mother earth's Journal
Member since: Wed Nov 10, 2004, 05:08 PM
Number of posts: 4,760
Number of posts: 4,760
Posted on Mar 20, 2015
By Amy Goodman
President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress are united. Yes, that’s right. No, not on Obamacare, or on the budget, or on negotiations with Iran, or on equal pay for women. But on so-called free-trade agreements, which increase corporate power and reduce the power of people to govern themselves democratically, Obama and the Republicans stand shoulder to shoulder. This has put the president at loggerheads with his strongest congressional allies, the progressive Democrats, who oppose the TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the most far-reaching trade agreements in history. TPP will set rules governing more than 40 percent of the world’s economy. Obama has been negotiating in secret, and the Democrats are not happy.
The battle lines are being drawn over the TPP and TPA. If you are confused, well, that is exactly what many of the most powerful corporations in the U.S., and around the world, are counting on. Trade policy is arcane, complex and long the domain of economists and technocrats. But the real-world implications of these dry texts are profound. President Obama wants to pass the TPP, which is a broad trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries in the Pacific Rim: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. In order to expedite the process, President Obama is seeking the second acronym, TPA, or Trade Promotion Authority, also called “fast-track.” Fast-track gives the president authority to negotiate a trade deal, and to then present it to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, with no amendments allowed. A growing coalition is organizing to oppose TPP and the president’s request for fast-track. The outcome of this conflict will reverberate globally for generations to come.
The TPP negotiations have been held in secret. Most people know what little they do because WikiLeaks, the document disclosure and whistle-blower website, released several chapters more than a year ago. Members of Congress also have been given limited access to briefings on the negotiations, but under strict secrecy rules that, in at least one instance recently, include the threat of imprisonment if details leak.
The TPP would be an expanded version of earlier trade agreements, like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, involving the U.S., Canada and Mexico. NAFTA went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994, and was so harmful to the culture and economy of the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico, that they rebelled on that very day, in what is known as the Zapatista Uprising. Attempts to create a global trade deal, under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, provoked one of the largest protests against corporate power in history, in Seattle in late 1999. Thousands of protesters locked arms and literally blocked delegates from getting to the ministerial meeting. As unexpected solidarity between union members and environmentalists flourished in the streets, despite widespread police violence, the WTO talks collapsed in total failure.
The TPP, if passed, would implement trade rules that make it illegal for governments to create and enforce regulations on everything from environmental standards, to wage and labor laws, to the duration of copyrights. A law prohibiting the sale of goods made in sweatshops in Vietnam could be ruled illegal, for example, as a barrier to trade. Or certification requirements that lumber not be harvested from old-growth forests in Malaysia could be overturned.
Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch program is one of the leading critics of TPP:
“It’s a delivery mechanism for a lot of the things McConnell and the Republicans like. So, for instance, it would increase the duration of patents for Big Pharma and, as a result, give them windfall profits but increase our medicine prices. It could roll back financial regulation on big banks. It could limit Internet freedom, sort of sneak through the back door the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA,” Wallach explained. “It would give special privileges and rights for foreign corporations to skirt around our courts and sue the U.S. government to raid our treasury over any environmental, consumer health law that they think undermine their expected future profits, the so-called ‘investor-state’ enforcement system. Plus, it would have the NAFTA-style rules that make it easier to offshore jobs, making it easier to relocate to low-wage countries.”
The TPP, she went on, “was negotiated with the assistance of 600 corporate advisers, official corporate trade advisers in the U.S. The agreement has been the initiative of the Obama administration. It was started by Bush, but instead of turning it around and making it something different, the Obama folks picked it up and, frankly, have made it even more extreme.”
Grass-roots activists are organizing against the TPP and fast-track. They work on diverse issues ranging from human rights and Internet freedom to fair trade, labor rights and the environment. The moneyed interests in Washington have the ear of the president, so they need only whisper. Now people must raise their voices, in unison, and demand to be heard.
It's interesting that this was started under GW, yet somehow some still believe we are not under corporate rule.
