbours and peers and colleagues and friends - and in that way, to define ourselves as members of the tribe, who are the protected ones, or the true volk, or the party members. It tells us to give up on freedom, justice, equality, and truth, and instead seek spite, rage, hate, fear, and lies - often, so much so that collapsing societies come to call the latter the former  as the primary aims of society, of culture, of an economy, and, of course, the lives within them.

Now instead of institutions which enshrine and promote democracy’s great goods of equality, freedom, truth, equality and justice, a society begins to build new institutions, which produce authoritarian bads - spite, hate, rage, fear, paranoia, lies - instead. How do they produce them? The same way institutions always do. By incentivizing them economically, socially, and culturally. By creating rules, codes, and laws, which punish their nonproduction. By creating values which normalize - spread, promote, and glamorize them - culturally. By creating role models of fine young Nazis, for example, who are profiled in august newspapers. By impressing upon peoples minds that this is who we are now, and this is what we have become.

Let me give you a specific example of what I mean by ғinstitutions of implosion. Today, courts try little infants from certain ethnic groups as if they were vicious criminals. It violates every principles of reason and civilization, doesnԒt it? But why  what is it an example of? Such a court is an implosive institutions, which enshrines ח codifies, legalizes  the bads of hate, spite, delusion, paranoia, and fear.

Now, it’s true that there are always dissidents and resistances and even freedom fighters. Alas, my friends, one of the most misunderstood components of social implosion is that it rarely takes an active, loud, participant majority. It only takes a minority of fanatics - and a majority who is too weary, too apathetic, too resigned, or too foolish, perhaps - to act before it is too late.

When is too late? When the new institutions of implosion have arisen. So what too late means is that by the time such institutions have come to replace enough of a democracy’s institutions, then the game is over. When the courts, the government, the libraries, the polices, and the armies, as an incomplete list, have all been infiltrated, changed, transformed - from agents of democracy, to agents of authoritarianism - then what is there left not just to fight for, but more crucially, to fight with? This, my friends, is why it has never really taken a majority to implode a society - just a minority of committed enough fools.

The problem is that America has had those in spades, and still does. The Newts and Jeff Flakes and Ben Sasses. Men who abjure but do not reject, who are alarmed, but will not act. They do not seem to understand that complicity is not the just the action of bad people, but the inaction of good people, too - and much more so, where and when it matters most. America’s minority of fools led it to the cliffs of collapse, and now it is pushing it off the cliffs of implosion.

Remember my three examples? Lets go through them to understand how badly institutions in America have already been perverted and corroded from democratic to authoritarianism.

When the fascist gang beat people on the Manhattan streets, the police were right there. In Manhattan, they are never more than a block away, really and in this instance, apparently, they stood there - watching. When the would-be mass bomber began to issue threats on Twitter, users reported him - but no action was taken. Then he was suspended - after he was arrested. LOL. And a caravan of refugees - which is to say a few hundred souls seeking refuge - is demonized as a criminal gang full of terrorists daily by some large component of the media, the intelligentsia, and the polity.

How many institutions is that, in just those three examples? You can judge for yourself. The point is that all this is the institutionalization of violence. And while its true in a sophomoric grad-school way to say - but a society always institutionalizes violence, dude! (yes, we all know that - wisdom is understanding there is a world of difference between a system that minimizes some necessary level of violence, so that the the public good is safeguarded, and one that maximizes violence, which trickles down in great waves, from caste to caste, from tribe to tribe, so that there is no longer any public good. One is democratic, and the other, fascist, to speak plainly.

The point is that many, perhaps the majority, of America’s institutions are now beginning the process of institutionalizing authoritarianism’s bads - hate, spite, rage, delusion, lies, paranoia, fear. They are institutionalizing violence - rewarding people for it, whether economically, socially, culturally, professionally, and punishing those, of course, who receive it. So by implosion, I mean the institutionalization of violence.

And when that process begins, it is often both unstoppable, and far swifter and more deadly than people realize. Soon enough, the brownshirts and death squads and morality police stroll down the streets, caning and beating those who look them in the eye. Soon enough people cheer publicly - even if they are disgusted on the inside - when the knives cut and the guns fire on the helpless, powerless, and weak.

Soon enough, a society is just a gun, just a knife, just a fist. Just violence, conducted over and over again, daily, by the mindless against the powerless, at the behest of the powerful. Violence which is ecstatically ritualized, celebrated, and applauded, whose rituals serve the purpose, of checking for and enforcing every last bit of absolute conformity in habit and in thought. Conformity, submission, obedience. To hate, to delusion, to the lie. The lie that is always violence. For the moment we see the truth of another, their grief, their sorrow, their mortality, we do not wish to harm them, do we? We take them in our arms, like a brother, like a mother, like a father. We only harm them when all we see is a monster, an infection, a stain, something to be rubbed away and cleansed, before it infects us, too. Should we think that then we have become what the fascist wanted all along to reduce us to: the gun, the knife, the fist.

Ah you see? You just thought it didn’t you? Don’t be ridiculous!! It can’t happen here!  Ah, my friend. You poor soul. But hasn’t it been, all long? Vote, then, vote, as if your life depends on it. It does only maybe you dont know it yet.

SOURCE

---

image: third world

Americas Next Civil War
The United States shows all the warning signs of impending social and political collapse

By Stephen Marche
The Walrus
October 29, 2018

Everyone in Canada with any power has the same job. It doesn’t matter if you’re prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, or premier of Alberta; it doesn’t matter if you’re the mayor of a small town or a CEO of a major company, if you run a cultural institution or a mine. Canadians with any power at all have to predict whats going to happen in the United States. The American economy remains the world’s largest; its military spending dwarfs every other country’s; its popular culture, for the moment, dominates. Canada sits in America’s shadow. Figuring out what will happen there means figuring out what we will eventually face here. Today, that job means answering a simple question: What do we do if the US falls apart?

American chaos is already oozing over the border: the trickle of refugees crossing after Trumps election has swollen to a flood; a trade war is underway, with a US trade representative describing Canada as “a national security threat;” and the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known openly praises authoritarians as he attempts to dismantle the international postwar order. The US has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and scorned the bedrock NATO doctrine of mutual defence. Meanwhile, the imperium itself continues to unravel: the administration is launching a ԓdenaturalization task force to potentially strip scores of immigrants of their US citizenship, and voter purges = the often-faulty processes of deleting ineligible names from registration listsare on the rise, especially in states with a history of racial discrimination. News of one disaster after another keeps up its relentless pace but nonetheless shocks everybody. If you had told anyone even a year ago that border guards would be holding children in detention centres, no one would have believed you.

We have been naive. Despite our obsessive familiarity with the States, or perhaps because of it, we have put far too much faith in Americans. So ingrained has our reliance on America been, we are barely conscious of our own vulnerability. About 20 percent of Canadaגs GDP comes from exports to the United Statesitגs a trade relationship that generates 1.9 million Canadian jobs. This dependence is even clearer when it comes to oilsomething the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will ship our natural resources to global markets, could remedy. The fact that the premier of British Columbia tried to stall the project in a show of regional power is a sign of a collective failure to recognize how perilous our position is. Ninety-nine percent of our oil exports go to a single customer. And that customer is in a state of radical instability. According to a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports, 31 percent of likely US voters anticipate a second civil war in the next five years.

We misunderstood who the Americans were. To be fair, so did everybody. They themselves misunderstood who they were. Barack Obama’s presidency was based on what we will, out of politeness, call an illusion, an illusion of national unity articulated most passionately during Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there’s the United States of America.” It was a beautiful vision. It was an error. There is very much a red America and a blue America. They occupy different societies with different values, and the political parties are emissaries of those differences - differences that are increasingly irreconcilable.

