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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Love Makes Us Warm All Over

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Mapping Emotions On The Body: Love Makes Us Warm All Over

By Michaeleen Doucleff
NPR
December 30, 2013

Close your eyes and imagine the last time you fell in love. Maybe you were walking next to your sweetheart in a park or staring into each other’s eyes over a latte.

Where did you FEEL THE LOVE? Perhaps you got “butterflies in your stomach” or you’re heart raced with excitement.

When a team of scientists in Finland asked people to map out where they felt different emotions on their bodies, it found that the results were surprisingly consistent, even across cultures.

People reported that happiness and love sparked activity across nearly the entire body, while depression had the opposite effect: It dampened feelings in the arms, legs and head. Danger and fear triggered strong sensations in the chest area, the volunteers said. And anger was one of the few emotions that activated the arms.

The scientists hope that these body emoticons may one day help psychologists diagnose or treat mood disorders.

“Our emotional system in the brain sends signals to the body so we can deal with our situation,” says , a psychologist at Aalto University who lead the study.

“Say you see a snake and you feel fear,” Nummenmaa says. “Your nervous system increases oxygen to your muscles and raises your heart rate so you can deal with the threat. It’s an automated system. We don’t have to think about it.”

That idea has been known for centuries. But scientists still don’t agree on whether these bodily changes are distinct for each emotion and whether this pattern serves as a way for the mind to consciously identify emotions.

To try and figure out that out, Nummenmaa and his team ran a simple computer experiment with about 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan.

The team showed the volunteers two blank silhouettes of person on a screen and then told the subjects to think about one of 14 emotions: love, disgust, anger, pride, etc. The volunteers then painted areas of the body that felt stimulated by that emotion. On the second silhouette, they painted areas of the body that get deactivated during that emotion.

“People find the experiment quite amusing. It’s quite fun,” Nummenmaa tells Shots. “We kept the questions online so you try the experiment yourself.” (You can try it .)

Not everybody painted each emotion in the same way. But when the team averaged the maps together, signature patterns emerged for each emotion. The team these sensation maps Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team still doesn’t know how these self-reported sensations match with the physiological responses that occur with emotion.

But previous studies have found marked changes in bodily sensations in mood disorders, Nummenmaa says. “For instance, with depression sometimes people have pain in their chest.”

And there’s even some that when you change your own body language - like your posture or stance - you can alter your mind.

Neuroscientist , who was not involved in this study, says he’s “delighted” by Nummenmaa’s findings because they offer more support for what he’s been suggesting for years: Each emotion activates a distinct set of body parts, he thinks, and the mind’s recognition of those patterns helps us consciously identify that emotion.

“People look at emotions as something in relation to other people,” Damasio, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, says. “But emotions also have to do with how we deal with the environment threats and opportunities.” For those, Damasio says, you need your body as well as your mind.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/31/13 •
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Monday, December 30, 2013

Sysadmins Unite

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WikiLeaks Assange: Sysadmins of the World, Unite!

By John Borland
Wired
December 29, 2013

Faced with increasing encroachments on privacy and free speech, high-tech workers around the world should identify as a class and fight power together, said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday.

In a video speech to the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) here, Assange drew parallels between the labor movements of the industrial age and the technology workers of today. As workers joined into unions to fight for better working conditions, technology workers should unite to fight government encroachments on Internet and speech freedoms, he said.

System administrators, who have access to confidential government or corporate documents, have particular ability to play a role in what he painted as a new class war, he said.

“We can see that in the case of WikiLeaks, or the Snowden revelations, it’s possible for even a single system administrator to have very significant constructive effect,” he said. “This is not merely wrecking or disabling, not going on strikes, but rather shifting information from an information apartheid system from those with extraordinary power to the digital commons.”

Joined at this CCC talk by WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, who helped Edward Snowden in his flight from Hong Kong to Russia earlier this year, and by digital activist Jacob Appelbaum, Assange painted a picture of the coming years in near-apocalyptic colors.

“This is the last free generation,” he said. “The coming together of the systems of government and the information apartheid is such that none of us will be able to escape it in just a decade.”

Fighting this system by leaking information, where possible, or otherwise working for the cause of transparency - was the only way to shape government systems in a positive way, he said.

“We are all becoming part of this state whether we like it or not,” he said. “Our only hope is to help determine what kind of state we will be a part of.”

Connecting to the conference over an often-broken Skype connection, Assange was speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The WikiLeaks founder has been accused of sexual assault in Sweden, and Britain has approved his extradition. He has been granted political asylum by Ecuador, which cited fears of his otherwise being extradited to the United States, but has not been granted safe passage out of the country by the United Kingdom.

Hackers and technologists should accept jobs at intelligence and other institutions, in order to bring out more documents, Assange said in his video speech.

“Go into the CIA,” he said. “Go into the ball park and bring the ball out.”

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Posted by Elvis on 12/30/13 •
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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bad Moon Rising Part 65 - 1914 And Today

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Will 2014 See a Repeat of 1914?

By James G. Wiles
American Thinker
December 29, 2013

Will 2014 see a repeat of 1914?

That’s the provocative question asked in a PENETRATING ESSAY by Oxford don Margaret MacMillan that is causing quite a stir around the world since it first appeared on the Brookings Institution’s website on December 14. 

Here’s the question that Professor MacMillan addresses: does CHINA’S REEMERGENCE as a dominant economy and world power for the first time since the 1400s THREATEN a new world war? MacMillan’s conclusion?