Posted by mother earth | Fri Mar 20, 2015, 05:55 PM (11 replies)
The European Central Bank's Trillion Euro plan to make the economy grow will only help keep the banks afloat - March 11, 2015
Taken from full interview at above:
So, in that sense quantitative easing and the refusal of central banks to fund governments, but only to fund commercial banks, is a new kind of class war. And it's not the old kind of class war, which was simply between employers and their workforce over what wages will be. It's by the financial sector trying to take over the economy, and especially to take over the public sector, to take over the public domain, to take over public utilities, to take over whatever assets a government has, and to force governments to--essentially, if governments cannot borrow from central banks, they have to begin selling off property.
PERIES: Michael, this is exactly what's happening in Greece right now. The SYRIZA government is somewhat forced to continue privatization as a part of the agreement of the loans that they have been given by European banks. What could they do in this situation?
HUDSON: Well, this is really a scandal, because most privatizations are corrupt. In Greece, they're almost as corrupt as they are the United States--well, nothing could be that corrupt. But the SYRIZA Party coming in said, wait a minute, the privatizations that have been done are by a governmental people to their own cronies at a giveaway price. How can we balance the budget if we're giving away the public utilities instead of getting a fair price for them? The European Central Bank said, no, no, you have to give away privatization to cronies at pennies on the dollar just like Russia did under Yeltsin, just like the United States did with the railroad giveaways of the 19th century.
And remember, the American privatization cronies created essentially the ruling class of the 20th century. It created the stock market. Well, the same thing's happening in Greece. It's told, create a new oligarchy, endow a new kind of a feudal lord--although in the case of some monopoly lord, by giving them away, these privatization giveaways--and if you don't do that, we're going to bankrupt the banking system. Well, Varoufakis went back to the party congress in Parliament and said, will you approve this? Well, so far, the left wing in Greece has said, no, we won't approve the giveaways. This is crazy. The pretense is that privatization is to make money. But the European central bank is really saying, no, no, you can't make money; you have to give it away to your cronies, who are our cronies, and it's all one happy financial family. This is escalating financial warfare.
Posted by mother earth | Fri Mar 20, 2015, 04:03 PM (0 replies)
Michael Hudson says quantitative easing is a pretext for assisting banks to make even more profit - March 11, 2015
Part 1 of 2
Michael Hudson, the president of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends, is a Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is a Research Associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. He is the author of Super Imperialism, The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and its Discontents. His upcoming book is titled Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.
Killing The Host, Michael Hudson
“The financial sector has succeeded in depicting itself as part of the productive economy, yet for centuries banking was recognized as being parasitic. The essence of parasitism is not only to drain the host’s nourishment, but also to dull the host’s brain so that it does not recognize that the parasite is there.
This is the illusion that much of Europe and the United States suffer under today. The aim of this book is to pierce this illusion and replace junk economics with economics based on reality. In Killing the Host, Michael Hudson argues that financial crises will continue unless we radically transform our economic and political structures, and reclaim the best ideas of classical economics.”
Full interview at link:
its cover story is it's supposed to help employment. And the pretense is an old model that used to be taught in textbooks 100 years ago. The pretense is that banks lend money to companies to invest and build equipment and hire people. But that's not what banks do. Banks lend money to real estate. They lend money to corporate raiders. They lend money to buy assets. They don't lend money for companies to invest in equipment and hire. Just the opposite. They do lend money to corporate raiders, and when they take over companies, they outsource labor, they downsize labor, and they try to squeeze out more from the labor force, and they try to grab the pensions.
So the Fed was pretty open in what quantitative easing is supposed to do since 2008. It's supposed to lower the interest rates, which raises bond prices, and it inflates the stock market. And since 2008, they've had the largest monetary inflation history--$4 trillion of quantitative easing by the Fed. But it's all gone into the stock market and the bond market.