Many Canadians operate as if this chaos were temporary, mainly because the collapse of the United States and the subsequent reorientation of our place in the world are ideas too painful to contemplate. But, by now, the signs have become impossible to ignore. The job of prediction, as impossible as it may be, is at hand.

After the midterms, special counsel Robert Mueller presents his report to the deputy attorney general, and America is thrown into immediate crisis.

Congressional committees call a parade of witnesses who describe the president’s collusion and obstruction of justice in detail. The Republicans respond on television and through public rallies. Rudolph Giuliani, on Fox & Friends, declares that “flipped witnesses are generally not truth-telling witnesses.” Trump airily waves away the Mueller report at a rally for 100,000 supporters in Ohio: “I’m going to pardon everyone anyway, so its all a waste of taxpayer dollars.” A ProPublica survey shows Americans are divided on impeachment.

Since the Republican base remains overwhelmingly supportive of the president, the House Republicans, arguing the need for national unity,Ӕ do not vote for impeachment, which requires a majority in the House. The vote then goes to the Senate, where Republicans refuse to remove Trump from office. Mueller presses instead for an indictment. There is no legal precedent for indicting a sitting president.

The case proceeds to a federal judge overseeing a grand jury and then eventually to the Supreme Court, which has been tipped rightward with Trump nominees. The court rules that the president cannot be indicted. Protests fill the streets of Washington, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Polls vary. Somewhere around 40 percent of Americans believe the government is legitimate. Somewhere around 60 percent do not.

Steven Webster is a leading US scholar of “affective polarization,” the underlying trend that explains the partisan hatred tearing his country apart. In 2016, he and his colleague Alan Abramowitz published the paper “The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization of U.S. elections in the 21st century,” which was one of the first attempts to track the steady growth of the mutual dislike between Republicans and Democrats.

Affective polarization is a crisis that transcends Trump. If Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election, the underlying threat to American stability would be as real as it is today. Each side - divided by negative advertising, social media, and a primary system that encourages enthusiasm over reason - pursues ideological purity at any cost because ideological purity is increasingly the route to power. Abramowitz runs a forecasting model that has correctly predicted every presidential election since 1992. After he modified his model in 2012 to take into account the impact of growing partisan polarization, it projected a Trump victory in 2016 - and Abramowitz rejected the results. That should be a testament to the power of the model; it traced phenomena even its creator didn’t want to believe. Nobody wants to see whats coming.

Webster describes a terrible spiralling effect in action in the US. Anger and distrust make it very difficult to go about the business of governing, which leads to ineffective government, which reinforces the anger and distrust. “Partisans in the electorate don’t like each other,” he says. That encourages political elites to bicker with one another. “People in the electorate observe that. And that encourages them to bicker with one another.” The past few decades have led to “ideological sorting,” which means that the overlap between conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans has more or less disappeared, eliminating the political centre.

But its the people in the parties, not just the ideas in the parties, that have changed. “There’s a really big racial divide between the two parties,” says Webster. The nonwhite share of the American electorate has been increasing tremendously over the last few decades, and most of those voters have chosen to affiliate with the Democratic Party. What worries Webster isn’t that the Republican Party remains vastly whiter than the Democratic Party, which, in turn, has become more multicultural - though that’s happened. The real source of the crisis is that white Republicans have become more intolerant about the country’s growing diversity. According to the PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey, half of Republicans agree that increased racial diversity would bring a mostly “negative” impact to American society. During the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush years, there really wasn’t as much of a difference between the racial attitudes of white people in both parties. “That’s no longer true. During the Obama era, if you look at just white Republicans, 64 percent scored high on the racial-resentment scale. For white Democrats, it was around 35 percent,” says Webster, who analyzed data from the American National Election Studies. The Republican Party has become the party of racial resentment. If it seems easier for Americans to see the other side as distinct from themselves, that’s because it is.

The loathing just keeps growing. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats declared the opposing party’s policies a threat to the nations well-being - up from 37 and 31 percent, respectively, in 2014. Political adversaries regard each other as un-American; they regard the others media, whether Fox News or the New York Times, as poison or fake news. A sizable chunk also don’t want their children to marry members of the opposing party. A lot of people say, “What would happen if there were a very independent-minded candidate, a third-party candidate with no partisan label, who would come and unite America?” Webster says. “That is absolutely not going to happen.” In surveys, independents seem to make up a large percentage, but if you press those self-identified independents on their voting behaviour, they look just like strong partisans. Abramowitzs own analysis of the 2008 election suggests that only about 7 percent of American voters are truly independent in that they don’t lean toward one party or the other.

America is becoming two Americas, Americas which hate each other. If the Democrats represent a multicultural country grounded in the value of democratic norms, then the Republicans represent a white country grounded in the sanctity of property. The accelerating dislike partisans feel for the other side - the quite correct sense that they are not us - means that political rhetoric will fly to more and more dangerous extremes. In September 2016, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin gave a speech at the Values Voter Summit in which he openly speculated about violence if Hillary Clinton were elected: “Whose blood will be shed?” he asked. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren.” More recently, Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official, wrote that “it was quite near time” for Trump supporters to kill Trump opponents (the blog post has since been deleted).

Such explicit calls for violence are being driven by a “dynamic of othering” that, once started, might not be easily stopped - except by disaster. “I don’t see an optimistic scenario here,” Webster acknowledges.

the man who assassinates the president uses a .50-calibre Barrett rifle with armour-piercing incendiary ammunition. He purchased it legally at a gun show.

The assassins note, posted on Facebook the moment after the assassination, amounts to a manifesto, but it’s nothing Americans havent heard before. He quotes Thomas Jefferson, about the tree of liberty refreshed by the blood of patriots. He compares the president to Hitler. “People say that if they had a time machine they would go back and remove the monsters of history,” he writes. “I realized that there is a time machine. Its called the present and a gun.”

The assassination of the president leads, at first, to a great deal of public hand wringing. On social media, the assassins heroism is suggested and then outright celebrated. Within a month, the assassin’s face appears on T-shirts at rallies.

The assassination is used as a pretext for increasing executive power, just as in the aftermath of September 11. Americans broadly accept the massive curtailing of civil rights and a dramatic increase in the reach of the surveillance state as the price of security.

Scott Gates is an American who lives in Norway, where he studies conflict patterns at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. His work has been devoted to political struggles in the developing world, where most of the civil wars happen. He now sees that his research has applications at home. The question for the US, as it is for every other country nearing the precipice, is whether civil society is strong enough to hold back the ferocious violence of its politics. Gates isnt entirely sure on that point anymore.

Democracies are built around institutions that are larger than partisan struggle; they survive on the strength of them. The delegitimization of national institutions :almost inevitably leads to chaos,” Gates says, citing Trump’s constant attacks on the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system as typical of societies headed toward political collapse, as happened in Venezuela under Hugo Chvez. The Supreme Court has already been the engine of its own invalidation. Since the ideologically divided Bush v. Gore ruling which decided the 2000 election, the Supreme Court no longer represents transcendent interests of national purpose. Trust in the Supreme Court, according to a recent Gallup poll, is split sharply along partisan lines, with 72 percent of Republicans reporting approval compared to 38 percent of Democrats. Mitch McConnell’s decision to make the appointment of a Supreme Court justice an election issue in 2018ᒗan appointment that will likely not get the support of a single Democratic senator - is an example of a political institution being converted into a token in a zero-sum game, exactly the kind of decision that has played a part in destabilizing smaller, poorer countries. Once the norm has been shattered, it becomes difficult to glue back together.

In a sense, the crisis has already arrived. Only the inciting incident is missing. In December 1860, the fifteenth president of the United States, James Buchanan, believed he was offering a compromise between proslavery and antislavery groups in his State of the Union address, but his remarks preceded the Civil War by four months. His declaration - that secession was unlawful but that he couldn’t constitutionally do anything about it - became the moment when America split and the war was inevitable.

