From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street

The decade of the 1920s was one of industrialization and economic growth, globally. This relatively peaceful and prosperous period ended with the onset of a quarter century of economic hardship and armed conflict.

In 1927, a civil war broke out in China that would finally end with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. In 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, and the Great Depression began. Two years later, a period of 23 years of continuous international warfare began.


The period of open warfare, which includes the 1939-1945 interval labeled “World War Two,” began in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and ended in 1953 with the armistice ending the shooting of the Korean War.


The United States of America emerged from the period of economic depression and world war as the supreme global power by 1945, and it would revitalize its non-communist European and Asian allies, and former enemies, during the period of postwar reconstruction from 1945 to 1953.


As the combatant nations of WWII recovered and reconstituted themselves in the immediate postwar years, they were each motivated by revulsion over the recent past, gratitude to the millions of soldiers and workers who brought about the collective liberation, and hope for a brighter future, to develop some form of social contract between the people and their governments, the labor force, and the industries. In the United States, this social contract was a bipartisan support for popular New Deal and progressive collectivities like Social Security, public education, unionized labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), as well as the postwar G.I. Bill (educational and housing benefits for veterans). In the non-communist European states it was a social democratic form of government, which managed many nationalized popular benefits. In the communist states, the socialized benefits were offered in exchange for unchallenged political control by Communist Party authority.


The next twenty years (1953-1973) were the golden age of capitalism and Soviet communism, a period of unexcelled economic expansion resulting from vigorous industrialization coupled with distributive social contracts.


Despite increasing population, productivity slackened in the 1970s, and given the unavoidable increase of social costs, the expansion of prosperity stagnated. By the end of the decade, plutocratic political pressure in the West had built up enough to increasingly detach government from stewardship of the social contract, and more closely focus it on corporate interests. In 1978, the People’s Republic of China abandoned central planning and began command capitalism.


Over thirty years of neoliberalism followed in the capitalist world, to the present day (from about 1979 to 2011). Non-communist neoliberalism is “free,” or market-driven (with varying interventions by governments), while a command form of neoliberalism is used in the People’s Republic of China, directed by its exclusive national party.


At the beginning of the 1990s (between 1989 and 1991) the economically and politically stagnant Soviet Union and its satellite empire in Eastern Europe disintegrated, and the many independent states formed out of that former political monolith were absorbed into the capitalist world.


During the 1980s and 1990s, the United States was de-industrializing (“outsourcing”) to increase corporate profits by decreasing its domestic labor costs. Many newly industrializing states (NIEs) in Asia and Latin America were taking advantage of this expatriation of American industrial capacity, by offering to host foreign-owned industrial facilities, and offering their people as a lower-cost substitute labor force.


Japan was a leader in outsourcing production throughout Asia, but it only did so after achieving full employment in Japan, and only to increase its total industrial output to feed its export (mainly U.S.) market. While the portion of Japan’s labor force in industry has dropped since before the 1990s, the affected workers have been shifted to service industry employment, so full employment has been maintained (about 4% unemployment during the 2000s).


As in the major industrialized states during the 1970s, productivity gains in the 2000s in the now more developed NIEs were not always capable of outpacing the growth of population and the increasing costs of social needs and unexpected losses. So, the returns from some outsourced investments were diminished from initial expectations. The perceived lethargy of industrial development anywhere to yield profits quickly enough increased investors’ fever to decouple profitability from productivity. The first decade of the 21st century was one of frenzied speculation in financialized paper (e.g., derivatives, hedge funds), and was facilitated by the deregulation of the US banking industry in 1999.


The financial system collapsed between 2007 (burst housing bubble, banks insolvent) and 2008 (stock market crash, public bail-out of banks), after thirty years of de-industrialization accompanied by a trend of growing income inequality. From a rate of 4.5% in early 2007, the official US unemployment rate shot up past 10% by January 2010, and remains above 9% today. One should double these numbers for a more realistic estimate of unemployment.


The combination of heavy personal debt and lack of jobs (for skilled labor and professionals) has spurred many people across the United States to congregate in public protests, to move themselves beyond fearfulness in isolation to a release of their anger, by channeling it into a joint sense of purpose for social change. These are the people of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in its many locations.


The sense of purpose for social change has two parts: a change of self image so one interacts in a new and more effective way with the rest of society, and the taking up of some form of political activism so as to help move the larger society to change in desired ways. How these two factors are proportioned within any particular individual is determined by their unique circumstances.


OWS is the human face of debilitating debt and unemployment, and it will disappear when popular debt relief (e.g., for underwater mortgages and student loans) and the widespread availability of skilled employment occur. How long it will take the U.S. to arrange for popular debt relief and the widespread availability of skilled employment is unknown. Equally unknown are how many political and thus economic changes will have to be made in the course of arriving at popular debt relief and a full employment economy, but ultimately that point will be reached because it is the most stable arrangement for US society. Resistance to achieving this stable social state will only delay the inevitable and increase the quantity of blood, sweat, tears, and money needed to achieve it.


Every desire for social change held by every person in the OWS movement can be reflected in one simple phrase: renew the social contract.


