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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Home country: Citizen of the world whose address is in the U.S.
Current location: Detroit, Michigan
Member since: Thu Oct 28, 2004, 11:18 PM
Number of posts: 69,332

Journal Archives

How Debt Conquered America

How Debt Conquered America
January 8, 2016

Special Report: America presents itself to the world as “the land of the free” but – for the vast majority – it is a place of enslaving indebtedness, a reality for much of “the 99%” that has deep historical roots hidden or “lost” from our history, as Jada Thacker explains.

By Jada Thacker

Since its center-stage debut during the Occupy Wall Street movement, “the 99%” – a term emblematic of extreme economic inequality confronting the vast majority – has become common place. The term was coined by sociology professor David Graeber, an Occupy leader and author of the encyclopedic Debt: The First 5,000 Years, published just as the Occupy movement captured headlines.

What Graeber’s monumental work did not emphasize specifically, and what most Americans still do not appreciate, is how debt was wielded as the weapon of choice to subjugate the 99% in the centuries before the Occupy protesters popularized the term. Like so many aspects of our Lost History, the legacy of debt has been airbrushed from our history texts, but not from our lives.

The original 99% in America did not occupy Wall Street in protest. They occupied the entire Western Hemisphere as original inhabitants of North and South America. After 20,000 years of Occupy Hemisphere, an Italian entrepreneur appeared, having pitched an investment opportunity to his financial backers in Spain.

Soon after Columbus launched his business enterprise on the pristine beaches of the New World, each native discovered there above the age of puberty was required to remit a “hawk’s bell’s worth” of gold dust to the Spaniards every two weeks. The hands of all those failing to do so were cut off and strung about their necks – so that they bled to death, thus motivating the compliance of others.

Bartolome de las Casas, a contemporary slave-owning priest-turned-reformer, reported three million natives were exterminated by Spanish entrepreneurship in only 15 years. His population figures were guesstimates, but modern researchers confirm that 80 to 90% of the Taino people in the Hispaniola-Cuba region died within 30 years of Spanish contact, the majority from disease. .................(more)


A US Media Lost in Propaganda

from Consortium News:

A US Media Lost in Propaganda
January 9, 2016

There was once a time – perhaps just a brief moment in time – when American journalists were cynical and responsible enough to resist being jerked around by U.S. government propaganda, but that time has long since passed if it ever existed, a reality that William Blum describes.

By William Blum

Vulgar, crude, racist and ultra-sexist though he is, Donald Trump can still see how awful the American mainstream media is.

I think one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s popularity is that he says what’s on his mind and he means what he says, something rather rare amongst American politicians, or politicians perhaps anywhere in the world. The American public is sick and tired of the phony, hypocritical answers given by office-holders of all kinds.

When I read that Trump had said that Sen. John McCain was not a hero because McCain had been captured in Vietnam, I had to pause for reflection. Wow! Next the man will be saying that not every American soldier who was in the military in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq was a shining hero worthy of constant media honor and adulation.

When Trump was interviewed by ABC-TV host George Stephanopoulos, former aide to President Bill Clinton, he was asked: “When you were pressed about (Russian president Vladimir Putin’s) killing of journalists, you said, ‘I think our country does plenty of killing too.’ What were you thinking about there? What killing sanctioned by the U.S. government is like killing journalists?”

Trump responded: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been – you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.” ...............(more)


A Great Fall: The Origins and Crisis of Neoliberalism

from Dollars & Sense:

A Great Fall: The Origins and Crisis of Neoliberalism
The First Part of a Two-Part Article


In the fall of 2008, a massive financial and economic crisis struck the United States and much of the world. The biggest American banks were suddenly insolvent and survived only thanks to government bailouts. A deep recession spread around the globe. The unemployment rate in the United States jumped up to 10%. Over the following five years, more than four million U.S. homeowners were tossed out of their homes due to foreclosure, as home values plummeted below the mortgage debt owed and unemployment cut household incomes. The economies of the United States, Europe, and much of the rest of the world have been stuck in stagnation or worse since 2008.

This condition is not something new in the history of capitalism. Capitalist economic systems—in which a small percentage of the population owns the enterprises, hires wage workers, and sells the products aiming for a profit—have brought economic growth but also periodic severe economic crises. To understand these recurring crises, we need to take account of the quite different forms of capitalism over time. While always having the key features noted above, capitalism has nevertheless not looked the same at all times. For several decades following World War II, the United States had a “regulated capitalism” in which government, trade unions, and other non-market institutions played major roles in regulating the economy. Since 1980, we have lived under “neoliberal capitalism,” in which the government retreated from regulation of business and markets, and trade unions were marginalized (see sidebar). In the past, each form of capitalism has worked well on its own terms—fostering investment and economic growth—for a few decades, after which snowballing problems gave rise to severe economic crises such as today’s.