Few American institutions now seem capable of providing acceptably impartial arbitration - not the Supreme Court, not the Department of Justice, not the FBI. The only institution in American life still seen as being above politics is the military, which, according to a 2018 Gallup survey, is the most trusted institution in the country, with 74 percent of Americans expressing confidence in it. No surprise: the worship of the armed forces has been ingrained into ordinary American life since the Iraq War. Not so much as a baseball game can happen in the US without a celebration of a soldier. Members of the military are even given priority boarding on major US airlines.

If civil order were threatened, could America look to the troops to step in? In 2017, about 25 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans said they would consider it דjustified if the military intervened in a situation where the country faced rampant crime or corruption. In an article in Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks, previously a counsellor to the US undersecretary of defence for policy and a senior adviser at the US State Department, could imagine ԓplausible scenarios where military leaders would openly defy an order from Trump.

A coup would hardly be unprecedented, in global terms: in Chile, in the 1970s, a democracy in place for decades devolved into winner-take-all hyperpartisan politics until the military imposed tranquilidad. But even the armed forces might not be enough of a power to stabilize the United States. There is a huge gap between enlisted troops and officers when it comes to politics. According to a poll conducted by the Military Times, a news source for service members, almost 48 percent of enlisted troops approve of Trump, but only about 30 percent of officers do. It appears that the American military is as divided as the country.

Would a coup even work? The American military hasn’t been particularly good at pacifying other countries civil wars. Why would it be any good at pacifying its own?

There are trends - which no country can escape, or that few have escaped, anyway - that forecast the likelihood of civil conflict.

A 2014 study from Anirban Mitra and Debraj Ray, two economics professors based in the UK and US respectively, examined the motivations underlying Hindu-Muslim violence in India, where Hindus are the dominant majority and Muslims one of the disadvantaged minorities. The two professors found that דan increase in per capita Muslim expenditures generates a large and significant increase in future religious conflict. An increase in Hindu expenditures has a negative or no effect.

That suggests revolution is not like the communist prophets of the nineteenth century believed it would be, with the underclass rising up against their oppressors. ItԒs sometimes the oppressors who revolt. In the case of India, according to Mitra and Rays research, riots start at the times and in the places when and where the Muslims are gaining the most relative to the Hindus. Violence protects status in a context of declining influence.

ғA very similar pattern of resentment can be seen in the US right now, Gates tells me. The white working-class community perceives its position in life as worsening. ԓAt the same time, he says, ԓthe Latino community and the black community have been improving their status, relative to where they were. In other words, white resentment doesnԒt necessarily reflect actual changes in financial well-being as much as frustration in the face of minorities making significant gains. And, as status dwindles, the odds of violence increase. Gates points to the bloody Charlottesville rally as the kind of flashpoint fuelled in part by a sense of aggrieved white diminishment.

We can track the destabilizing effect of threatened status in other conflicts around the world. A struggle between ethnic groups losing and gaining privilege contributed, in varying degrees, to the brutality between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1990s and to the earlier Biafran War in Nigeria.

There are deeper anxieties and more troubling visions for anyone whose job is to predict where America is headed. For the really scary stuff, you have to go to Robert McLeman, who studies migration patterns and climate change at Waterloos Wilfrid Laurier University. HeҒs got a kind of cheerful and upbeat way of describing the spread of total chaos thats disarming.

Climate change can bring about political chaos, in large part through migration. ғMilitary people call it a threat multiplier, McLeman tells me. Usually, migration is the last resort, a response to changes that are unpredictable and unexpected. So Bangladesh, to take an example, will typically not experience mass migration because of flood, because people in that region have been dealing with floods for thousands of years. But a drought could cause a serious crisis, causing waves of migration into India.

As its departure from the Paris climate agreement clarified, America is barely able to face the fact that climate change exists, never mind able to come up with effective strategies to accommodate itself to the reality it is already facing. In 2012, a hot and dry year in the US, soy bean, sorghum, and corn yields were down as much as 16 percent. And, because the country is a major producer of commodity crops, the drought pushed up food prices at home and globally. There are a lot more 2012s coming. And, of course, America is utterly unprepared for the vastly less predictable catastrophes of climate-change extremes, as New Orleans and Puerto Rico have both learned to their destruction.

Most worrying to McLeman is the fact that American populations are growing in the areas that are most vulnerable to unpredictable catastrophes. They include coastal New York, coastal New Jersey, Florida, coastal Louisiana, the Carolinas, the Valley of the Sun, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. Many Central Americans who were separated from their children at the American border were fleeing gangs and political instability, but they were also fleeing drought. ԓEnvironmentally related migration already happensweגre just seeing the thin edge of the wedge right now, McLeman says. Get used to refugees at the Canadian border. There may be more of them.

All right, you say, there are conditions that lead to civil war: hyperpartisanship, the reduction of politics to a zero-sum game, the devastation of law and national institutions in the context of environmentally caused mass migration, and the relative decline of a privileged group. Fine. But when you land at JFK and line up for Shake Shack, where are the insurgents? Then again, in other countries and in other times, itԒs never been clear, at least at first, whether a civil war is really underway. Confusion is a natural state at the beginning of any collapse. Who is a rebel and who is a bandit? Who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist? The line between criminality and revolution blurred in Mexico, in Cuba, and in Ireland. The technical definition of a civil war is 1,000 battle deaths a year. Armed conflict starts at twenty-five battle deaths a year. What if America is already in an armed conflict and we just haven’t noticed? What if we just haven’t noticed because were not used to uprisings happening in places where there’s Bed Bath & Beyond?

If there is an insurgency-in-waiting, it will likely be drawn from the hundreds of antigovernment groups across the country, many of which were readying for civil war in 2016 in the event of a Hillary Clinton presidency. One of the most extreme examples is an ideological subculture made up of “sovereign citizens,” who believe that citizens are the sole authority of law. Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been researching them for nearly eight years. Its been a terrifying eight years. A 2011 SPLC report pegged the number of the sovereign citizens, a mix of hard-core believers and sympathizers, at 300,000. The movement, Lenz believes, has grown significantly since then.

To put that in perspective, the Weather Underground was estimated to contain hundreds of members. Some guesses put the number of Black Panthers as high as 10,000, a debatable figure. Both the Underground and the Panthersҗwho talked a great deal about the justification for violence but managed to commit relatively littlecaused immense panic in the late sixties and seventies and massive responses from the FBI. Sovereign citizens, and antigovernment extremists as a whole, are part of a much larger movement, many are armed, they anticipate the government to fall in some capacity, and they are responsible for about a dozen killings a year. The FBI has addressed them, and their growing menace, as domestic terrorism. In 2014, a survey conducted with US officers in intelligence services across the country found sovereign citizens to be the countryגs top concern, even ahead of Islamic extremists, for law enforcement.

Theirs is a totalizing vision of absolute individual freedom and resistance to a state they believed is ruled by an unjust government. Rooted historically in racism and anti-Semitismthey hovered on the extreme fringes of American politics until the 2008 housing crisis and the election of Barack Obamaחsovereign citizens believe they are sovereign unto themselves and, therefore, can ignore any local, state, or federal laws and are not beholden to any law enforcement. According to the SPLC, the sovereign citizens believe that the federal government is an entity that operates outside the purview of the US Constitution for the purposes of holding citizens in slavery.

Understanding sovereign-citizenry ideology is like trying to map a crack that develops on your windshield after a pebble hits it. ItӒs a wild and chaotic mess, Lenz tells me. Ultimately, the movement boils down to a series of conspiracy theories justifying nonobedience to government agents. Sometimes it expresses itself as convoluted tax dodges, as in the case of the self-proclaimed president of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), James Timothy Turner, who was convicted of sending a $300 million fictitious bond in his own name and aiding and abetting others in sending fictitious bonds to the Treasury Department. Turner was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. Bruce A. Doucette, a self-appointed sovereign ԓjudge, received thirty-eight years in jail for influencing, extorting, and threatening public officials.