OWS is an awakening. People who had thought of themselves as law abiding, hard working, loyal Americans ready and willing to take their places in society as contributors are waking up to the fact that they have been pushed out of American prosperity, and they want in.


OWS is a protest about being personally saddled with debt, primarily for homes and education, sold under promises of a better future, and then government allowing the lending institutions to destroy the economy necessary to support those rosy futures, at a handsome profit, without penalty, and — most galling — without canceling the essentially fraudulently-created debt on the mortgage holders of financially inundated real estate or evaporated professional careers.


The young people of OWS are the cadets of the bourgeoisie who have been excessed by the time of their graduation. A soulless nation is eating its young: for decades by incarcerating rather than employing blacks, and now, because of a tightening of the money situation for plutocrats, even throwing over the white cadets who have been training to man the occupations that will continue America’s bourgeois economics during the next two decades. The graduates of 2006 to 2016 may be a lost generation, as this is an ageist society. When the economy recovers, maybe by 2016 (since neoliberalism is likely to persist), employers will look to fresh graduates to fill the available slots; once five years out of school, you are obsolete.


OWS has social and political impact primarily by being LARGE and PRESENT. It has to be the elephant in the middle of the nation’s view-screen in order to cause a course correction. The longer OWS endures, the more likely it is that the political class will agree to work toward debt-cancellation and job growth, since these will make OWS disappear.


Can enough new jobs be created soon? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (international business editor at The Telegraph) has the idea that a US economic turnaround (more jobs) will occur within the next few years, brought about by the exploitation of new domestic sources of petroleum (oil shale and tar sands) and a reversal of outsourcing (or, a return to domestic industrialization). This is just one indicator of rational expectations (devoid of environmental concerns) for a resumption of economic growth.


What about reform of the financial industry? Nicholas Kristof, a conservative pundit at The New York Times, is advocating reform of the financial industry because he understands that hubris by the plutocracy could lead to a disastrous popular backlash (the ultimate conservative nightmare is communism). Mainstream voices for financial reform know that wonderful profits can easily be made the old fashioned way, as was the case under Glass-Steagall banking regulations between 1933 and 1999.


And, what about debt relief? Wall Street certainly loves the idea when it applies to banks. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, recently stared down the European banks and made them accept a 50% writedown of their Greek debts. The stock market zoomed 300 points, because investors are far more concerned with the “stability” and continuity of the eurozone financial markets than they are with a few banks losing a few 10s or even 100s of billions (half made up with public bail-outs), so long as the game and the global banking casino are not shut down by a currency (euro) and credit market (banking industry) collapse.


Obviously, the concept of debt relief will be pushed and expanded further and further, because the debt burden everywhere is like a bone caught in the financial world’s throat. Once it is finally swallowed or coughed out, then the feasting can begin again. When debt is cancelled, people are free to borrow, spend, create, and expand productivity, that is to say generate earnings and profits. The next Steve Jobs may be milling about in an OWS throng, just waiting for student loan relief to set him capitalistically free. So, we can expect that when OWS people begin speaking the language of demands, one of the items included will be relief of students’ loans for education.


The young generation in OWS wants the freedom to advance their bourgeois, capitalist aspirations; they want to be the Steve Jobs and Barack Obama of the 2020s. They do not want to shrink their vision into re-entering a proletarian life, nor to occupy their minds and time with “organization” for proletarian-type unions like the UFW (United Farm Workers), nor consign their aspirations to distant hopes for an elusive millennialist “revolution.”


OWS is a leaderless coincident mass awakening, it is not a popular uprising in the style of the Mexican or Russian (February) Revolutions, and it is not organized in the sense of being hierarchical and regimented. The cadets manning OWS will never adopt Marxism, essentially none have flocked to the red banner.


The people in OWS are shackled by debt and economic fear, and they are gathered to celebrate the freeing of their minds from a number of illusions. Individually, they may go on to be active politically, each in their own way, but all are quite unlikely to relinquish their identification with the American bourgeoisie (“middle class”), or to relinquish their new and painfully-realized mental freedom by submitting themselves to the blinkered thinking of any political ideology that seeks to exploit their massed energy, or to direct their social purpose.


Renew the social contract.
 
Timeline: 1945 Social Contract to 2011 Occupy Wall Street

1945, Europe and Japan ruined by World War II

Civil War in China (1927-1949) interrupted by Japan’s occupation of Manchuria (1931-1945) and Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)

Postwar rebuilding in Europe, 1945-1956:

U.S. role:

  • 1944, Bretton Woods system of currency relations to US dollar
  • 1945-1948, $12B in U.S. postwar aid to Europe
  • 1948-1952, $13B in Marshall Plan aid to Western Europe
  • (US GDP in 1948 was $258B)

Soviet role:

  • 1945-1954, Soviets extract 23% of East German GNP
  • 1945-1954, slow release of German POWs, forced laborers
  • 1949 Cold War split formalized, West and East Germany created
  • 1949-1956 East and West evolve comprehensive social contracts

Western European states (Atlantic Alliance) 1949-1956:

  • renew politically as social democracies
  • much foreign aid in, rapid growth, more satisfied population
  • have extensive political freedom on account of prosperity
  • 1954, West Germany gains full political and economic autonomy

Eastern European states (Warsaw Pact) 1949-1956:

  • reformed as Soviet communist satellite states
  • reparations or little aid, slow growth, less satisfied population
  • very limited political freedom in exchange for social contract
  • 1953 East German and 1956 Hungarian revolts suppressed

Postwar rebuilding in Japan, 1945-1960:

1945-1952, US aid of $1.9B while Japan under occupation:

  • this equaled 15% of imports and 4% of GNP, in forms of:
  • 59% food, 15% industrial materials, 12% transport equipment

1953, US military spending (Korean War) is 7% of Japan’s GNP

  • by 1960 US military spending in Japan less than 1% of Japan’s GNP

Economic growth 1953-1973:

“Golden Age” in Western Europe, Japan, and Soviet Union
economies achieve “full employment”
labor cooperation exchanged for social contract
productivity and gains due to industrialization, and:

  • government (trade) policies
  • exports
  • technology
  • cooperative labor

Economic stagnation 1971-1979:

1971 collapse of Bretton Woods currency relations to US dollar.

(The Vietnam War had accelerated inflation, and faith had been lost in the US’ ability to cut budget and trade deficits. “On August 15, 1971, the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the dollar to gold. As a result, ‘the Bretton Woods system officially ended and the dollar became fully fiat currency, backed by nothing but the promise of the federal government.’ This action, referred to as the Nixon shock, created the situation in which the United States dollar [not gold] became the sole backing of currencies and a reserve currency for the member states.”)

1973, first oil crisis
(Arab boycott over US aid to Israel in 1973 Arab-Israeli War)

1973-1974, stock market crash (20+ years of steady growth ends)

1978, People’s Republic of China abandons central planning

  • a centrally planned economy is replaced by command capitalism

1979, 2nd oil crisis
(U.S. opposes Iranian Revolution)

Thatcherism and Reaganomics

  • Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister, 1979
  • Ronald Reagan, US President, 1981
  • lower productivity after 1960s, higher population and social costs
  • government increasingly oriented to corporate interests
  • retreat from New Deal and post WWII social contracts
  • trend of increasing income inequality begins

30 Years of US Neoliberalism, 1981-2011:

Ronald Reagan Administration (R), 1981-1988:

  • breaks the air traffic controllers union in 1981
  • “supply side” and “trickle down” economics, and tax cuts
  • deep recession of 1982 with 10% unemployment
  • stock market crash of 1987
  • Savings and Loan crisis, a $125B public bail-out
  • deregulation and hostility to regulate
  • no change to the minimum wage
  • raised national debt from $997B to $2.85T
  • the share of US income received during 1980-1988 by the:
    — 5% highest-income households grew from 16.5% to 18.3%
    — 20% highest income households grew from 44.1% to 46.3%
    — 20% lowest income households fell from 4.2% to 3.8%
    — second poorest 20%, fell from 10.2% to 9.6%.

George H. W. Bush Administration (R), 1989-1992:

  • recession in 1992 with 7.8% unemployment
  • developed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Bill Clinton Administration (D), 1993-2000:

  • 1994, enacts North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • 1996, ends Aid to Families with Dependent Children,
    — (fulfills promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it”)
  • 1996, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
    — (significant precursor of the Patriot Act of 2001)
  • 1999, signs Gramm-Leach-Blyly Act,
    — (this repeals Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, bank deregulation)
    — (see ENDNOTES for more on Glass-Steagall)
  • 2000, signs Commodity Futures Modernization Act,
    — (legalizes over-the-counter derivatives)
  • federal budget surpluses 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 (Fiscal Years)
  • War on Drugs swells prison population from 1.4M to 2.0M

George W. Bush Administration (R), 2001-2008:

  • 2001 and 2003, total tax cuts of $1.3T, aimed at the wealthy
  • 2002, No Child Left Behind Act (push to privatize public schools)
  • “War on Terrorism”:
    — 2001, Patriot Act (curtails civil liberties)
    — October 2001, invasion of Afghanistan
    — March 2003, invasion of Iraq
  • 2002, stopped funding the United Nations Population Fund
    — (UNFPA promotes family planning in the developing world)
  • 2005, response (and lack of) to Hurricane Katrina
  • 2008, Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the $700B bail-out

Barack H. Obama Administration (D), 2009-present:

  • failed to use Democratic majorities in congress to pass reforms
  • September 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street begins; what now?
     
    ENDNOTES

“The People Cry Out Against the New Great Depression”
by Manuel Garcia, Jr.
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/the-people-cry-out-against-the-new-great-depression/
(Glass-Steagall Act and financial reforms are described)

“Some Central Themes of the Occupy Protesters”
by Associated Press
http://youtu.be/3zXk_2_LCR8
(video on income inequality)

“Graphic of US Income Inequality, 1947-2011”
by Robert Reich and New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/09/04/opinion/04reich-graphic.html?ref=sunday

“United States Income Distribution 1947-2007”
by wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_Income_Distribution_1947-2007.svg

“Where’s My Job?” by ConnectTheDotsUSA.com
http://www.connectthedotsusa.com/pdf/WheresMyJobSlides.pdf

“Owe Dear”
by The Economist
http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/07/world-debt-guide
(global debt map)