So what has this done? Well, it's helped stock and bond holders get richer. And who are the stock and bond holders? They're the 1 percent and they're the 10 percent. And people are wringing their hands and saying, why isn't the economy getting richer? Why is it since 2008 economic inequality and the distribution of wealth have worsened instead of gotten closer together? Well, it's because of quantitative easing. It's because quantitative easing has increased the value of the stocks and the bonds that the 1 percent or the 10 percent hold, and it hasn't helped the economy at all, because the Fed is really concerned with its constituency, which are the banks.
Posted by mother earth | Fri Mar 20, 2015, 04:01 PM (6 replies)
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- In 1929, a businessman and economist by the name of Jerome Levy didn’t like what he saw in his analysis of corporate profits. He sold his stocks before the October crash.
Almost eight decades later, the consultancy company that bears his name declared “the next recession will be caused by the deflating housing bubble.” By February 2007, it predicted problems in the subprime-mortgage market would spread “to virtually all financial markets.” In October 2007, it saw imminent recession -- the slump began two months later.
The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, based in Mount Kisco, New York, and run by Jerome’s grandson David, is again more worried than its peers. Its half-dozen analysts attach a 65 percent probability of a worldwide recession forcing a contraction in the U.S. by the end of next year.
That call runs counter to the forecasts of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The two banks posit an expansion that has plenty of room to run.
“Clearly the direction of most of the recent global economic news suggests movement toward a 2015 downturn,” chairman David Levy told clients in an Oct. 23 edition of a monthly forecasting report, which at over 60 years purports to be the oldest of its kind.
Why the gloom? Levy argues the U.S. and many advanced economies still have balance-sheet excesses exposing them to renewed financial crisis. There is limited room for policy makers to reverse any slump, and low inflation risks tipping into deflation in many parts of the world.
While the U.S. is doing relatively well, Levy is worried that at about 13 percent of gross domestic product, U.S. exports represent their largest share ever.
American companies also are getting a historically large proportion of earnings from abroad and households are vulnerable to any bear market because their ratio of stocks to disposable income is higher than at any point aside from the start of this century, he said.
Granted, there have been some misfires. In September 2010, Levy told Bloomberg Television that he saw a 60 percent chance of another U.S. recession. Instead the world’s largest economy has gained in strength.
The upshot of the latest forecast is that even if a slump is avoided, the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates near zero until the next decade, according to Levy.
“Without first strengthening substantially, we think it highly unlikely that global financial stability will hold together long enough for the Fed to signal and execute a rate increase,” he said.
Posted by mother earth | Tue Mar 17, 2015, 07:25 PM (1 replies)
Dimitri Lascaris and Leo Panitch discuss the Greek government's negotiating strategy and whether it should be preparing to leave the Eurozone - March 15, 2015
Excerpt from: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13412
LASCARIS: I don't know whether they're going to actually survive from a fiscal perspective until beyond March, let alone a year or months down the road. They have to make a choice. It's unfortunate that there being put to this choice, these very extraordinary and difficult circumstances, but that's the choice confronting them. And they can either continue down this path, or they can liberate themselves from the straitjacket of the Eurozone and recover some degree of sovereignty and have some degree of latitude to address the humanitarian crisis, or they can continue to see a contraction of their GDP, they can continue to see an increase in poverty, they can continue to see a rise in the suicide rate. That's the choice confronting them, unfortunately. They don't have the luxury of time.
JAY: Leo, quick final word.
PANITCH: I don't think it's that simple, I must say. I agree with you, Dimitri, yeah, I agree that Europe is not going to give them a lot of breathing space. I think they're going to have some. I think the big difference between them and the previous government is that they are going to be implementing this, rather than a set of reactionaries. And I think that does make some difference.
And one has to weigh that against what the implications would be for the Greek people of pulling out. And when you speak of a humanitarian crisis, you need to speak of a country that, unlike Venezuela, did not have high oil prices to fund its social solidarity program. That's the country you're speaking of. And you need to then--you need to think through what a wealth tax and what some nationalization would give them in order for the humanitarian crisis not to get worse when they pull out.
So I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you. I just think one needs to be going to be honest, one needs to not only say they haven't got that much space in Europe; one needs to ask how much--what will be the short-term implications and be honest about it in terms of being cut off at the moment. But I'm not sure in the end that they won't have to go. I just don't think one can expect this to be determined within weeks of the election.