At other times, the spirit of disobedience expresses itself in straight violence, as in the case of Jerry and Joseph Kane, a father-son pair who, in 2010, killed two police officers at a routine traffic stop in West Memphis, Arkansas. Or in the case of Jerad and Amanda Miller who, in 2014, after killing two police officers at a CiCiԒs Pizza in Las Vegas, shouted to horrified onlookers that the revolution had begun.

he summers grow hotter, and the yields on corn and beans grow smaller. During the first drought, the declines are small. The year after is more serious. Food prices spike. Inflation rises, leading to a sharp jump in unemployment.

China, holding $1.18 trillion (US) of US government debt, dumps its bonds as a retaliatory measure against US tariffs. This causes every other country to panic and sell their holdings as well, bringing China closer to becoming the global reserve currency. With the US bond market routed, higher interest rates ripple through the economy, slowing it down.

The hardest hit are the farming communities dependent on commodity crops. The antigovernment movements in these areas swell and organize. They elect local politicians, particularly sheriffs. Pockets of the southern and midwestern states, under these sheriffs, believe that the federal government has no legitimate authority over them.

By this time, a Democratic president has come to power, with significantly more socialistic ideas than any president in history. She eventually passes legislation imposing national education and health care programs. The local authorities take these programs as illegitimate government interference and, in the heated rhetorical climate, claim the mantle of resistance, which is also taken up by armed insurgencies.

The National Guard swiftly imposes order. But the states consider themselves, and are considered by others, to be under occupation.

The borders of North America are, in their ways, as patchwork as those in the Middle East and as nonsensical. The French lost to the English. The British lost to the Americans. The Mexicans lost to the Americans. The South lost to the North. The alignments of any political unity are forced; they defy historical experience, geography, ethnicity, or political ideology. And that’s why it’s all so breakable, so fragile.

The antigovernment extremists know who they are. They see themselves as the true Americans. And who could deny there’s a certain justice in the claim? What could be more American than tax rebellion, the worship of violence as political salvation, a mangled misinterpretation of the Constitution, and a belief system derived sui generis that blurs passionate belief with straight hucksterism? The next American civil war will not look like the first American Civil War. It will not be between territories over resources and the right to self-determination. It will be a competition over distinct ideas of what America is. It will be a war fought over what America means. Is it a republic with checks and balances or a place that yields to the whims of a presidentҒs executive power? Is the United States a country of white settlers or a nation of immigrants? Its also possible, maybe probable, that the country will never get answers.

★★★

in canada, in the middle of the American collapse, the Queen dies. Charles III accedes to the throne. Despite the prospect of having his face on the money, there is no serious attempt to challenge the status quo. ItҒs a hard time to argue in favour of any dramatic political reordering. For the same reason, though Quebec separatism rises and falls as usual, a new referendum on independence is put away for a generation; theres enough instability in North America.

The refugee crisis at the border continues to grow, quickly outstripping the ability of border agencies to manage it effectively. CanadaҒs appetite for refugees withers as the tide swells. Calls for order grow louder. Asylum centres appear as in Germany and Denmark.

Despite restrictions on refugees from the United States, Canada remains scrupulously multicultural. When a visa applicant from India, hoping to work at Google, is separated from his daughter at the US border, and they are reconciled after a month, the worlds technological elite move to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. People who have young families and arenҒt white find the prospect of building a career in the United States too precarious.

The hunger among young Canadian talent for New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco naturally diminishes for the same reason. Innovators cannot just head south when they encounter the inertia which defines so much of Canadian life. The stolid cultural industries and the tech world lose their garrison mentality, at least somewhat.

To sum up: the US Congress is too paralyzed by anger to carry out even the most basic tasks of government. Americas legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government is in free fall. The president discredits the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system on a regular basis. Border guards place children in detention centres at the border. Antigovernment groups, some of which are armed militias, stand ready and prepared for a government collapse. All of this has already happened.

Breakdown of the American order has defined Canada at every stage of its history, contributing far more to the formation of Canada’s national identity than any internal logic or sense of shared purpose. In his book The Civil War Years, the historian Robin Winks describes a series of Canadian reactions to the early stages of the first American Civil War. In 1861, when the Union formed what was then one of the worlds largest standing armies, William Henry Seward, the secretary of state, presented Lincoln with a memorandum suggesting that the Union “send agents into Canada to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence.” Canadian support for the North withered, and panicked fantasies of imminent conquest flourished. After the First Battle of Bull Run, a humiliating defeat for the Union, two of John A. Macdonalds followers toasted the victory in the Canadian Legislative Assembly. The possibility of an American invasion spooked the French Canadian press, with one journal declaring there was nothing so much in horror as the thought of being conquered by the Yankees.

The first American Civil War led directly to Canadian Confederation. Whatever our differences, we’re quite sure we don’t want to be them.

How much longer before we realize that we need to disentangle Canadian life as much as possible from that of the United States? How much longer before our foreign policy, our economic policy, and our cultural policy accept that any reliance on American institutions is foolish? Insofar as such a separation is even possible, it will be painful. Already, certain national points of definition are emerging in the wake of Trump. We are, despite all our evident hypocrisies, generally in favour of multiculturalism, a rules-based international order, and freedom of trade. They are not just values; the collapsing of the United States reveals them to be integral to our survival as a country.

Northrop Frye once wrote that Canadians are Americans who reject the revolution. When the next revolution comes, we will need to be ready to reject it with everything we have and everything we are.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/31/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
View (0) comment(s) or add a new one
Printable viewLink to this article
Home

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

New Deal 2.0

By PW Editorial Board
People’s World
December 11, 2009

There are millions of unemployed ready to go to work today. The only missing element is someone to hire them.

Since private industry isn’t hiring, where will jobs come from? What did the country do during the Great Depression?

In the 1930s the New Deal put construction workers on the job building infrastructure we have used ever since. Much of that network is at the end of its life, so let’s do it again, but this time with “green” planning built in.

In the 1930s artists were unemployed. The New Deal hired them and they gave us the fantastic murals, mosaics and monuments in our public places. We could use a lot more of them.

Planting all those trees in our national forests and parks, and building all those lodges, cabins and trail shelters in state and national parks and elsewhere was a good idea. Only thing is, we need more of them.

Under the New Deal the Federal Writers Project subsidized play and book writing and all kinds of other literary pursuits. Advertising people and writers of all kinds are out of work today.

In the 1930s white collar workers with college degrees were unemployed. The New Deal hired many of them into the regulatory bodies it set up to control the worst excesses of capitalism and to regulate private industry. Hiring some of our college graduates to do this again, today, seems like a worthwhile idea. It certainly beats sending them to Wall Street where they work on devising methods that ruin both the economy and eventually, their own livelihoods.

But to win the old New Deal, it took a fight. Its going to take the same thing to win a new New Green Deal.

Below is an abridged caption and short history of the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, click HERE for the full history.

When FDR took office, he immediately commenced a massive revitalization of the nation’s economy. In response to the depression that hung over the nation in the early 1930s, President Roosevelt created many programs designed to put Americans back to work.

In his first 100 days in office, President Roosevelt approved several measures as part of his “New Deal,” including the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW), better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). With that action, he brought together the nations young men and the land in an effort to save them both. Roosevelt proposed to recruit thousands of unemployed young men, enlist them in a peacetime army, and send them to battle the erosion and destruction of the nation’s natural resources.

The CCC, also known as Roosevelts Tree Army, was credited with renewing the nation’s decimated forests by planting an estimated three billion trees from 1933 to 1942. This was crucial, especially in states affected by the Dust Bowl, where reforestation was necessary to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil in place. So far reaching was the CCCs reforestation program that it was responsible for more than half the reforestation, public and private, accomplish in the nation’s history.