“World Power Swings Back to America”
by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/8844646/World-power-swings-back-to-America.html

“Crony Capitalism Comes Home”
by Nicholas Kristof
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/opinion/kristof-crony-capitalism-comes-homes.html

“Calling Bankers’ Bluff, Merkel Won Europe a Debt Plan”
by Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/world/europe/europe-in-accord-on-basics-of-plan-to-save-the-euro.html?_r=1

“Another Idea For Student Loan Debt: Make It Go Away”
by Petra Cahill
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45040659/ns/us_news-life/

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From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci32.html

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Nate Hagens, on Earth and Humanity

Watch the video presentation “Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality,” (2:52:15) by Nate Hagens, linked below. Hagens presents an analysis and grand synthesis of the multi-entwined crises of unsustainable human society living in the rapidly degrading world climate of an increasingly resource-depleted and increasingly inhospitable Planet Earth.

I guarantee that you will find many of your own views on this topic reaffirmed by Hagens, and also that he will challenge at least one of your cherished beliefs about it. This is good for serious people, it prompts them to think anew, and to rethink their assumptions.

What impresses me about Hagens’ analysis is that it is based on a wealth of data — the lifeblood of any real scientific or economic analysis — and that it is a multidimensional systems analysis, and not merely a “one note Johnny” narrow expertise (just finance, or just physics), single “smoking gun” caused problem (as the “overpopulation” reductionists claim) or a promotion of a single route to salvation solution (as the “nuclear power” reductionists claim). Hagens’s is an integrated description of the dysfunctional global system, which Nature plus Humanity has become, rather than merely being an uncoordinated list of a myriad of disconnected disasters, pathologies, ruins and wrecks.

Hagens does make specific recommendations near the end of his video, aimed at getting us (particularly in the U.S.A.) to begin dealing with our ongoing global systems failure in a substantive manner. After that he adds a few seconds of wordless video that will delight all lovers of wildlife.

Any abstraction of Hagens’ presentation to a single phrase would wash away all its insights and nuance, and would be unjust to the cause of transmitting understanding to the public. But, if you want an indicative soundbite, here is my maximally reductionist summary: humanity needs to scale back its use of energy very very significantly, and permanently, and now — an energy diet — just like a forever-maintained eat-less food-calorie diet needed to break an individual free from obesity.

Hagens’ video will make any serious person think (and we all better get serious), and that is the first essential step for us ever having a chance to get out of the mess we’re in.

Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality
16 May 2021 (Nate Hagens)
https://youtu.be/qYeZwUVx5MY

The following two paragraphs are my abstraction and consolidation of internet descriptions of Nate Hagens, with much of this information drawn from The Post Carbon Institute (https://www.postcarbon.org/our-people/nate-hagens/).

Nate Hagens has a Masters Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He is a former editor of The Oil Drum and worked on Wall Street for a decade before “seeing the light.” Since 2003 Nate has shifted his focus to understanding the interrelationships between energy, environment, and finance and the implication this synthesis has for human futures. Previously, Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. Currently, he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota ‘Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament.’

Nate focuses on the interrelationship between debt-based financial markets and natural resources, particularly energy, and the unplanned for risks from the coming ‘Great Simplification.’ He also addresses the evolutionarily-derived underpinnings to status, addiction, and our aversion to acting about the future and offers suggestions on how individuals and society might better adapt to the coming decades.

Jeff Gibbs 2019 video “Planet of the Humans,” released publicly on Earth Day 2020, was the most important presentation on the realities of our global “climate change” crisis to be made available in many years (https://planetofthehumans.com/). Nate Hagens’ new video “Earth and Humanity: Myths and Reality” is of much grander scope and at least of equal importance. See it and don’t get defensive, then refine your own stance from your points of disagreement with Hagens, and/or improve his systemic analysis, which is the type of thing needed to converge politically on what in all honesty would have to be called a World Plan for guiding human civilization through a transition — the Great Simplification — to a post carbon future, without suffering a catastrophic and life-ending collapse.

As a 20th century mechanical engineer who focused himself on the 19th century science of thermodynamics (and got away with a career in experimental nuclear explosions), I’ve said all what little I was competent to say about the physics and economics of “climate change.” So at this point all I can offer on the topic is bad poetry, and I’ll spare you that. But I can also recognize the value of new presentations like those of Gibbs and Hagens, and urge others to see them, study them, and act on them.

I am mindful of the urgent and totally justified demand posed by the next generation onto us world-controlling and world-destroying adults, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, for “action!” Nate Hagens’ systemic analysis is a very important step toward answering the questions of “what actions?” and “how do we implement them?”, and of actually working on Greta’s demand.

[Thanks to Isabel Ebert for pointing me to Nate Hagens’ video.]

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ADDENDUM:

Richard Heinberg both appears in “Planet of the Humans,” and leads the Post Carbon Institute.

The Most Colossal Planning Failure in Human History
May 2021
Richard Heinberg
https://richardheinberg.com/museletter-339-the-most-colossal-planning-failure-in-human-history

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The American Freedom UBI and Tax Plan

52 State Flag (proposed); if add Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

This is a 1st Draft of a proposed economic plan for the United States of America. It does not solve everything, it just makes life generally better. I have yet to arrive to any objections to this plan, except for the discarded one of those who would be crying over “lost” imaginary profits.