An interesting interview further explaining the rise of the far right throughout Europe due to austerity. The far right very definitely will cause the collapse of the EU and are calling for it. The reality is there is no compromise by Germany to bring an end to austerity, which remains completely unsustainable, so the question remains for Syriza, for Greece, to stay within unsustainable austerity or to leave, all of which will likely play out over the coming weeks. It seems there is only one way through all of this, either an exit through chaos and a far right takeover, or an exit due to no compromise via Germany's stranglehold and Syriza's lead. Leaving the EU means more pain, but with no let up of austerity measures, there would be seen a light at the end of the tunnel. While there is a seeming stalemate at hand, it seems an exit is still very much ahead for Greece.
Shall we see total revolt & a far right exit, or perhaps a more reasoned exit via Syriza? Certainly the people have overwhelmingly rejected austerity and that rejection is sweeping throughout Europe. Germany, you have forgotten the mercy shown you in your darkest moment, and you are forcing what lies ahead.
Posted by mother earth | Mon Mar 16, 2015, 08:07 AM (0 replies)
Posted by mother earth | Thu Mar 12, 2015, 08:18 AM (9 replies)
While a delay/band-aid is on the situation, Sen. Sanders words (as always) remain strong, pertinent & reach in to the crux of the matter.
Posted by mother earth | Tue Mar 10, 2015, 12:18 PM (8 replies)
Economist Richard Wolff discusses the latest unemployment figures and says the raising of interest rates by the Federal Reserve during a weak recovery would be disastrous for our heavily indebted society - March 8, 2015
The Department of Labor released its jobs report for February, and the press is hailing it as a strong sign that the economy is flexing some muscles after adding 295,000 new jobs in the month of February. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent, which is its lowest level since May 2008. That's back in the early days of the recession.
Now joining us from New York City to give us the story behind these figures is Richard Wolff. Richard is a professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and he's currently a visiting professor at the New School University in New York.
DESVARIEUX: So, Rick, the labor market is getting better--at least that's what the numbers are telling us. But is that the whole story?
WOLFF: No, and it's not only that, the whole story. It's not even the most important part of the story of unemployment. And let me explain. First of all, sure, that we've added almost 300,000 jobs is a lot better than adding 100,000 or cutting thousands of jobs, which is what has happened for much of the last five or six years. So it's better than where we have been. But it is very, very far short of what a functioning economy ought to do.
And let me explain. The minute you break down these numbers--which, by the way, newspapers that do this properly have been able to do. And I've actually mentioned the Wall Street Journal for having given a list of charts to help people understand what these numbers means. One of those charts shows that the increase in jobs that they're talking about has overwhelmingly been part-time jobs, not full-time jobs. And when you look at full-time jobs, we're not even back to where we were seven or eight years ago, because that is how bad this depression or recession, whatever you want to call it, has been.
Second most important reality: wages have gone nowhere. There's been no increase in wages. That means if you put together that the wage averages have been the same, but in effect what you're doing is giving people part-time jobs, not full-time jobs, then you begin to see that this is not an economic recovery. What has actually happened is over the last eight years of this economic crash since 2008, millions of Americans have suffered unemployment, often for one, two, and three years. Little footnote: unemployment is lasting longer now than at any other downturn since the Great Depression. What you've done is put people through long, painful unemployment, using up their savings, using up the resources of their family, using up all unemployment compensation that they're eligible for, so that now they are forced to go back to work part-time instead of full-time, and at lower-wage jobs that they had before.
You put all this together, and what you're seeing is an economic slump that continues. It's not as bad as it was in late 2008, 2009, and 2010, but to compare that, where we are now, with what the worst was is not the right way to go. It's to compare us now with what we could have and should have been all along and what we should have now made up for. What happened in the last seven years, nothing like that has is shown by these numbers.