Eligibility requirements for the CCC carried several simple stipulations. Congress required U.S. citizenship only. Other standards were set by the ECW. Sound physical fitness was mandatory because of the hard physical labor required. Men had to be unemployed, unmarried, and between the ages of 18 and 26, although the rules were eventually relaxed for war veterans. Enlistment was for a duration of six months, although many reenlisted after their alloted time was up.

Problems were confronted quickly. The bulk of the nations young and unemployed youth were concentrated in the East, while most of the work projects were in the western parts of the country. The War Department mobilized the nationҒs transportation system to move thousands of enrollees from induction centers to work camps. The Agriculture and Interior departments were responsible for planning and organizing work to be performed in every state. The Department of Labor was responsible for the selection and enrollment of applicants. The National Director of the ECW was Robert Fechner, a union vice president chosen personally by President Roosevelt.

Young men flocked to enroll. Many politicians believed that the CCC was largely responsible for a 55 percent reduction in crimes committed by the young men of that day. Men were paid $30 a month, with mandatory $25 allotment checks sent to families of the men, which made life a little easier for people at home.

Camps were set up in all states, as well as in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Enrollment peaked at the end of 1935, when there were 500,000 men located in 2,600 camps in operation in all states. California alone had more than 150 camps. The greatest concentration of CCC personnel was in the Sixth Civilian Conservation Corps District of the First Corps Area, in the Winooski River Valley of Vermont, in December 1933. Enlisted personnel and supervisors totaled more than 5,300 and occupied four large camps.

The program enjoyed great public support. Once the first camps were established and the CCC became better known, they became accepted and even sought after. The CCC camps stimulated regional economies and provided communities with improvements in forest activity, flood control, fire protection, and overall community safety.

Although policy prohibited discrimination, blacks and other minorities encountered numerous difficulties in the CCC. In the early years of the program, some camps were integrated. By 1935, however, there was, in the words of CCC director Fechner, a complete segregation of colored and “white enrollees,” but segregation is not “discrimination.” At its peak, more than 250,000 African Americans were enrolled in nearly 150 all-black CCC companies.

An important modification became necessary early in 1933. It extended enlistment coverage to about 14,000 American Indians whose economic circumstances were deplorable and had mostly been ignored. Before the CCC was terminated, more than 80,000 Native Americans were paid to help reclaim the land that had once been theirs.

In addition, in May 1933, the president authorized the enrollment of about 25,000 veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I, with no age or marital restrictions. This made it possible for more than 250,000 veterans to rebuild lives disrupted by earlier service to their country.

In June 1933, the ECW decided that men in CCC camps could be given the opportunity of vocational training and additional education. Educational programs were developed that varied considerably from camp to camp, both in efficiency and results. More than 90 percent of all enrollees participated in some facet of the educational program. Throughout the CCC, more than 40,000 illiterate men were taught to read and write.

By 1942, there was hardly a state that could not boast of permanent projects left as markers by the CCC. The CCC worked on improving millions of acres of federal and state lands, as well as parks. New roads were built, telephone lines strung, and trees planted.

CCC projects included:

# more than 3,470 fire towers erected;
# 97,000 miles of fire roads built;
# 4,235,000 man-days devoted to fighting fires;
# more than 3 billion trees planted;
# 7,153,000 man days expended on protecting the natural habitats of wildlife; 83 camps in 15 Western states assigned 45 projects of that nature;
# 46 camps assigned to work under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture Engineering;
# more than 84,400,000 acres of good agricultural land receive manmade drainage systems; Indian enrollees do much of that work;
# 1,240,000 man-days of emergency work completed during floods of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys;
# disease and insect control;
# forest improvement timber stand inventories, surveying, and reforestation;
# forest recreation development - campgrounds built, complete with picnic shelters, swimming pools, fireplaces, and restrooms.

In addition, 500 camps were under the control of the Soil Conservation Service. The primary work of those camps was erosion control. The CCC also made outstanding contributions to the development of recreational facilities in national, state, county, and metropolitan parks. By design, the CCC worked on projects that were independent of other public relief programs. Although other federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and Soil Conservation Service contributed, the U.S. Forest Service administered more than 50 percent of all public work projects for the CCC.

Residents of southern Indiana will always remember the extraordinary work of the CCC during the flood of the Ohio River in 1937. The combined strength of the camps in the area saved lives as well as property. The CCC also was involved in other natural disasters, including a hurricane in New England in 1938, floods in Vermont and New York, and blizzards in Utah.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the most successful New Deal programs of the Great Depression. It existed for fewer than 10 years, but left a legacy of strong, handsome roads, bridges, and buildings throughout the United States. Between 1933 and 1941, more than 3,000,000 men served in the CCC.

The effects of service in the CCC were felt for years, even decades, afterwards. Following the depression, when the job market picked up, businessmen indicated a preference for hiring a man who had been in the CCC, and the reason was simple. Employers believed that anyone who had been in the CCC would know what a full days work meant, and how to carry out orders in a disciplined way.

Today, many of the remaining physical features the CCC built have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/24/18 •
Section American Solidarity
View (0) comment(s) or add a new one
Printable viewLink to this article
Home

Friday, October 19, 2018

Marvel At The Beast - Part 11

image: nixon reagan bush trump

The Terrible Trump Portrait That Explains Everything

By Jared Rodriguez
Truthout
October 18, 2018

The administrations and legacies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush combine to tell a long, sorry tale of corruption, greed, brazen lies, abused power and religious fundamentalism gone wild that, in whole and in part, put us where we are today.

In this business, you eventually become enured to Monday mornings that are the mental equivalent of a car accident. You get used to it, mostly, until a morning comes along that is more cognitively akin to a plane crash on the interstate during rush hour, and you find yourself wondering again if investing in a time-share on Neptune might be an idea whose time has come. That was this past Monday, in the form of a painting that falls somewhere in the shade between Dogs Playing Poker and Revelation 6:1-8.

Those watching Lesley Stahl help Donald Trump self-immolate during their “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday night spotted it first, right there on the wall above the vat of Starburst candies: a pastel creamsicle nightmare rendering of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush sharing a drink and a hearty Republican belly laugh with The Donnybrook himself.

Cue the squealing tires and shattered safety glass; I saw this thing before I could so much as blow on my first cup of Monday morning coffee, and I’m still trying to come to grips with the experience.

The internet had a field day, of course. Before Tuesday even had a chance to put its pants on, Twitter was bursting with Photoshop jobs that turned Missouri artist Andy Thomas’s annihilation of time and history into a legitimate cultural phenomenon.

One recreation has Trump sitting with Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill OReilly and other noteworthy perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment unmasked by the #MeToo movement. Another has Trump replaced by a miniaturized version of the baby blimp that has been following him around the world. Still another puts Plaid Shirt Guy over Trump’s right shoulder once again, looking appropriately astonished.

Yes, all in good fun, and next week some other poor slobs magnum opus will become a punchline for half a billion online wiseasses, and Mr. Thomas’s tender attempt at whatever he was reaching for with this thing will be last weeks forgotten funny meme.

That’s a damned shame, because much of what we need to know about Donald Trump, the Republican Party and why we are all mired in this towering, disheartening mess is right there in that painting, staring us down with every eye-bruising brush stroke. It is a paint-by-numbers history lesson we should all take deeply to heart if we want to understand the strange ground we stand upon.

One could spend a bag of lifetimes parsing the collected failures of the individuals featured in the painting yes, even Honest Abraham Lincoln, who had unfriendly newspaper editors arrested by the score - but I choose to stick to three of the presidents I have personally endured.

The administrations and legacies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush combine to tell a long, sorry tale of corruption, greed, brazen lies, abused power and religious fundamentalism gone wild that, in whole and in part, put us where we are today. Remove any one of those men from that painting, and from history, and Donald Trump would likely be just another late-night punchline you slept through, again. Nixon, Reagan and W. Bush made Donald Trump possible.