“Universal Basic Income” (UBI) is defined here as:

  • $62,000/year (in 2020 dollars) per person, paid directly by government.
  • National Medicare Coverage at 100%:
  • – no age restrictions,
  • – medical, Rx, dental, vision, hearing, hospitalization,
  • – physical & occupational rehab, long-term & disability care,
  • – addiction rehab, hospice, funeral.

“Work” is defined here as:
32hours/week x 52 weeks = 1664 credited work hours per year,

  • with 8 calendar weeks of vacation+holidays
  • – (non-expiring accumulation, for days not taken within the year)
  • 3 years maternity or paternity leave (government funded)
  • minimum wage = $37/hour ($61,568 for 1664hours/year).

Tax Schedule for Individuals

  • “Tax” is defined as total of Federal+State+County+City taxes,
  • no deductions of any kind,
  • “Total Income” is defined as cumulative from all sources (i.e., includes capital gains),
  • “Taxable Income” is defined as (Total Income – $62,000)
    For:

(1)
Taxable Income = $0.
Tax = $0.

[no one has Total Income < $62,000]

(2)
$0 < Taxable Income < $938,000.
Tax = 17% x (Taxable Income/$62,000)^0.397
i.e. (4 examples):
0% for Total Income at $62,000;
[leaving $62,000 net income]
25% for Total Income at $225,788.57
[$40,947.14 tax, leaving $184,841.43 net income]
35% for Total Income at $444,264.78
[$133,792.67 tax, leaving $310,472.11 net income]
49.984% for Total Income at $1,000,000.
[$468,849.92 tax, leaving $531,150.08 net income]

(3)
$938,000 < Taxable Income < $999,938,000.
Tax = 38.335% x (Taxable Income/$62,000)^0.098
i.e. (2 examples):
50.028% for Total Income at $1,000,000.
[$469,266.76 tax, leaving $530,733.23 net income]
99.069% for Total Income at $1,000,000,000.
[$990,630,091.60 tax, leaving $9,369,908.40 net income]

(4)
Taxable Income > $999,938,000.
Tax = 99.1% x (Taxable Income)
i.e. (2 examples):
[$990,938,558.00 tax for Total Income = $1B; leaving $9,061,442.]
[$9,909,938,558.00 tax for Total Income = $10B; leaving $90,061,442.]

Corporate Taxes = 50% of Total Income, no deductions.

Stock Market Transaction Tax = 30% on every transaction/trade, whether electronic or in-person.

The U.S. military budget is mandated to remain below 1% of GDP (which was $22T in 2020),

  • – so under $220B (2020)

Climate Change Response, Energy Systems Transformation, Environmental-Biodiversity Restoration mandated to remain above 2.5% of GDP,

  • – so over $550B (2020)
  • – no fossil fuel subsidies
  • – no nuclear subsidies (beyond safe maintenance of legacy waste)
  • – steadily reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions annually to arrive a “0” by 2040
  • – plastic packaging banned
  • – all potable water systems bought up to maximum standards nationally.

Agriculture:

  • – regenerative agriculture mandated
  • – chemical pesticides banned

Internet:

  • – nationalized (free access)
  • – including social media

Guns:

  • – each gun must be insured at $1,000/year, to pay for gunshot victim injury and death costs, nationally.

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Is Trump Worse Than Nixon?

My friend, Eric Andrew Gebert asked:

“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”

Eric, Here is how I remember it.

I lived through the Nixon Administration:

– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);

– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);

– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);

– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;

– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;

– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);

– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.

Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.

Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).

From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).

The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).

While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).

The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.

The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.

The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.

Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.

So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?

What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.

What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).

So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.

What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.

The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.

Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.

So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).

I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).

The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.

So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?

From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.

From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).

So in the grossest possible characterization:

– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;

– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.

In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

Yesterday, a friend wrote me: “I really don’t know how we are going to come out of this. For a while I was okay. Over the last week I have grown more desperate with each day as the news develops.” I am trying to answer him here.

Many of my social media friends have expressed their anger, outrage, sadness and disgust at the lynching of George Floyd by a white supremacist cop in Minneapolis on May 25th (8 days ago as I write this). That lynching was carried out by an arresting cop kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the right side of George Floyd’s neck while the handcuffed Floyd was lying face down on a city street. Floyd kept pleading for relief because he could not breathe, but the killer cop continued his kneeling choke-hold for 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become unresponsive. Three other cops participated in the lynching: one holding Floyd’s back, another holding his legs, and the third looking on and preventing intervention by a person who stood nearby, watching in horror. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_George_Floyd)

The country has blown up, large protests and riots now fill the streets of many cities and towns in America, and have for the last week. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the expressions of that truth in 1965 (Watts, Los Angeles CA) and 1967 (Newark NJ, Detroit MI, and 157 other places). That truth again erupted into view in over 100 cities in the United States after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, with “the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War,” before it finally flamed out on 27 May 1968. And that truth was again acted out during 6 days of riots (29 April to 4 May) in Los Angeles CA in 1992, after the four cops who had savagely beat Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of any crime.