Quite possibly.  Even more startling, the LEAD EDITORIAL in the year-end double issue of The Economist reaches the same conclusion.

And foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Meade of Bard College ADDRESSES THE SAME TOPIC in his own online essay, entitled “The End of the End of History.”

All told, they constitute a year-end triptych of essential foreign policy reading.  For, remarkably in the Age of Obama, all these liberal writers condemn the dangerous foreign policies of not only the current administration in Washington, but also the leaders of the Western alliance, including Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Cold War historian Anne Applebaum on Thursday added HER OWN TAKE in the Washington Post.  Applebaum wrote that, while no renewal of the Cold War is in prospect, China and Russia are plainly probing U.S. alliances and defenses for weaknesses—and exploiting those weaknesses when they find them.

As 2013 ends, it turns out that much-reviled former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was right.  Weakness is provocative.  And, as Anne Applebaum wrote this week, the Obama administration’s weakness abroad is showing.

So, are China, Japan, and the United States inevitably headed for a world-ending collision like that among Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany in the First World War?  There’s probably no more important question in the world today.  And, as our authors all note, that question is not receiving anywhere near the attention it deserves.

Besides the current shoving match in East Asia, it’s the 2014 centennial commemoration of the beginning of the Great War that is prompting this new scholarship.  MacMillan’s essay—and her new book, from which it proceeds, The War That Ended Peace: the Road to 1914 (2013)—are only part of it.  Yet her personal and academic background give Margaret MacMillan’s argument special force.

A Canadian, MacMillan is the granddaughter of the late British Prime Minister Lloyd George.  As a historian, she’s the author of the best-selling—and highly recommended—Paris 1919 (2003) on the Versailles Peace Conference.  After writing about the treaty that ended the First World War (and largely led to the second one), it was natural to turn to the causes of that war.

The Guns of August, as Barbara Tuchman titled her 1962 study of WWI’s outbreak, aborted the world’s first economic globalization.  Do developments in Asia and elsewhere threaten to do so again today?

MacMillan’s short answer is taken from Mark Twain.  History doesn’t repeat itself, Twain said.  “But it does rhyme.”

Then she turns to the evidence.  She notes, drawing on her new book, the disquieting parallels between 2014 and 1914.  Here they are in brief, using the names of the players in 1914:

* A globalized economy in which Germany and the United Kingdom were each other’s largest trading partners.  A smug belief, among the intelligentsia and national leaders of the day, that this fact made war impossible.  Also a belief that existing international arrangements will be able to prevent an outbreak of mass warfare.

* An arms race, especially at sea.

* A revolution in communications, science, and technology, making possible a new paradigm for violence and ways of killing.  A military not facing the consequences of the new technology of human killing for strategy, tactics, and casualty rates.

* A rising Germany seeking an equal “place in the sun” with the British Empire, control of sea lanes to overseas colonies, and sources of raw materials and living space for its soaring population.  A fading France, once already beaten by Germany, now outnumbered and outgunned by Germany and fearful of the future.

* Not least, weak, indecisive, and inexperienced leadership on the British and French side (not to mention Imperial Russia) and a thrusting, hot-tempered, and dominating kaiser on the other.

Then there occurred, as Bismarck predicted, “some damn thing in the Balkans.” The Economist’s leader identifies the modern counterparts to these players (and places) of 100 years ago.  Regular readers of American Thinker won’t need it.

Thus, Professor Margaret MacMillan’s take.  Now, a little context.

Unsurprisingly, it was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who first noted the new American foreign policy challenge posed by the rise of China.  It was, after all, President Richard Nixon and his then-national security advisor Kissinger who ended Red China’s isolation from the Western nation-state system in 1972.

In On China (2011), Kissinger wrote that the Chinese leadership itself has been keenly aware of whether China’s rise in the 21st century will parallel that of Germany in the 20th.  And they are also keenly anxious to refute that comparison.  Kissinger devoted the last section of his book to the famous 1907 CROWE MEMORANDUM.

That key British Foreign Office documentassured Great Britain’s leaders that confrontation with Imperial Germany was inevitable and recommended a hard line by the British government against future German demands.  The result, seven years later, was World War I.

Kissinger’s conclusion in 2011, however, was that a benign debut of China on the world stage is both desirable and possible—but that the relationship needs constant managing.  You might call Kissinger’s prescription “the Gulliver Strategy.” China, Kissinger argued, needs to be enmeshed, as a player but not a prisoner, within the existing structure of international agreements and organizations.

It’s far from clear, however, that that’s what the new Chinese leadership wants.

In particular, rather like the Imperial Chinese government’s reaction to the first European ambassadors in the late 1700s, a Chinese leader in 2014 might well ask himself why his ancient nation should buy into a Westphalian world system that China did not help create.  All the lines on the map were drawn by the European powers (and the U.S.) when China was on its knees!  America’s insistence that China stay within those lines—not to mention the U.S. Navy’s insistence on steaming 5,000 miles from their own home and only 100 miles off the Chinese coast—looks remarkably like, in Chinese eyes, a re-run of “containment.”

That’s especially the case given China’s historical perception of itself as the center of the world and of its culture and nationality as superior to all others.