It is telling, and perhaps deliberate, that the painting finds Donald Trump seated at the right hand of Nixon. Who better than the Beast of San Clemente to frame the groaning reality of this White House? Richard Nixons - Southern Strategy - courting brazen segregationists like South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond while stoking racial animosities wherever he and his fixers could find them won him two presidential elections and greased the rails for every Republican presidential nominee to follow.

The construction of a Republican Electoral College fortress in the South began with Nixon and remains standing, very nearly brick for brick, to this day. Trump֒s victory in 2016 happened because of that fortress. If he wins re-election in 2020, he will have Nixons deeply racist campaign strategy to thank once again. Beyond that, Nixon’s disdain for the rule of law, combined with his venomous hatred of the press, set the tone for the latter half of the 20th century and laid a precedent Trump has followed practically to the note.

Though he never served a day in prison for his crimes, thanks to a pardon from one of the other fellows featured in the painting, Richard Nixon was ultimately forced to pay a steep price for his transgressions. The same cannot be said for Ronald Reagan, whose administration sold missiles to Iran and used the proceeds to fund an illegal war in Central America. The Iran/Contra scandal was a vast, sweeping international affair for which the president eluded punishment by dint of 124 separate I don’t remember replies during the congressional inquiry.

Vivid public dishonesty by that president set yet another precedent Trump has taken full advantage of over the course of two long years. Lie straight to their faces, goes the thinking, and dare them to do something about it. The juggernaut rolls on.

Reagan’s most indelible imprint on the country, the one Trump has taken greatest advantage of, is cultural. He oversaw a rollicking festival of across-the-board deregulation while preaching the polluted gospel of trickle-down economics that endures to this day. Donald Trump came of age in the Reagan era, and learned the dark arts of the con man by watching the master in the White House.

More than anything else, Reagans courting of what became known as the “Religious Right” changed the face of the country. Conservative Protestant evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham actively helped solidify and expand the religious fervor of the Republican base, creating one of the most reliable voter blocs in modern US history. Their legendary loyalty to the GOP, even in the face of myriad scandals and shameful episodes, has proven to be one of Donald Trump’s great strengths.

Another lasting Reagan legacy that Donald Trump has capitalized on is the muscular approach Reagans strategists took to Nixon’s racist Southern Strategy.Ӕ Reagan adviser Lee Atwater, the infamous Southern Republican political operative who showed Karl Rove the ropes, explained during a 1981 interview the long, sure process of making virulent racism mainstream by hiding it in plain sight.

You say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff,” said Atwater, ԓand youre getting so abstract. Now, youҒre talking about cutting taxes, and all these things youre talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites. ґWe want to cut this, is much more abstract than even the busing thing.Ҕ

Anyone who can say with a straight face that Trump has not benefitted from the mainline injection of racism into conventional Republican politics should immediately apply for a gig at the White House. From Nixon to Reagan to Trump, the Republican Southern StrategyӔ traded in the white robes of the Klan for a suit, a tie and some buzzwords to obscure the truth. The strategy has proven to be highly effective for the Republican Party, and toxic to the rest of the country, particularly to communities of color.

Sixteen years before the ascendancy of Donald Trump, George W. Bush adopted every fetid, discredited Nixon/Reagan ploy as his own. The 2000 GOP primary in South Carolina was a festival of racist gutter tactics that set Bush on course for the presidency, thanks entirely to the lessons Rove absorbed at Atwaters knee. Bush survived the 2000 general election and was re-elected four years later, thanks in part to the thick white walls of that electoral fortress Nixon and Reagan built in the Southern states.

Like Nixon and Reagan, Bush had little use for the truth, and less use for observing the democratic norms that hold the republic together. Like Reagan, Bush embraced the power of the evangelical Christian right to the continued detriment of all. Nixon and Reagan lied about wars, but Bush lied us into a pair of wars that grind on to this day. Like his predecessors, George W. Bush paid no legal price for his serial crimes and astonishing dishonesty.

The rank racism of the “Southern Strategy.” The nonsense and classism of trickle-down economics. The grim fusion of politics and extremist evangelical Christianity. The bold power of the shameless lie. It has all flowed from Nixon to Reagan to Bush and finally to Trump, the inheritor of that poisoned estate. But for them, we would not have him. It’s all there in the painting, if you find your way to see it.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/19/18 •
Section General Reading
View (0) comment(s) or add a new one
Printable viewLink to this article
Home

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Rigged Economy

image: dying america

The American Economy Is Rigged
And what we can do about it

By Joseph E. Stiglitz
Scientific American
November 2018 Issue

Americans are used to thinking that their nation is special. In many ways, it is: the U.S. has by far the most Nobel Prize winners, the largest defense expenditures (almost equal to the next 10 or so countries put together) and the most billionaires (twice as many as China, the closest competitor). But some examples of American Exceptionalism should not make us proud. By most accounts, the U.S. has the highest level of economic inequality among developed countries. It has the world’s greatest per capita health expenditures yet the lowest life expectancy among comparable countries. It is also one of a few developed countries jostling for the dubious distinction of having the lowest measures of equality of opportunity.

The notion of the American Dream - that, unlike old Europe, we are a land of opportunity - is part of our essence. Yet the numbers say otherwise. The life prospects of a young American DEPEND MORE on the income and education of his or her parents than in almost any other advanced country. When poor-boy-makes-good anecdotes get passed around in the media, that is precisely because such stories are so rare.

Things appear to be getting worse, partly as a result of forces, such as technology and globalization, that seem beyond our control, but most disturbingly because of those within our command. It is not the laws of nature that have led to this dire situation: it is the laws of humankind. Markets do not exist in a vacuum: they are shaped by rules and regulations, which can be designed to favor one group over another. President Donald Trump was right in saying that the system is riggedby those in the inherited plutocracy of which he himself is a member. And he is making it much, much worse.

America has long outdone others in its level of inequality, but in the past 40 years it has reached new heights. Whereas the income share of the top 0.1 percent has more than quadrupled and that of the top 1 percent has almost doubled, that of the bottom 90 percent has declined. Wages at the bottom, adjusted for inflation, are about the same as they were some 60 years ago! In fact, for those with a high school education or less, incomes have fallen over recent decades. Males have been particularly hard hit, as the U.S. has moved away from manufacturing industries into an economy based on services.

Deaths of Despair

Wealth is even less equally distributed, with just three Americans having as much as the bottom 50 percent - testimony to how much money there is at the top and how little there is at the bottom. Families in the bottom 50 percent hardly have the cash reserves to meet an emergency. Newspapers are replete with stories of those for whom the breakdown of a car or an illness starts a downward spiral from which they never recover.

In significant part because of high inequality [see “The Health-Wealth Gap,” by Robert M. Sapolsky], U.S. life expectancy, exceptionally low to begin with, is experiencing sustained declines. This in spite of the marvels of medical science, many advances of which occur right here in America and which are made readily available to the rich. Economist Ann Case and 2015 Nobel laureate in economics Angus Deaton describe one of the main causes of rising morbidity - the increase in alcoholism, drug overdoses and SUICIDES - as DEATHS OF DESPAIR by those who have GIVEN UP HOPE.

image: fading american dream

Defenders of America’s inequality have a pat explanation. They refer to the workings of a competitive market, where the laws of supply and demand determine wages, prices and even interest rates - a mechanical system, much like that describing the physical universe. Those with scarce assets or skills are amply rewarded, they argue, because of the larger contributions they make to the economy. What they get merely represents what they have contributed. Often they take out less than they contributed, so what is left over for the rest is that much more.