“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Dr. Cornell West said on 29 May, as he preached on CNN television with crystal clarity on the massive and systemic failure of America — as a society, an economy and a tangle of governments — to protect and defend all of its people. Listen to Cornell West for yourself to unflinchingly face the reality of America (https://youtu.be/cs3jdyfx_fo), a reality that had been made plain by Malcolm X by 21 February 1965, when he was assassinated.

People are in the streets because the George Floyd murder was the last straw on their unbearably strained patience in waiting for justice in America. They blew up because they saw that justice in America will never arrive. Their many pent-up disappointments and frustrations came to a head on seeing the video of the George Floyd murder. Those disappointments and frustrations include experiences of victimization — many fatal — by racist policing, as well as economic victimization by a structurally racist and fundamentally rigged economy.

So, the victim populations of the race war against Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and others disfavored by white supremacists; and the class war by the rich and powerful against: wage slaves, the unemployed, youth without prospects, and the 99% of Americans who are outsiders from the con games and self-aggrandizing capers of the economic insiders, just went ape-shit on seeing the Floyd murder and its obvious acceptability to the Trump-led bipartisan power structure. That is why I call it a lynching.

All this is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed society with its obvious deadliness, and that in turn has collapsed any hope of financial security for so many people who were already in the bottom tiers of the fundamentally heartless American economic system.

Many of these people are faced with sudden devastating losses: of health and life to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and of being cast into bankrupting debt by the medical bills for having survived COVID-19; of confidence in remaining healthy while on jobs they need for economic survival; of income when their jobs disappear, and with it their health insurance if those jobs even provided it; of housing with the inability to pay rent; and even of ready access to food. The pandemic has also interfered with the most fundamental source of solace we all rely on in our times of despair: sharing the company of our families and true friends. So going out into the streets now to protest is natural for many who want relief from the unbearable suffocation of the choke-holds on them, and for some of those people who feel they have nothing left to lose, to even riot.

Unfortunately, there are rotten malevolent scumbag bigots who are taking advantage of the street protests to act violently and destructively in the hopes of provoking a much wider race war of oppression by white supremacy. And there are too many cops and government people (the cop employers) who are obsessed with control and domination instead of public and individual welfare, and they too create more hurt and provoke more reactive rioting by their heavy-handed cop-riot “law enforcement” actions.

So we get a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. The best way to break that cycle is to quickly legislate substantive social and economic improvements that clearly address the underlying distresses of the people protesting visibly, and the people despairing silently and invisibly. The blinded-by-bigotry Trump-type people don’t want to enact those long-needed reforms because it would mean cutting back on their money-making schemes and their biased administrative actions.

I am guessing the current cycle of unrest will wind down simply because of exhaustion on the part of most of the people in the streets, coupled with heavy suppression by militarized police and federal troops. That won’t end the problem, but just make it more “invisible” to the authorities and simply delay its resolution, which if not forthcoming will simply mean another outbreak is inevitable.

I think things will get back to “normal” in time (within weeks?), but the “normal” that we had before late May was toxic. It carries within it the makings of more, longer and worse future riots if we let it return and continue unchanged.

A Bernie Sanders presidency aided by a helpfully supportive Congress would have been a potentially mild reform of our toxic “now,” but that reform was forbidden by the corporate-owned bipartisan power structure through its Democratic Party wing, with the full concurrence of its Republican Party wing. So now we have the George Floyd riots because people don’t feel like compromising any more, or of waiting for the Godot of American justice, or of turning the other cheek of a failed Christianity.

I don’t know and can’t really guess what’s coming next, or of how things will play out for the rest of this year.

We need a lot of wise leadership — which is obviously entirely lacking from the Trump Administration, from the U.S. Congress, and from many governors and elected politicians — and we need a lot of steady confident calmness that holds off from violent actions, by governors, mayors and police forces, who would in turn all be supported in that type of compassionately wise response by those wished-for intelligent and unbiased Federal authorities, for this national crisis to be calmed down quickly and humanely; and to then be permanently resolved by essential social and economic reform legislation, which was assiduously enforced thereafter.

The slogan “no justice, no peace” says it all. We’ve always known that, and the Kerner Commission Report spelled it all out after the riots in 1967 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerner_Commission), but it was ignored.

This crisis will be fixed for real when justice in America is established for real. I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. But I just wish it would soon.

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For America today: shamrock = lily; Erin = Freedom.

Bernie’s Triumph, and All The Failed Red Moses

Over the last five years, Bernie Sanders has awakened every single mind in the United States of America to the following 12 ideas, which in the American political orthodoxy of 2015 were ‘known’ to be so ultra-radical that they were deemed politically impossible forever, and thus dismissed without further consideration:

— healthcare as a human right, implemented by Medicare-For-All;

— raising the minimum wage to $15 and hour;

— free education at publicly funded colleges and universities;

— cancellation of all student loan debt;

— a transaction tax on Wall Street trading, and prosecution for economy-crashing Wall Street fraud;

— revoking tax breaks to corporations and the extremely wealthy, and inverting both the tax code and the political campaign contribution system to the benefit of wage earners;

— transitioning from fossil fuels, and investing in infrastructure revitalization in a trillion dollar jobs-rich program;

— accepting the 11 million undocumented residents into a citizenship program, abolishing the ICE concentration camps, and reforming the immigration and political asylum system by humanizing it;

— reforming the criminal justice system to eliminate its evident racial bias and persecution of poverty;

— assuring women’s rights to equal pay for equal work and to abortion: keeping women in control of decisions regarding their own bodies;

— the abrogation of job and manufacturing outsourcing “free trade agreements”; and

— the regulation of drug pricing by pharmaceutical corporations.