DESVARIEUX: But, Rick, I'm going to challenge you a bit, because at the end of the day there has been real growth. In the construction industry, they've added 29,000 jobs, the restaurant industry added 59,000 jobs, both of them in the service industry. And the Bureau of Labor found that unemployment decreased in every state, all 50 states, including D.C., during the year 2014. That sounds, at least on the surface, as good news. I mean, that hasn't happened since 1984. So, for you, I want to ask you: what do you think is at the root of this growth? Are we actually seeing the private sector deciding to reinvest in the economy? And can you at least say that this is a minor victory?
WOLFF: Again, it depends in comparison to what. Is it better than losing jobs? Yes. Is it better than a growth of jobs that's slower? Yes, no question. I'm glad these people have been getting jobs. But I know as an economist that if you put people mostly into part-time jobs, and if you put them mostly into low-paying jobs, and if you look at where the growth in jobs has been, not just in the month of February, but for the last several years, it's very clear that we're moving from a high-wage, high-benefit, secure-job economy to a low-wage, low-benefit, precarious economic situation for the majority of our workers. That is not a recovery. That is going to a new place in this economy far inferior to what we had both before this crisis and during it. It's basically saying to the American working class, we have put you through a proverbial economic hell in the last seven years of unemployment. At the end of that title, what awaits you is a poorer job with fewer benefits that is less secure than you had before we put you through this economic disaster. That's why focusing on the fact that over a few month period the numbers go up instead of down distracts the attention of the people from the larger, broader reality, which is one that they ought to be very, very concerned about rather than having themselves on the back for this number.
DESVARIEUX: So, Rick, for you, then, what would be a economic indicator that would represent a healthy economy?
WOLFF: For me it would be using the term full employment for what it means in simple, honest English, and that would be one percent, one and a half percent of our people out of work, because basically they're moving from one job to another. There's always a certain amount of friction like that. But that's it. The rest is what we're not solving as a problem. And that is in fact getting worse.
And let me explain really simply what I mean. We currently have, depending on how you count, between 10 and 20 million Americans who are not able to work in a proper full-time job that they want to have and that they want to do. At the same time, the Federal Reserve teaches a statistic called capacity utilization: what portion of the tools, equipment, machines, floor space, factory space, office space, what part is being left idle, not used? And the answer is: about 20 percent these days, which means we have more than enough tools, equipment, and raw material for those 10 to 20 unemployed millions of Americans to work with. If we put those people to work with the equipment and tools and raw materials available, we could produce a wealth of output that could do a major job in rebuilding the destroyed cities of the United States, providing for the elderly that we are increasingly a part of our population, providing the daycare that we ought to have and that finds us far behind other countries like us, and make a real contribution to overcoming poverty in around the world, which would be a lot more successful a foreign policy than the one we pursue. We have the capacity to do it. But we have an economic system that can't, that fails to put together the people who want to work with the tools and equipment they need to produce the wealth we all know would make this a better society. That's the catastrophe that these numbers distract attention from, which is why I'm so concerned to put them back in the context they deserve so that they can be understood in terms of the real crisis we still are living in.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let's go back and talk about the Federal Reserve that you mentioned. So if the economy is deemed to be at full employment, which some headlines are even saying after these unemployment figures came out, or at the very least it's on its way back to a pre-recession sort of labor market, could this news potentially affect interest rates? And more importantly, what would this mean for everyday people?
WOLFF: Yes. The conservatives in both parties, who are, unfortunately, the majority in both parties, the conservatives have been pushing for raising interest rates. I won't go into the disputable theory and science that this is the basis for, but that's what they want. And they need public signs that can allow them to increase the pressure on Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve and on the whole Federal Reserve board to begin to raise interest rates.
This kind of statistic, especially when it's hyped in the way you have quite correctly characterized, will give them a bit more ammunition to put pressure on the Federal Reserve even to raise interest rates or to raise them sooner, etc. And if the Federal Reserve does it, then that will increase the cost of homes because your mortgage rates will go up, of automobiles because your car payments will go up, of the cost of our education because student loans will likely go up, and credit card debt.
This is a very dangerous in an over-indebted economy. It means production and demand for goods and services will be cut back. That's not good for production. And so it's quite understandable that the chief at the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, is very nervous about these kinds of statistics pushing her and the board to raise interest rates.