This fictional narrative may at one time have assuaged the guilt of those at the top and persuaded everyone else to accept this sorry state of affairs. Perhaps the DEFINING moment EXPOSING the lie was the 2008 financial crisis, when the bankers who brought the global economy to the brink of ruin with predatory lending, market manipulation and various other antisocial practices walked away with MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in BONUSES - JUST AS millions of Americans lost their HOMES and tens of millions more worldwide suffered on their account. Virtually none of these bankers were ever held to account for their misdeeds.

I became aware of the fantastical nature of this narrative as a schoolboy, when I thought of the wealth of the plantation owners, built on the backs of slaves. At the time of the Civil War, the market value of the slaves in the South was approximately half of the region’s total wealth, including the value of the land and the physical capital - the factories and equipment. The wealth of at least this part of this nation was not based on industry, innovation and commerce but rather on exploitation. Today we have replaced this open exploitation with more insidious forms, which have intensified since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s. This exploitation, I will argue, is largely to blame for the escalating inequality in the U.S.

After the New Deal of the 1930s, American inequality went into decline. By the 1950s inequality had receded to such an extent that another Nobel laureate in economics, Simon Kuznets, formulated what came to be called Kuznets’s law. In the early stages of development, as some parts of a country seize new opportunities, inequalities grow, he postulated; in the later stages, they shrink. The theory long fit the databut then, around the early 1980s, the trend abruptly reversed.

Explaining Inequality

Economists have put forward a range of explanations for why inequality has in fact been increasing in many developed countries. Some argue that advances in technology have spurred the demand for skilled labor relative to unskilled labor, thereby depressing the wages of the latter. Yet that alone cannot explain why even skilled labor has done so poorly over the past two decades, why average wages have done so badly and why matters are so much worse in the U.S. than in other developed nations. Changes in technology are global and should affect all advanced economies in the same way. Other economists blame globalization itself, which has weakened the power of workers. Firms can and do move abroad unless demands for higher wages are curtailed. But again, globalization has been integral to all advanced economies. Why is its impact so much worse in the U.S.?

The shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy is partly to blame. At its extreme - a firm of one person - the service economy is a winner-takes-all system. A movie star makes millions, for example, whereas most actors make a pittance. Overall, wages are likely to be far more widely dispersed in a service economy than in one based on manufacturing, so the transition contributes to greater inequality. This fact does not explain, however, why the average wage has not improved for decades. Moreover, the shift to the service sector is happening in most other advanced countries: Why are matters so much worse in the U.S.?

Again, because services are often provided locally, firms have more market power: the ability to raise prices above what would prevail in a competitive market. A small town in rural America may have only one authorized Toyota repair shop, which virtually every Toyota owner is forced to patronize. The providers of these local services can raise prices over costs, increasing their profits and the share of income going to owners and managers. This, too, increases inequality. But again, why is U.S. inequality practically unique?

In his celebrated 2013 treatise Capital in the Twenty-First Century, French economist Thomas Piketty shifts the gaze to capitalists. He suggests that the few who own much of a country’s capital save so much that, given the stable and high return to capital (relative to the growth rate of the economy), their share of the national income has been increasing. His theory has, however, been questioned on many grounds. For instance, the savings rate of even the rich in the U.S. is so low, compared with the rich in other countries, that the increase in inequality should be lower here, not greater.

An alternative theory is far more consonant with the facts. Since the mid-1970s the rules of the economic game have been rewritten, both globally and nationally, in ways that advantage the rich and disadvantage the rest. And they have been rewritten further in this perverse direction in the U.S. than in other developed countries - even though the rules in the U.S. were already less favorable to workers. From this perspective, increasing inequality is a matter of choice: a consequence of our policies, laws and regulations.

In the U.S., the market power of large corporations, which was greater than in most other advanced countries to begin with, has increased even more than elsewhere. On the other hand, the market power of workers, which started out less than in most other advanced countries, has fallen further than elsewhere. This is not only because of the shift to a service-sector economy - it is because of the rigged rules of the game, rules set in a political system that is itself rigged through gerrymandering, voter suppression and the influence of money. A vicious spiral has formed: economic inequality translates into political inequality, which leads to rules that favor the wealthy, which in turn reinforces economic inequality.

Feedback Loop

Political scientists have documented the ways in which money influences politics in certain political systems, converting higher economic inequality into greater political inequality. Political inequality, in its turn, gives rise to more economic inequality as the rich use their political power to shape the rules of the game in ways that favor themחfor instance, by softening antitrust laws and weakening unions. Using mathematical models, economists such as myself have shown that this two-way feedback loop between money and regulations leads to at least two stable points. If an economy starts out with lower inequality, the political system generates rules that sustain it, leading to one equilibrium situation. The American system is the other equilibriumand will continue to be unless there is a democratic political awakening.

An account of how the rules have been shaped must begin with antitrust laws, first enacted 128 years ago in the U.S. to prevent the agglomeration of market power. Their enforcement has weakened - at a time when, if anything, the laws themselves should have been strengthened. Technological changes have concentrated market power in the hands of a few global players, in part because of so-called network effects: you are far more likely to join a particular social network or use a certain word processor if everyone you know is already using it. Once established, a firm such as Facebook or Microsoft is hard to dislodge. Moreover, fixed costs, such as that of developing a piece of software, have increased as compared with marginal costs - that of duplicating the software. A new entrant has to bear all these fixed costs up front, and if it does enter, the rich incumbent can respond by lowering prices drastically. The cost of making an additional e-book or photo-editing program is essentially zero.

In short, entry is hard and risky, which gives established firms with deep war chests enormous power to crush competitors and ultimately raise prices. Making matters worse, U.S. firms have been innovative not only in the products they make but in thinking of ways to extend and amplify their market power. The European Commission has imposed fines of billions of dollars on Microsoft and Google and ordered them to stop their anticompetitive practices (such as Google privileging its own comparison shopping service). In the U.S., we have done too little to control concentrations of market power, so it is not a surprise that it has increased in many sectors.

global inequality trends

Rigged rules also explain why the impact of globalization may have been worse in the U.S. A concerted attack on unions has almost halved the fraction of unionized workers in the nation, to about 11 percent. (In Scandinavia, it is roughly 70 percent.) Weaker unions provide workers less protection against the efforts of firms to drive down wages or worsen working conditions. Moreover, U.S. investment treaties such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement - treaties that were sold as a way of preventing foreign countries from discriminating against American firms - also protect investors against a tightening of environmental and health regulations abroad. For instance, they enable corporations to sue nations in private international arbitration panels for passing laws that protect citizens and the environment but threaten the multinational company’s bottom line. Firms like these provisions, which enhance the credibility of a company’s threat to move abroad if workers do not temper their demands. In short, these investment agreements weaken U.S. workers’ bargaining power even further.

Liberated Finance

Many other changes to our norms, laws, rules and regulations have contributed to inequality. Weak corporate governance laws have allowed chief executives in the U.S. to compensate themselves 361 times more than the average worker, far more than in other developed countries. Financial liberalizationחthe stripping away of regulations designed to prevent the financial sector from imposing harms, such as the 2008 economic crisis, on the rest of societyhas enabled the finance industry to grow in size and profitability and has increased its opportunities to exploit everyone else. Banks routinely indulge in practices that are legal but should not be, such as imposing usurious interest rates on borrowers or exorbitant fees on merchants for credit and debit cards and creating securities that are designed to fail. They also frequently do things that are illegal, including market manipulation and insider trading. In all of this, the financial sector has moved money away from ordinary Americans to rich bankers and the banks’ shareholders. This redistribution of wealth is an important contributor to American inequality.

Other means of so-called rent extraction - the withdrawal of income from the national pie that is incommensurate with societal contribution abound. For example, a legal provision enacted in 2003 prohibited the government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare - a gift of some $50 billion a year or more to the pharmaceutical industry. Special favors, such as extractive industries’ obtaining public resources such as oil at below fair-market value or banks’ getting funds from the Federal Reserve at near-zero interest rates (which they relend at high interest rates), also amount to rent extraction. Further exacerbating inequality is favorable tax treatment for the rich. In the U.S., those at the top pay a smaller fraction of their income in taxes than those who are much poorer - a form of largesse that the Trump administration has just worsened with the 2017 tax bill.