There is simply no evidence that those fundamental Chinese attitudes—noted as well by Teddy White in his memoir, In Search of History (1978)—have changed since the coming of Mao and his Communists (whom White knew as a Chinese-speaking correspondent in China) to power in 1949.  To the contrary, White (who traveled with Nixon back to China in 1973) found them still very much present.  Nor has the current Chinese leadership’s belief—accurate, unfortunately—that China was victimized, dismembered, exploited, and oppressed by the European powers in a series of wars and “unequal treaties” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Japan’s brutal occupation, war, and crimes against humanity in China during the Second World War has not been forgotten, either.  Prime Minister Abe’s VISIT THIS WEEK to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo has only rubbed this wound raw again.

Yet “peaceful rise” has been the by-word in Beijing’s public statements for some years.  The problem is that the Chinese leadership’s actions—at least in the eyes of China’s neighbors—do not match their words.

Indeed, in the last month, we have seen a series of actions by the Chinese government in the East and South China Seas.  First, on November 23, Beijing unilaterally proclaimed an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea overlapping islands claimed by both China and Japan.  That’s made Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines distinctly more belligerent towards the Chinese.

Second, three weeks ago, an American guided-missile frigate and the Chinese naval vessels escorting China’s new aircraft carrier came within two hundred yards of a high seas collision.  The U.S. says the confrontation occurred in international waters.  China’s account as to what transpired on December 5 DIFFERS RADICALLY from the U.S. Navy’s account.

Pretty clearly, the USS Cowpens was shadowing the new Chinese carrier.  And, pretty clearly, the Chinese admiral didn’t like it.

Why should they?  Once again, China has history—and more than a little merit (in terms of foreign policy realism)—on its side.  Imperial China, centuries ago, controlled all these disputed areas.  Ming China also ruled large parts of what is now Russian Asia.

Thus, it can be argued that, from a great power perspective, all China is seeking in its nearby territorial space is what the United States has possessed in the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere since its unilateral proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in the 1820s and America’s building of the Panama Canal in the early 1900s.

So, what’s the real game here, as what Walter Russell Meade has labeled “the Game of Thrones in Asia” continues to build?  As Anne Applebaum writes, “China surely doesn’t want (another) war with the United States.  What is Beijing after?”

One distinct possibility is that China’s island disputes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam and its proclamation of an ADIZ in the East China Sea—especially if that move is followed with the proclamation of an ADIZ in the South China Sea—are all merely markers to be traded away by Beijing in a high-stakes game whose real objective (and ultimate prize for China) is the recovery of Taiwan.  The loss of what General Douglas MacArthur called “an unsinkable aircraft carrier” off the Chinese coast would set the United States’ presence in East Asia back significantly.

Beijing may even be ultimately seeking something larger: a grand bargain with the United States to remake Asia.  China and the United States, after all, fought a conventional war against each other in Korea from 1950 to 1953.  At least 33,000 Americans died and at least 150,000 Chinese in a two-and-a-half-year war.  Very few Americans remember this.  Almost all Chinese do.

China’s insistence today on the so-called nine-dotted line, the first and second island chains, the string of pearls, and all the rest needs to be evaluated in the light of that history as well.

If the negotiated restoration to Beijing of Taiwan (say, after a plebiscite) could be made part of a “Grand Bargain” between China and Washington that also addresses the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea in the context of solving the problem of a nuclear (and unstable, not to mention a humanitarian disaster) North Korea, the United States, in my judgment, might find the Chinese well-disposed to deal.

But such a grand bargain would upend the existing post-WWII security arrangements in East Asia.  It would also greatly discomfort America’s allies in the region.  It might destroy ASEAN and the American-Japanese mutual security treaty.  A nuclear-armed Japan would be only one short-term result.

And such discussions could certainly not be undertaken by the current administration.  Yet, such a grand bargain with America—which would restore China to its historical position in Asia—may very well be what the new Chinese leadership wants.

What must be faced, therefore—Barack Obama’s much-hyped “pivot” to Asia notwithstanding—is that we are now in danger of a repeat of experiencing, with China, Bismarck’s “some damned thing in the Balkans”: an international incident triggering a shooting war. Such a causus belli is most likely to occur not between us and the Chinese, but between China and Japan or China and South Korea.

As the Economist said this week, unless all the pushing and shoving is brought under control, the risk to peace in Asia is high.  And, it should be noted, there is yet another potential major actor in this mix.  India—like China, a rising nation of over a billion people—is also building a blue-water navy, including aircraft carriers.  The Indian and Japanese navies HELD JOINT MANEUVERS last week.

Barring a grand bargain between Washington and Beijing, the ultimate stakes, of course, are control of the Straits of Malacca (through which most of the world’s oil passes) and the Indian Ocean—including the entrance to the Persian Gulf.  Existing international law and United States foreign policy, enforced by the U.S. Navy, are to regard these bodies as part of the “global commons.”

It is far from clear that China—which is totally dependent, at the moment on Middle East oil (hence its covetousness of the undersea petroleum riches of the China Seas)—agrees.

As Stratfor’s Robert D. Kaplan wrote three years ago in Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2011), there is a major arms race underway—and it is in Asia.  Without a deal resulting in changes to the post-Korean, post-Vietnam status quo, the pressure cooker there of rising nationalism, historic enmities, economic need, and decreasing elbow room will only continue to build.

What can be done in the interim—at least until there can be a change in administrations in Washington—is the subject of the lead editorial in this week’s Economist.  The piece is entitled “Look Back in Angst.” Without mentioning Professor Margaret MacMillan by name, the Economist notes the same similarities (and differences) between 1914 and 2014 which her Brookings Institution essay notes.