Sanders has been able to appeal to people of every racial and sexual distinction, from every Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religion as well as atheists, and to develop a grassroots political movement, which is both democratic and socialist, from that appeal. No other American, with the exception of Martin Luther King, Jr., has come close to this achievement since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.

People opposed to these 12 ideas, in part or in whole, are possessed by combinations of greed, bigotry and sexism. While such attitudes are repulsive to any decent mind, they are nevertheless common in several wealthy and corporatized constituencies that are inordinately politically powerful by dint of financially patronizing — purchasing — political legislators, policymakers, officeholders, and judges: straightforward political corruption.

The betrayal of public trust by timorous and hypocritical “public servants” who lack authentic moral character and are entirely cultish zealots of lucre is, tragically, all too common in American governance. That the richest and most powerful country in human history can consign so many of its people to abject misery, fear, neglect, financial ruin and death, is an abhorrent testament to the destructiveness of these narcissistic parasites on the American Body Politic.

One sad observation for me about the suspension — the ending — of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign is the pathetically bitter envy, expressed by isolated politically inconsequential failed leftist ideologues, of the historically major successes at politically bold mass consciousness-raising and organizing achieved by the progressive pragmatic politician Bernie Sanders.

The biting sarcastic glee of numerous self-styled advanced leftist commentators at the suspension of the Sanders presidential campaign are their outbursts of joy at the arrival of this “failure,” which they have been pining for for months, even years, so that now they can finally crow in triumph that they had always been right, that Sanders was merely a sheepdog, a stealth Judas goat and Pied Piper meant to lead the naïve masses into the electoral corral of the Democratic National Committee wolfpack, and away from the true lines of political thought these ideological pastors had stirringly and stridently preached at the inattentive and disinterested masses urging them to cuff their minds in alignment onto the iron rails of ‘correct’ revolutionary tenets inscribed on the Tablets of all these Red Moses, so as to amass the socialist tsunami these commissars-in-waiting wished so delusionally to crown with their leadership.

What pathetic failures of intellectual honesty to admit to their lifelong “revolutionary” ineffectiveness, and what pathetic failures of human decency to acknowledge with grace and gratitude the really incredible societally beneficial achievements of one near-octogenarian Jew from Brooklyn, New York, transplanted to Vermont. It is a fact that Bernie Sanders has permanently altered popular American political consciousness — which had been dominated since 1979 by the neoliberal paradigm — toward the favoring of the wage-earning masses, and that some of his ideas have already been implemented regionally and in several industrial operations.

Can you imagine that the new purely socialist COVID-19 economic relief legislation — however flawed it clearly is as it comes out of the Trump Administration, the Republican dominated Senate and the DNC Democrat dominated House — would be as comprehensive and as reluctantly ‘generous’ as it is at the moment, without the prior popular consciousness of Bernie’s 12 ideas, and without his continuing advocacy? Bernie Sanders has lit a fire in American minds under the age of 50 that will not be extinguished soon. Scores of young people with that fire in their hearts inspired by Bernie Sanders, and which so terrorizes the ensconced political elites, have now gained political office with a drive to change American society.

So to you my friends I say: be grateful for all of that and celebrate the triumphs of a man of integrity who struggles against a corrupted and degenerate establishment, instead of being childishly resentful that your imagined brilliance has perennially and once again been overshadowed.

‘Okay, so I’m a little bit asshole, but friends tell friends the truth’ (https://youtu.be/L8QYgpqbXQQ).

I Rebel, Therefore We Exist, 2019

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I Rebel, Therefore We Exist, 2019

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke of her origins and family today (19 October 2019), I remembered my own story because they are so similar. My mother, too, is a lovely Puertorriqueña; I too was born in the Boogie-Town island stolen from the American Indians (Manhattan); we too lived in Parkchester, in the Bronx, in a basement apartment (concrete floor, concrete walls, tiny windows at the top at shoe-level to the sidewalk); I too have felt the glass ceiling pushing me down (my whole career), along with other melanin-rich talent.

My rebellion was never as brilliantly insightful nor as spectacularly successful as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, but it still goes on in my own idiosyncratic and annoying way (my unpopularity is deserved, and I’m proud of it). So I can easily bypass the cynicism and miffed sense of superiority of the self-regarding left intelligentsia who are so obviously jealous of the genuine popularity — and political effectiveness — of Alexandria and Bernie.

I can relish the first possibility for a real change in American politics, economics and life that I’ve seen since my heart sank on November 8, 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, defeating Jimmy Carter, and since December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was murdered and Ronald Reagan went on the air to defend guns and the NRA. It was so clear America was plunging into an abyss as blithely and stupidly as the British, French and Germans marched into World War I in 1914; and America has in every way, hasn’t it?