Some economists have argued that we can lessen inequality only by giving up on growth and efficiency. But recent research, such as work done by Jonathan Ostry and others at the International Monetary Fund, suggests that economies with greater equality perform better, with higher growth, better average standards of living and greater stability. Inequality in the extremes observed in the U.S. and in the manner generated there actually damages the economy. The exploitation of market power and the variety of other distortions I have described, for instance, makes markets less efficient, leading to underproduction of valuable goods such as basic research and overproduction of others, such as exploitative financial products.

image: global inequlaity 2018

Moreover, because the rich typically spend a smaller fraction of their income on consumption than the poor, total or “aggregate demand” in countries with higher inequality is weaker. Societies could make up for this gap by increasing government spending = on infrastructure, education and health, for instance, all of which are investments necessary for long-term growth. But the politics of unequal societies typically puts the burden on monetary policy: interest rates are lowered to stimulate spending. Artificially low interest rates, especially if coupled with inadequate financial market regulation, often give rise to bubbles, which is what happened with the 2008 housing crisis.

It is no surprise that, on average, people living in unequal societies have less equality of opportunity: those at the bottom never get the education that would enable them to live up to their potential. This fact, in turn, exacerbates inequality while wasting the country’s most valuable resource: Americans themselves.

Restoring Justice

Morale is lower in unequal societies, especially when inequality is seen as unjust, and the feeling of being used or cheated leads to lower productivity. When those who run gambling casinos or bankers suffering from moral turpitude make a zillion times more than the scientists and inventors who brought us lasers, transistors and an understanding of DNA, it is clear that something is wrong. Then again, the children of the rich come to think of themselves as a class apart, entitled to their good fortune, and accordingly more likely to break the rules necessary for making society function. All of this contributes to a breakdown of trust, with its attendant impact on social cohesion and economic performance.

There is no magic bullet to remedy a problem as deep-rooted as America’s inequality. Its origins are largely political, so it is hard to imagine meaningful change without a concerted effort to take money out of politics - through, for instance, campaign finance reform. Blocking the revolving doors by which regulators and other government officials come from and return to the same industries they regulate and work with is also essential.

image: widening wage gap

Beyond that, we need more progressive taxation and high-quality federally funded public education, including affordable access to universities for all, no ruinous loans required. We need modern competition laws to deal with the problems posed by 21st-century market power and stronger enforcement of the laws we do have. We need labor laws that protect workers and their rights to unionize. We need corporate governance laws that curb exorbitant salaries bestowed on chief executives, and we need stronger financial regulations that will prevent banks from engaging in the exploitative practices that have become their hallmark. We need better enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: it is unconscionable that women and minorities get paid a mere fraction of what their white male counterparts receive. We also need more sensible inheritance laws that will reduce the intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage.

The basic perquisites of a middle-class life, including a secure old age, are no longer attainable for most Americans. We need to guarantee access to health care. We need to strengthen and reform retirement programs, which have put an increasing burden of risk management on workers (who are expected to manage their portfolios to guard simultaneously against the risks of inflation and market collapse) and opened them up to exploitation by our financial sector (which sells them products designed to maximize bank fees rather than retirement security). Our mortgage system was our Achilles’ heel, and we have not really fixed it. With such a large fraction of Americans living in cities, we have to have urban housing policies that ensure affordable housing for all.

It is a long agenda - but a doable one. When skeptics say it is nice but not affordable, I reply: We cannot afford to not do these things. We are already paying a high price for inequality, but it is just a down payment on what we will have to pay if we do not do something - and quickly. It is not just our economy that is at stake; we are risking our democracy.

As more of our citizens come to understand why the fruits of economic progress have been so unequally shared, there is a real danger that they will become open to a demagogue blaming the country’s problems on others and making false promises of rectifying “a rigged system.” We are already experiencing a foretaste of what might happen. It could get much worse.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/18/18 •
Section Dying America
View (0) comment(s) or add a new one
Printable viewLink to this article
Home

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Clouded Cloud

image: amazon honor system

AmazonAtlas

Wikileaks
October 11, 2018

Today, WikiLeaks publishes a “Highly Confidential” internal documentfrom the cloud computing provider Amazon. The documentfrom late 2015 lists the addresses and some operational details of over one hundred data centers spread across fifteen cities in nine countries. To accompany this document, WikiLeaks also created a map showing where Amazons data centers are LOCATED.

Amazon, which is the largest cloud provider, is notoriously secretive about the precise locations of its data centers. While a few are publicly tied to Amazon, this is the exception rather than the norm. More often, Amazon operates out of data centers owned by other companies with little indication that Amazon itself is based there too or runs its own data centers under less-identifiable subsidiaries such as VaData, Inc. In some cases, Amazon uses pseudonyms to obscure its presence. For example, at its IAD77 data center, the documentstates that Amazon is known as “Vandala Industries” on badges and all correspondence with building manager

Amazon is the leading cloud provider for the United States intelligence community. In 2013, Amazon entered into a $600 million contract with the CIA to build a cloud for use by intelligence agencies working with information classified as Top Secret. Then, in 2017, Amazon announced the AWS Secret Region, which allows storage of data classified up to the Secret level by a broader range of agencies and companies. Amazon also operates a special GovCloud region for US Government agencies hosting unclassified information.

Currently, Amazon is one of the leading contenders for an up to $10 billion contract to build a private cloud for the Department of Defense. Amazon is one of the only companies with the certifications required to host classified data in the cloud. The Defense Department is looking for a single provider and other companies, including Oracle and IBM, have complained that the requirements unfairly favor Amazon. Bids on this contract are due tomorrow.

While one of the benefits of the cloud is the potential to increase reliability through geographic distribution of computing resources, cloud infrastructure is remarkably centralised in terms of legal control. Just a few companies and their subsidiaries run the majority of cloud computing infrastructure around the world. Of these, Amazon is the largest by far, with recent market research showing that Amazon accounts for 34% of the cloud infrastructure services market.

Until now, this cloud infrastructure controlled by Amazon was largely hidden, with only the general geographic regions of the data centers publicised. While Amazons cloud is comprised of physical locations, indications of the existence of these places are primarily buried in government records or made visible only when cloud infrastructure fails due to natural disasters or other problems in the physical world.

In the process of dispelling the mystery around the locations of Amazon’s data centers, WikiLeaks also turned this documentinto a puzzle game, the Quest of Random Clues. The goal of this game was to encourage people to research these data centers in a fun and intriguing way, while highlighting related issues such as contracts with the intelligence community, Amazons complex corporate structures, and the physicality of the cloud.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/17/18 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
View (0) comment(s) or add a new one
Printable viewLink to this article
Home
Page 3 of 630 pages « First  <  1 2 3 4 5 >  Last »

Statistics

Total page hits 9118132
Page rendered in 1.6324 seconds
39 queries executed
Debug mode is off
Total Entries: 3150
Total Comments: 337
Most Recent Entry: 02/28/2019 08:46 am
Most Recent Comment on: 01/02/2016 09:13 pm
Total Logged in members: 0
Total guests: 10
Total anonymous users: 0
The most visitors ever was 114 on 10/26/2017 04:23 am


Email Us

Home

Members:
Login | Register
Resumes | Members

In memory of the layed off workers of AT&T

Today's Diversion

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Search


Advanced Search

Sections

Calendar

March 2019
S M T W T F S
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            

Must Read

Most recent entries

RSS Feeds

Today's News

ARS Technica

External Links

Elvis Picks

BLS Pages

Favorites

All Posts

Archives

RSS


Creative Commons License


Support Bloggers' Rights