Their prescription for today, which assumes (contrary to Beijing’s apparent intentions, it should be noted) a continuation of the current status quo, is twofold:

- arrangements should be put in place between China and the United States on how to address a military outbreak or political implosion in nuclear-armed North Korea; and

- the United States should get back in the game of being the essential global player.

The Economist statement on the latter point is a remarkable condemnation of current American diplomacy.  They write(emphasis in original):

The second precaution that would make the world safer is a more active American foreign policy. Despite forging an interim nuclear agreement with Iran, Barack Obama has pulled back in the Middle East-witness his unwillingness to use force in Syria. He has also done little to bring the new emerging giants-India, Indonesia, Brazil and, above all, China-into the global system. This betrays both a lack of ambition and an ignorance of history. Thanks to its military, economic and soft power, America is still indispensable, particularly in dealing with threats like climate change and terror, which cross borders. But unless America behaves as a leader and the guarantor of the world order, it will be inviting regional powers to test their strength by bullying neighbouring countries.

The Economist’s views, thus, dovetail neatly with those expressed by Anne Applebaum.

Finally, we have Walter Russell Meade.  In a provocative essay of his own in the current issue of The American Interest entitled “The End of History Ends,” Meade builds on many of the insights which Stratfor’s Robert D. Kaplan offered on the impact of geography on world history and foreign and military policy in The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (2013).

Kaplan’s point, argued con brio, was that “geopolitics” and the need for geopolitical thinking have returned to American foreign and military policy with a vengeance.  And the future cockpit of conflict for geopolitics, he says, is certain to be Eurasia ("the World Island” or “the Pivot,” in the words of earlier thinks) and the Indian Ocean.  The Indian Ocean littoral was the subject of Robert Kaplan’s previous book, Monsoon.

Meade has plainly read Kaplan (and, no doubt, the earlier thinkers on geopolitics whom Kaplan discusses).  Meade’s piece, like his online blog, calls for a new U.S. grand strategy—particularly in Asia—to replace the Euro-centric one put in place by the Truman administration after the end of the Second World War.

In short, the challenge for the next American president may be to remake American foreign policy to reflect a new geopolitical reality.  How this was done the last time was described by Truman’s former secretary of state, Dean Acheson, in his aptly titled Present at the Creation (1970).

All in all, it’s been a rich harvest this year in writing about geopolitics and grand strategy.  Hard questions are being asked.  With the shoving match underway in, under, and above the East and South China Seas, the ferment among defense experts and geopolitical thinkers is sure to continue.

Is anyone in the White House and at the top of the U.S. State Department listening?

On the evidence, probably not.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/29/13 •
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Awakening Part 11

The Stock Market Has Officially Entered Crazytown Territory

By Michael Snyder
The Economic Collapse Blog
December 26m 2013

It is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory.  Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever.  So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue?  Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens.  If there is good news, stocks go up.  If there is bad news, stocks go up.  If there is no news, stocks go up.  On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high.  In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 RECORD HIGH CLOSES this year.  This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble.  At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were “priced out of the market”.  But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.

It is almost as if Wall Street has not learned any lessons from the last two major stock market crashes at all.  Just look at Twitter.  At the current price, Twitter is supposedly worth 40.7 BILLION DOLLARS.  But Twitter is not profitable.  It is a seven-year-old company that has never made a single dollar of profit.

Not one single dollar.

In fact, Twitter actually LOST 64.6 MILLION DOLLARS last quarter alone.  And Twitter is expected to continue losing money for all of 2015 as well.

But Twitter stock is up 82 PERCENT over the last 30 days, and nobody can really give a rational reason for why this is happening.

Overall, the Dow is up MORE THAN 25 PERCENT so far this year.  Unless something really weird happens over the next few days, it will be the best year for the Dow since 1996.

It has been a wonderful run for Wall Street.  Unfortunately, there are a WHOLE HOST OF SIGNS that we have entered very dangerous territory.

The median price-to-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 has reached an all-time record high, and margin debt at the New York Stock Exchange has reached a level that we have never seen before.  In other words, stocks are massively overpriced and people have been borrowing huge amounts of money to buy stocks.  These are behaviors that we also saw just before the last two stock market bubbles burst.

And of course the most troubling sign is that even as the stock market soars to unprecedented heights, the state of the overall U.S. economy is actually getting worse…

- During the last full week before Christmas, U.S. store visits were 21 percent lower than a year earlier and retail sales were 3.1 PERCENT lower than a year earlier.

- The number of mortgage applications just hit a new 13 year low.

- The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries JUST HIT 3 PERCENT.

For many more signs like this, please see my previous article entitled 37 EASONS THE CONONOMIC RECOVEY OF 2013 IS A GIANT LIE”.

And most Americans don’t realize this, but the U.S. financial system and the overall U.S. economy are now in much weaker condition than they were the last time we had a major financial crash back in 2008.  Employment is at a much lower level than it was back then and our banking system is much more vulnerable than it was back then.  Just before the last financial crash, the U.S. national debt was sitting at about 10 trillion dollars, but today it has risen to more than 17.2 trillion dollars.  The following excerpt from a recent article posted on thedailycrux.com contains even more facts and figures which show how our “balance sheet numbers” continue to get even worse…

Since the fourth quarter of 2009, the U.S. current account deficit has been more than $100 billion per quarter. As a result, foreigners now own $4.2 trillion more U.S. investment assets than we own abroad. That’s $1.7 trillion more than when Buffett first warned about this huge problem in 2003. Said another way, the problem is 68% bigger now.