The crisis of neoliberal capitalism has made it vulnerable to replacement by something else. Every past economic crisis of this severity has been followed by major changes in economic and political institutions. Earlier so-called “free-market” forms of capitalism have produced economic crises before in U.S. history—in the 1890s and the end of the 1920s. In each case, the crisis was followed by the construction of some kind of regulated capitalism, in response to the forces that had brought on the crisis. After 1900, Progressive Era reforms together with the rise of powerful Wall Street banks led to a corporate-dominated form of regulated capitalism. This lasted until the end of World War I, when another shift brought a decade of relatively unhindered pursuit of profit—the Roaring Twenties—that culminated in the 1929 crash. Eventually, a more thoroughly regulated capitalism, this time based on capital-labor compromise, emerged in the late 1940s. While history does not always repeat itself, there is good reason to expect that, if U.S. capitalism is to surmount the stagnation that has followed the crash of 2008, it will do so through another version of regulated capitalism, which can potentially address the problems that led to the current crisis.

Several big questions cry out for answers. Why did the last sea change, from regulated to neoliberal capitalism, take place—not just in the United States but in much of the world—around 1980? Why did a radically different form of capitalism emerge after decades of active state regulation and strong trade unions? Why did the post-1980 “neoliberal capitalism” eventually produce such a big economic crisis after 25 years of seemingly stable, if lackluster and unequally distributed, economic growth? And most immediately, what kind(s) of economic change are possible and likely today? The relative strength and determination of key economic classes has decided the direction of economic change in past crisis periods, and the current one is not likely to be an exception. ...................(more)


Chipotle's food safety crisis, explained in 4 minutes

After hearing a trickle of reports about food poisoning over recent months, millions of lunch-seeking Americans are probably wondering: Is it safe to eat at Chipotle?

The bad news is that public health investigators haven't identified the source of the E. coli that sickened almost 60 Chipotle customers in 11 states. By the time they started testing the restaurants and the employees, they couldn't find a trace of the bacteria.

But that may be a blessing in disguise, because without a specific ingredient or supplier to blame, Chipotle has to inspect everything. .................(more)


Have we lost the deeply democratic vision that animated the early internet?

from Dissent magazine:

Phantom Public
Astra Taylor ▪ Winter 2016

(Rosa Menkman / Flickr)

In 1964 the enigmatic Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously declared “the medium is the message.” At the same time he called media “extensions of man.” Fifty years ago these assertions were provocative enough to turn McLuhan into a countercultural celebrity. Today, it all seems somewhat unremarkable: who doesn’t feel their smartphone, for both better and worse, to be a part of them? The idea that media extend us—making us more connected and sociable, informed and empowered—is not just pervasive; it is essential to the promotion of the digital economy, or what theorist Jodi Dean has dubbed “communicative capitalism.”

Though McLuhan’s work fell out of fashion for a few decades, there has been renewed interest in his theories since the advent of the internet, which some say McLuhan—never afraid to make sweeping pronouncements or predications—anticipated. McLuhan imagined a vast electronic web encircling the globe, with cinema, television, radio, telephones, and the printing press enabling individuals to communicate with one another in a “global village.” “Today computers hold out the promise of a means of instant translation of any code or language into any other code or language,” wrote McLuhan in a particularly optimistic—today, we might say “techno-utopian”—passage in his groundbreaking 1964 book Understanding Media. “The computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity,” which would lead to the unfolding of a “general cosmic consciousness.”

Today you don’t have to be a card-carrying McLuhanite to believe that forms of media have their own inherent politics. Many academics and pundits have built their reputations arguing that the rise of the internet leads to the decentralization and democratization of communication, and of social life more broadly. While some contemporary critics have challenged this sort of “technological determinism,” the proposition that new media is irrelevant to understanding politics is equally problematic. We need more historically informed analyses of the way power operates in an era of digital networks and electronic media, and more pointed critiques of the ways the powerful purposefully obscure their influence over and through these channels.