And here's what it reveals. They know better than the headlines we're discussing now how very weak the current recovery is, how the majority of Americans have not been allowed to participate in it, and therefore how dangerous it would be to raise interest rates above the near-zero level that they're at now, because anything that could disturb as weak and uneven a recovery as we have is too scary to contemplate. Therein lies the real recognition that this hoopla over 5.5 percent is meant to distract people from.
Posted by mother earth | Sun Mar 8, 2015, 04:16 PM (24 replies)
Fran Lebowitz: Capitalism Triumphed Over Both Communism and Democracy
A photoshopped image of journalist and author Fran Lebowitz (not to be confused with Annie Leibovitz the famed photographer) has been making its away around the internet. The image may be created on software, but the quotation from Lebowitz is unerringly accurate: "In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”
Perhaps one can argue that there is still hope for democracy, the kind of faint pulse that an experienced paramedic detects when others have declared a person found lying in the street dead. Perhaps there is the chance that defibrillation or emergency surgery can yet resurrect an actual robust democracy and not just the appearance of one. In short, the last rites haven't yet been given to democracy in the US, but the priest is hovering near the body.
Lebowitz's quotation suggests the fundamentally overarching reality that a global oligarchical system has, at an accelerated pace, been steering democracies to achieve plutocratic goals. They are an unaccountable force deciding the future of the world's economy - and within that framework - it's political direction. Plutocrats, the likes of those who meet at Davos every year and those whom The World Bank and IMF represents, are the new superseding political force in the world. The plethora of trade agreements give corporations, for example, sovereign powers over certain areas. More significantly, economic issues favoring the ultra-wealthy and corporations are the key focus of governmental entities such as the G-8 and G-20.
Democracy still exists in nations such as the United States from a technical standpoint. However, it plays out in a context of what has been called "manufactured consent" that is crafted by those with vast fortunes to influence election outcomes. George Orwell's emphasis in his classic novel "1984" was on the pervasive presence of image generators that would basically embed a subservient world view in the minds of the general population. That is not hard to see today in the omnipresence of plasma television screens in our homes, restaurants, airports and even taxis, which blare out a 24-hour cycle of headlines constructed to provoke fear and hatred or to distract the viewers with sensationalized celebrity news.
News, such as it is determined by the corporate mass media, is primarily embedded in us as emotional reactions to headlines and stories that cause us to react viscerally instead of cerebrally. As BuzzFlash at Truthout has noted before, choosing the frame of what is considered news in a journalistic world where advertising determines profitability is largely dependent upon engaging the viewer emotionally. This is also true of political advertising, faux think tank studies from the right, talking point memes from the likes of Frank Luntz, etc.
In short, much of what constitutes a debate within democracy about public policy is largely restricted to the confines of issues that evoke an emotional reaction in us, not thoughtful reflection. In a public where a large segment of the population is misinformed or only aware of the world through the images transmitted through visual media such as television, this allows the wealthy corporate forces behind television - and the political advertising and third-party "issue" ads that TV heavily profits from - to shape the contours of a democracy that exists in a very narrow fast-paced highway of "manufactured consent."
The limited width of that highway of "news" that benefits the wealthy and the ruling elite leads to pre-determined policies, such as happened with the manipulation of the public leading up to the Iraq War or the feverish rounds of tax cuts over decades. Those who benefit the most from capitalism - the 1% and the government that safeguards the wealth of the oligarchy - channel us like cattle into confined pens of “conventional wisdom.”
This, in large part, is the triumph of capitalism over democracy, as Lebowitz calls it. Through the corporate mass media - particularly television news (and particularly cable TV news) - the "masters of the universe" capitalists embed a world view in enough voters to create the semblance of a democracy. In reality the real decisions are being made upstairs, where the money is counted and continues to pile up to the rafters.
Posted by mother earth | Sat Mar 7, 2015, 01:55 PM (39 replies)
Posted by mother earth | Sat Mar 7, 2015, 12:17 PM (6 replies)