And here’s a number no one else will tell you not even Buffett. Foreigners now own $25 trillion in U.S. assets. And yet we continue to consume far more than we produce, and we borrow massively to finance our deficits.

Since 2007, the total government debt in the U.S. (federal, state, and local) has doubled from around $10 trillion to $20 trillion.

Meanwhile, the size of Fannie and Freddie’s mortgage book declined slightly since 2007, falling from $4.9 trillion to $4.6 trillion. That’s some good news, right?

Nope. The excesses just moved to a new agency. The “other” federal mortgage bank, the Federal Housing Administration, now is originating 20% of all mortgages in the U.S., up from less than 5% in 2007.

Student debt, also spurred on by government guarantees, has also boomed, doubling since 2007 to more than $1 trillion. Altogether, total debt in our economy has grown from around $50 trillion to more than $60 trillion since 2007.

So don’t be fooled by this irrational stock market bubble.

Just because a bunch of half-crazed investors are going into massive amounts of debt in a desperate attempt to make a quick buck does not mean that the overall economy is in good shape.

In fact, much of the country is in such rough shape that “reverse shopping” has become a huge trend.  Even big corporations such as McDonald’s are urging their employees to return their Christmas gifts in order to bring in some much needed money…

In a stark reminder of how tough things still are for low-income families in America, McDonalds has advised workers to dig themselves “out of holiday debt” by cashing in their Christmas haul.

“You may want to consider returning some of your unopened purchases that may not seem as appealing as they did,” said a website set up for employees.

“Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”

This irrational stock market bubble is not going to last for too much longer.  And a lot of top financial experts are now warning their clients to prepare for the worst.  For example, David John Marotta of Marotta Wealth Management recently told his clients that they should all have a “bug-out bag” that contains food, a gun and some ammunition…

A top financial advisor, worried that Obamacare, the NSA spying scandal and spiraling national debt is increasing the chances for a fiscal and social disaster, is recommending that Americans prepare a “bug-out bag” that includes food, a gun and ammo to help them stay alive.

David John Marotta, a Wall Street expert and financial advisor and Forbes contributor, said in a note to investors, “Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list. There are some terrible people in this world. And you are safer when your trusted neighbors have firearms.”

His memo is part of a series addressing the potential for a “financial apocalypse.” His view, however, is that the problems plaguing the country won’t result in armageddon. “There is the possibility of a precipitous decline, although a long and drawn out malaise is much more likely,” said the Charlottesville, Va.-based president of Marotta Wealth Management.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/28/13 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Something Is Really Wrong with the USA

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Firearms, healthcare, inequality, government shutdowns.
I’m an incurable Americophile, but the US has a lot to work on.

By Karen Pickering
Alternet
November 12, 2013

As I’m sure Americans have a particular view of Australia (if they remember us at all when they’re not at Outback Steakhouse), so too do Australians perceive the United States through a lens that simplifies and possibly distorts the truth. When I think of “America”, it’s usually difficult to disentangle exactly what I mean by that.

Do I mean the pop culture that I consume every day, from websites to television shows, through to movies and novels? Or the theory and commentary I devour from my favourite intellectuals and antagonists? Am I thinking of the political landscape, that still confuses and confounds me, despite having studied and taught it at university level? Or is it the America of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg and Bruce Springsteen the nation of such promise and innate goodness, that has lost its way?

As an incurable Americophile, I often romanticise the US and feel as though everything I’ve ever thought of, loved and felt is contained within it somehow. But when I compare it to my own country, toward which my patriotism is considerably more ambivalent, I’m reminded that all national dysfunction runs deep, even in two “new worlds”.

Nowhere is the comparison starker or more alarming, and so often made clear, than in our different approaches to firearms. In Australia, if you’re not a police officer, soldier or farmer, then it’s very unlikely you’ve ever seen a gun up close, much less held or fired one. This informs our horror at the reporting over gun culture in the US and in particular, mass shootings. I also despair at the recent murders of Trayvon Martin,Renisha McBride and other victims of structural prejudice. The racial nature of gun crime, the size of the prison population and policies such as Stand Your Ground and Stop and Frisk seem to be social diseases that need urgent solutions.

Of course, Australia has no proud history regarding race relations, and both countries are responsible for genocidal treatment of our first peoples. In America, this is complicated by the difference between Native Americans and African Americans in terms of broader social understanding and political will. Slavery must be one of the most recounted and memorialised events in American history, and yet that cultural awareness seems unrelated to improving real outcomes for African American people, notwithstanding the now-distant joy of Obama’s election.

It’s also been incredibly difficult for the average Australian to conceive ofshutting the government down in protest against citizens receiving health care. As a population with universal free access to medical treatment, we’ve internalised the narrative that Americans can be turned away from hospitals despite needing help. Or that they can be bankrupted by the treatment they do receive. I fervently hope that this is the beginning of a huge cultural shift and America starts to untie this Gordian knot.

I remember helping an American student who was badly injured while stepping off a tram here in Melbourne. There was bone visible and at least a dozen of us pulled out phones to call an ambulance. She screamed and begged us not to, as she thought her travel insurance wouldn’t cover it. We explained that going to a hospital was not a matter of choice at this point. I still recall the look of abject terror on her face, and realising that her first thought on being seriously hurt was: “But how will I pay for it?”