The work of Stanford historian Fred Turner is a good place to start. As he explains in his fascinating and illuminating 2013 book The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties, McLuhan’s apparently pioneering thinking on media owes a large and largely forgotten debt to an earlier group of anti-fascist campaigners and well-meaning Cold Warriors. They were the first to articulate a vision of a media-driven democracy that, though never perfectly implemented, has suffused much of today’s popular thinking about the internet and social media. .............(more)


Thom Hartmann: The Crash of 2016

Published on Dec 5, 2013
Looking at American history, Hartmann, host of The Big Picture, sees that roughly every four generations, catastrophe strikes. To avert the next economic and social disaster, he urges us to reject the destabilizing profit motives of corporations, and embrace the ideals of democratic civil values that once defined the nation.

Tears (cartoon)


This is What Happens after PE Firms Get Through with a Retailer

This is What Happens after PE Firms Get Through with a Retailer
by Wolf Richter • January 8, 2016

At least, they didn’t blame China.

Thursday afterhours, the Container Store, former LBO queen and IPO hero with 77 stores around the country, reported third quarter “earnings” – in quotes because those “earnings” were negative.

Consolidated net sales for the quarter ending November 30 rose 3.3% to $197.2 million. But cost of sales rose 5.3%. CEO Kip Tindell blamed their new “$75 free-shipping service.” It’s “driving sales” and is “absolutely a good thing, but of course it’s a headwind to gross margin,” he said. That’s how Amazon leaves its mark.

Selling, general, and administrative expenses jumped 8.6%. “Disappointing,” Tindell called it. CFO Jodi Taylor blamed the “complexity of our transformational TCS Closets initiative,” plus higher payroll, healthcare, and storage expenses. Stuff happens in real life.

Stock-based compensation, pre-opening costs, and depreciation and amortization also rose. So income from operations plunged 87% to $1.8 million. And after $4.2 million in interest expense and a tax benefit of $694,000, there was a net loss of $1.7 million. It brought the net loss for the nine months to $4.3 million. ...............(more)


Ahh, the ceaseless wonders of for-profit "health" care


Commercially-Driven Spike in Drug Shortages Endangers Lives

Emergency room doctors are reaching for medicines that aren’t there as drug shortages have jumped more than five-fold between 2008 and 2014. And experts say drug companies are to blame.

Shannon Firth reports at MedPage Today:

About one-third of the 1,798 documented drug shortages from 2001 to 2014 were for drugs used in emergency medicine. Of those emergency department drug shortages, about half were described as “lifesaving interventions” or “drugs used as a direct intervention for high-acuity conditions,” according to Pines and colleagues. That’s 18% of all shortages.

And, for 32 of the drugs in shortage for lifesaving or high-acuity issues, there are no substitutes. (…)

Generic sterile injectable drugs had the most access issues, and shortages were most prevalent in three areas: infectious disease, analgesia, and toxicology. (…)

noted that heightened FDA scrutiny may have contributed to manufacturing delays and caused some products to be discontinued. But, he said, “basically a lot of these companies are stopping producing these medicines primarily for business reasons.” (…)

Mark Reiter, MD, MBA, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine and an emergency physician in Nashville, Tenn., said the reason emergency medicine is so deeply affected by drug shortages is because they rely more heavily on generic drugs than other departments.

Pharmaceutical companies profit more from branded products and reserve few resources for generics.

“I think the FDA thing is a minor issue. I think the real issue is economics.”

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

U.S. Stocks Tumble, Cap Worst Five-Day Start to Year Since 1928

(Bloomberg) U.S. stocks fell for a third day, tumbling in a late-afternoon selloff that sent major equity indexes to their worst weekly declines in more than four years, as investors found little relief in moves by China to restore calm to its sinking markets and data that showed resilience in the U.S labor market.

Bank stocks led the late-Friday declines, with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. falling at least 2.2 percent to cap the week with drops of more than 10 percent. Energy shares in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 1.3 percent to press deeper into five-year lows. Seven of the benchmark’s 10 main industries sank more than 5.5 percent this week.

The S&P 500 dropped 1.1 percent to 1,922.03 at 4 p.m. in New York. The gauge fell 6 percent this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 167.65 points, or 1 percent, to 16,346.45, and lost more than 1,000 points this week. The Nasdaq Composite Index declined 1 percent, stretching its losing streak to seven days, the longest since 2011.

“We’re still in a risk-off mentality,” said Mark Spellman, a fund manager who helps oversee more than $4 billion at Alpine Funds in Purchase, New York. “I think any kind of risk-on trade mentality that comes in is going to be short-lived until global economic growth improves. It’s not a great time to pile in right now.” ..............(more)


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