Money can often be a sore point for American tourists in Australia, and I’ve fielded many complaints about how expensive things are. I routinely explain that our minimum wage is close to $20 an hour, that the entire supply chain gets paid properly, and that many workers are unionised in industries that ensure their conditions are good. America has many more union members than our tiny country has inhabitants, but the difference is that our culture supports the right of workers to organise and collectively bargain with employers. For now, anyway.

This means that poverty is different for Americans on the wrong side of capitalism. Without fair wages and in the absence of a social safety net that allows any kind of dignity, I can see how the chance of rejoining the workforce might range from unlikely to impossible. Not to mention the crippling debts for students paying back loans, mortgages that bankrupt families, and the extent of ostracism for those who fall by the wayside. For a country that loves the idea of itself so deeply and passionately, I often wonder how it can hate its own people so profoundly and enduringly.

So why do I still love America? Simply, it’s given me so much. I’ve been utterly transformed by its artists, thinkers, and visionaries and oftentimes it feels like there’s something completely American about what they share. Maybe it’s a hope that things can always be different and better?

America, it’s time to be brave and redirect your immense power inwards. Imagine if just a fraction of military spending were channelled into education, health and a slew of social and economic programs. I remain as hopeful as the most fervent patriot that the full potential of your country will be realised ֖ fulfilling the promise that those poets believed in and taught me all about.

SOURCE

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There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show
The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact. This is an edited extract.

By David Simon
The Guardian
December 8, 2013

America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I LIVE IN ONE, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity.

There’s no barbed wire around West Baltimore or around East Baltimore, around Pimlico, the areas in my city that have been utterly divorced from the American experience that I know. But there might as well be. We’ve somehow managed to march on to two separate futures and I think you’re seeing this more and more in the west. I don’t think it’s unique to America.

I think we’ve perfected a lot of the tragedy and we’re getting there faster than a lot of other places that may be a little more reasoned, but my dangerous idea kind of involves this fellow who got left by the wayside in the 20th century and seemed to be almost the butt end of the joke of the 20th century; a fellow named Karl Marx.

I’m not a Marxist in the sense that I don’t think Marxism has a very specific clinical answer to what ails us economically. I think Marx was a much better diagnostician than he was a clinician. He was good at figuring out what was wrong or what could be wrong with capitalism if it wasn’t attended to and much less credible when it comes to how you might solve that.

You know if you’ve read Capital or if you’ve got the Cliff Notes, you know that his imaginings of how classical Marxism of how his logic would work when applied ֖ kind of devolve into such nonsense as the withering away of the state and platitudes like that. But he was really sharp about what goes wrong when capital wins unequivocally, when it gets everything it asks for.

That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.

We understand profit. In my country we measure things by profit. We listen to the Wall Street analysts. They tell us what we’re supposed to do every quarter. The quarterly report is God. Turn to face God. Turn to face Mecca, you know. Did you make your number? Did you not make your number? Do you want your bonus? Do you not want your bonus?

And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed.

Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.

It’s pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don’t let it work entirely. And that’s a hard idea to think that there isn’t one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we’ve dug for ourselves. But man, we’ve dug a mess.

After the second world war, the west emerged with the American economy coming out of its wartime extravagance, emerging as the best product. It was the best product. It worked the best. It was demonstrating its might not only in terms of what it did during the war but in terms of just how facile it was in creating mass wealth.

Plus, it provided a lot more freedom and was doing the one thing that guaranteed that the 20th century was going to be ֖ and forgive the jingoistic sound of this the American century.

It took a working class that had no discretionary income at the beginning of the century, which was working on subsistence wages. It turned it into a consumer class that not only had money to buy all the stuff that they needed to live but enough to buy a bunch of shit that they wanted but didn’t need, and that was the engine that drove us.

It wasn’t just that we could supply stuff, or that we had the factories or know-how or capital, it was that we created our own demand and started exporting that demand throughout the west. And the standard of living made it possible to manufacture stuff at an incredible rate and sell it.

And how did we do that? We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win.

Labour doesn’t get to win all its arguments, capital doesn’t get to. But it’s in the tension, it’s in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.

The unions actually mattered. The unions were part of the equation. It didn’t matter that they won all the time, it didn’t matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.

Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It’s astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don’t need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I’m not connected to society. I don’t care how the road got built, I don’t care where the firefighter comes from, I don’t care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It’s the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.

That we’ve gotten to this point is astonishing to me because basically in winning its victory, in seeing that Wall come down and seeing the former Stalinist state’s journey towards our way of thinking in terms of markets or being vulnerable, you would have thought that we would have learned what works. Instead we’ve descended into what can only be described as greed. This is just greed. This is an inability to see that we’re all connected, that the idea of two Americas is implausible, or two Australias, or two Spains or two Frances.

Societies are exactly what they sound like. If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have “some”, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to get the same amount. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It’s not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don’t get left behind. And there isn’t a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.

And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.

We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.

Socialism is a dirty word in my country. I have to give that disclaimer at the beginning of every speech, “Oh by the way I’m not a Marxist you know”. I lived through the 20th century. I don’t believe that a state-run economy can be as viable as market capitalism in producing mass wealth. I don’t.

I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument’s over. But the idea that it’s not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn’t going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that’s astonishing to me.

And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That’s the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.

And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour’s a cost. And if labour is diminished, let’s translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less.

From this moment forward unless we reverse course, the average human being is worth less on planet Earth. Unless we take stock of the fact that maybe socialism and the socialist impulse has to be addressed again; it has to be married as it was married in the 1930s, the 1940s and even into the 1950s, to the engine that is capitalism.

Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.

The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?

If you watched the debacle that was, and is, the fight over something as basic as public health policy in my country over the last couple of years, imagine the ineffectiveness that Americans are going to offer the world when it comes to something really complicated like global warming. We can’t even get healthcare for our citizens on a basic level. And the argument comes down to: “Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I’m going to pay to keep other people healthy? It’s socialism, motherfucker.”

What do you think group health insurance is? You know you ask these guys, “Do you have group health insurance where you օ?” “Oh yeah, I get “ you know, “my law firm Ņ” So when you get sick you’re able to afford the treatment.

The treatment comes because you have enough people in your law firm so you’re able to get health insurance enough for them to stay healthy. So the actuarial tables work and all of you, when you do get sick, are able to have the resources there to get better because you’re relying on the idea of the group. Yeah. And they nod their heads, and you go “Brother, that’s socialism. You know it is.”

And ... you know when you say, OK, we’re going to do what we’re doing for your law firm but we’re going to do it for 300 million Americans and we’re going to make it affordable for everybody that way. And yes, it means that you’re going to be paying for the other guys in the society, the same way you pay for the other guys in the law firm Their eyes glaze. You know they don’t want to hear it. It’s too much. Too much to contemplate the idea that the whole country might be actually connected.

So I’m astonished that at this late date I’m standing here and saying we might want to go back for this guy Marx that we were laughing at, if not for his prescriptions, then at least for his depiction of what is possible if you don’t mitigate the authority of capitalism, if you don’t embrace some other values for human endeavour.

And that’s what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy. It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, their economic irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow.

That’s the great horror show. What are we going to do with all these people that we’ve managed to marginalise? It was kind of interesting when it was only race, when you could do this on the basis of people’s racial fears and it was just the black and brown people in American cities who had the higher rates of unemployment and the higher rates of addiction and were marginalised and had the shitty school systems and the lack of opportunity.

And kind of interesting in this last recession to see the economy shrug and start to throw white middle-class people into the same boat, so that they became vulnerable to the drug war, say from methamphetamine, or they became unable to qualify for college loans. And all of a sudden a certain faith in the economic engine and the economic authority of Wall Street and market logic started to fall away from people. And they realised it’s not just about race, it’s about something even more terrifying. It’s about class. Are you at the top of the wave or are you at the bottom?

So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody’s going to get left behind. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.

We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.

The other thing that was there in 1932 that isn’t there now is that some element of the popular will could be expressed through the electoral process in my country.

The last job of capitalism Ŗ having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.

Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.

So I don’t know what we do if we can’t actually control the representative government that we claim will manifest the popular will. Even if we all start having the same sentiments that I’m arguing for now, I’m not sure we can effect them any more in the same way that we could at the rise of the Great Depression, so maybe it will be the brick. But I hope not.

David Simon is an American author and journalist and was the executive producer of The Wire. This is an edited extract of a talk delivered at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney.

SOURCE

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What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?

By rockingjude
Project World Awareness
September 14, 2010

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of several books including the best sellers WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING and EMPIRE OF ILLUSION: THE END OF LITERACY AND THE TRIUMPH OF SPECTACLE. . .

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips DYING EMPIRES, is a country entranced by ILLUSIONS. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other peoples humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears or John Edwards, enthralls the country despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to disappear - the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show Americas Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.

Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.

It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.

We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us investment houses like Goldman Sachs that willfully trashed the global economy and stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. It is fused into one bizarre, perverted belief system and it has banished the possibility of the country returning to a reality-based world or avoiding internal collapse. A society that cannot distinguish reality from illusion dies.

The tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture, however, are vanishing for most citizens as we head toward collapse. The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The jobs we are shedding are not coming back, as the White House economist Lawrence Summers tacitly acknowledges when he talks of a jobless recovery. The belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the accumulation of vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others is exposed as a fraud. Freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

America is sinking under trillions in debt it can never repay and stays afloat by frantically selling about $2 billion in Treasury bonds a day to the Chinese. It saw 2.8 million people lose their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions nearly 8,000 people a day - and stands idle as they are joined by another 2.4 million people this year. It refuses to prosecute the Bush administration for obvious war crimes, including the use of torture, and sees no reason to dismantle Bushs secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Deficits are pushing individual states to bankruptcy and forcing the closure of everything from schools to parks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have squandered trillions of dollars, appear endless. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called “near poverty.” One in eight Americans - and one in four children depend on food stamps to eat. And yet, in the midst of it all, we continue to be a country consumed by happy talk and happy thoughts. We continue to embrace the illusion of inevitable progress, personal success and rising prosperity. Reality is not considered an impediment to desire.

When a culture lives within an illusion it perpetuates a state of permanent infantilism or childishness. As the gap widens between the illusion and reality, as we suddenly grasp that it is our home being foreclosed or our job that is not coming back, we react like children. We scream and yell for a savior, someone who promises us revenge, moral renewal and new glory. It is not a new story. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually, emotionally and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans and will usher America into a new dark age. It was the economic collapse in Yugoslavia that gave us Slobodan Milosevic. It was the Weimar Republic that vomited up Adolf Hitler. And it was the breakdown in Tsarist Russia that opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we na֖vely dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. And as in all totalitarian societies, those who do not pay fealty to the illusions imposed by the state become the outcasts, the persecuted.

The decline of American empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of Harvard historian Charles Maier, from “an empire of production to an empire of consumption.” By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnsons Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies.

As the pressure mounts, as the despair and desperation reach into larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state. This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of extraordinary rendition,֒ warrantless wiretapping on American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. The motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to seize and maintain internal control. It is about controlling us.

And yet, even in the face of catastrophe, mass culture continues to assure us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, by Hollywood or by Christian preachers, is magical thinking. It turns worthless mortgages and debt into wealth. It turns the destruction of our manufacturing base into an opportunity for growth. It turns alienation and anxiety into a cheerful conformity. It turns a nation that wages illegal wars and administers offshore penal colonies where it openly practices torture into the greatest democracy on earth. And it keeps us from fighting back.

Resistance movements will have to look now at the long night of slavery, the decades of oppression in the Soviet Union and the curse of fascism for models. The goal will no longer be the possibility of reforming the system but of protecting truth, civility and culture from mass contamination. It will require the kind of schizophrenic lifestyle that characterizes all totalitarian societies. Our private and public demeanors will often have to stand in stark contrast. Acts of defiance will often be subtle and nuanced. They will be carried out not for short term gain but the assertion of our integrity. Rebellion will have an ultimate if not easily definable purpose. The more we retreat from the culture at large the more room we will have to carve out lives of meaning, the more we will be able to wall off the flood of illusions disseminated by mass culture and the more we will retain sanity in an insane world. The goal will become the ability to endure..

SOURCE

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Massive Inequality Didn’t Just Happen - It Was Engineered by Conservative Government Policies
Inequality in America is the result of a whole range of policies intended to redistribute income upward.

By Dean Baker
Alternet
December 4, 2013

In his SPEECH on inequality earlier this month, President Obama proclaimed that the government could not be a bystander in the effort to reduce inequality, which he described as the defining MORAL ISSUE of our time. This left millions convinced that Obama would do nothing to lessen inequality.

The problem is that President Obama wants the public to believe that inequality is something that just happened. It turns out that the forces of technology, globalization, and whatever else simply made some people very rich and left others working for low wages or out of work altogether. The president and other like-minded people feel a moral compulsion to reverse the resulting inequality. This story is 180 degrees at odds with the reality. Inequality did not just happen, it was deliberately engineered through a whole range of policies intended to redistribute income upward.

Trade is probably the best place to start just because it is so obvious. Trade deals like NAFTA were quite explicitly designed to place our manufacturing workers in direct competition with the lowest paid workers in the world. The text was written after consulting with top executives at major companies like General Electric. Our negotiators asked these executives what changes in Mexico’s law would make it easier for them to set up factories in Mexico. The text was written accordingly.

When we saw factory workers losing their jobs to imports from Mexico and other developing countries, this was not an accident. In economic theory, the gains from these trade deals are the result of getting lower priced products due to lower cost labor. The loss of jobs in the United States and the downward pressure on the jobs that remain is a predicted outcome of the deal.

There is nothing about the GLOBALIZATION process that necessitated this result. Doctors work for much less money in Mexico and elsewhere in the developing world than in the United States. In fact, they work for much less money in Europe and Canada than in the United States. If we had structured the trade deals to facilitate the entry of qualified foreign doctors into the country it would have placed downward pressure on the wages of doctors (many of whom are in the top one percent of the income distribution), while saving consumers tens of billions a year in health care costs.

In other words, the government quite deliberately structured our trade to put downward pressure on the wages of much of the labor force, while protecting doctors and other highly paid professionals from similar competition. Trade is just one of the many ways in which the government has redistributed income upward over the last three decades.

The subsidy for too big to fail banks, which makes the Wall Street crew incredibly rich, is another way that the government redistributes money to the top. Bloomberg ESTIMATED the size of this annual subsidy for the Wall Street gang at $80 billion a year, more than the government spends on food stamps.

The longer and stronger patent protection the government has given pharmaceutical companies is another way that money goes from the rest of us to the rich. The annual size of patent rents in the drug industry is currently in the neighborhood of $270 billion, more than three times as much as the government spends on food stamps.

And the macroeconomic policy run by the government has also worsened inequality. Budgets are crafted by politicians, not the gods or nature. The decision not to run a more stimulatory policy to reduce unemployment is every bit as much a conscious act as would be the decision to try to bring the economy to full employment with further stimulus.

In other words, Congress and the president have decided to craft budgets that lead to tens of millions of people being unemployed or underemployed. As Jared Bernstein and I point out in our new book, high levels of unemployment put downward pressure on workers’ wages, especially those in the bottom third of the labor force. This means we have a federal budget that limits growth and employment in a way that redistributes income upwards.

There is a much longer list of ways in which the government has acted to redistribute income upwards over the last three decades. I have a fuller discussion in my book, The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive.

But the key point is that inequality didn’t just happen; it was the result of government policy. That is why people who actually want to see inequality reduced, and for poor and middle class to share in the benefits from growth, are not likely to be very happy about President Obama’s speech on the topic. His comment about the government being a bystander ignores the real source of the problem. Therefore it is not likely that he will come up with much by way of real solutions.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 12/25/13 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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