Maybe now, 39 years later, enough people have been hurt by the institutionalized criminality of the American political economy that many of the survivors of those times — the workers, not the parasites — and our new, younger generations are really ready to join up and actually create a successful revolution. I have no shame in appearing to be “utopian” or “dreamy” or “immature” or “foolish” or “naïve” in holding and vocally proclaiming such a hope and such a wish. Bernie’s got 9 years on me, so I’ve seen almost as much as he has of 20th and 21st century American and world history; and I know what can be because it already was once, I lived in it. And I want the best of the past for my three children (two older than AOC). And for their children if they have them, and for everybody’s children, and all children everywhere.

I want the thieves robbing today’s youth of their futures — as they rob and have robbed their wage-slave parents and grandparents — along with the unctuous slimy hypocritical bottom-feeding careerist political ass-kissers (you see them daily on TV) — who tell you a decent life for you is impossible, or costs too much, and who pimp justice to claw their way to the top — to rot in a hell for them where they are discarded, ignored, profitless and robustly taxed: a new American society that is socialist, and democratic, and universally just, and enthusiastically ethical and intelligent.

Vision must precede any reality that one wants to realize, and so in these times don’t repress your vision out of fear of the future or (worse yet) fear of your public image being ridiculed. Let your vision be grand, let it soar, because we want that vision to take us as far as the yet unknown political opportunities of the next year may allow us to go. Don’t be so fearful of being disappointed by the “imperfections” of whatever the political outcome is in 2020 and beyond, that you repress your thinking and emotions in favor of the entirely possible “impossible dream” that Bernie Sanders (above all others) has articulated to the nation.

The “revolution,” as Bernie calls it, will never be perfect, no revolution ever is, but that is not the point. The goal is to get as much revolution as American politics, physical reality, and the inherent chaos of the universe will allow the American people, united in both uplifting aspiration and just purpose, to achieve. And not just in 2020, but continually from this moment on.

So, again, I don’t care how foolish I look or sound. Over my life I’ve seen too much lying, betrayal and exploitation palmed off as “the way things must be,” and I also know the opportunity of a lifetime when I see it. We blew it in 2016, but by now it should be obvious to everybody that a tsunami of change must drown the cold dead vampire of American capitalism, beginning with the ballot boxes on November 3, 2020, and then continuing far beyond electoral politics into every aspect of American society and American life.

So go ahead, be “foolish,” have a dream, have vision, pump out the vibes, because every revolution is powered by a unity of human aspirations, and every advance of civilization occurs as a jolt along the fault-lines of human society: by revolution. “I rebel, therefore we exist.” (Thank you, Albert Camus.)

Videos of Bernie and AOC, 19 October 2019

“Bernie’s Back” Rally with AOC in New York
19 October 2019
[complete speeches by all, at the rally today]
1:31:50 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
1:51:10 AOC ->to-> Bernie
2:52:04 end of Bernie’s speech.
https://youtu.be/0HbS65oiN18

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Bernie For President
19 October 2019
[Solo studio video appearance, 3:05]
https://youtu.be/DDGf39NkZe0

AOC’s Bernie Endorsement: HIGHLIGHTS
[Excerpts of AOC’s address at the 19 Oct. 2019 rally, 5:54]
https://youtu.be/QW-Nx1g8EpI

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The USA is Dead, “We the People” must rise again

The United States of America is dead. We are merely Occupied Territories, economically raped by robotic corporate behemoths of obsessive and inhuman greed, which dump their wastes, their debts and their ruin on the masses of human victims left to die unnoticed in the wreckage of what once was a nation.

“America First!” indeed. Truly, it is “Destroy America First!”, “Disgrace America First!,” “Abandon America First!”, plow it under a tsunami of traitorous greed, under an ocean of supremely petty, myopically self-aggrandizing mediocrity, of graceless, loutish stupidity, and of abysmal lack of character.

Bernie Sanders will be remembered by people’s historians as the greatest American of our times – like Winston Churchill was for the British in 1940 – because he has fought so brilliantly, so wholeheartedly, and in such an inspiring way, for the best vision of a United States of America that American people as a whole could ever have: a people united by the social ideal of caring for one another, and through that nation-wide mutual caring to resurrect and rebuild this nation: its network of human interactions, its infrastructure within which those human interactions occur, and new innovative technologies that help free the people from unnecessary grinding work and human physical vulnerabilities and personal insecurities.

What today the braying touts in the corporate media (which includes most of the Congress) call “The United States of America” is a corpse of an idea, it is dead because it no longer includes the “We the People” who aspired “to form a more perfect union.” I am part of that officially invisible nation, the “We the People” insurgency that holds that vision expressed so nobly by Bernie Sanders, of that “more perfect union” eventually triumphing over these dark times, perhaps in my lifetime, or perhaps in that of my children’s or beyond.

One has to remember that today’s mountains, even the Himalayas, rose out of the depths of the oceans of the past. Our vision is that like the rise of our mountains, our “more perfect union” will inch up over time because of the pressure of our belief in it today, and because of the pressure of belief in it by our kindred spirits in succeeding generations.

Bernie Sanders: Senate Republicans just passed their tax reform bill. What an utter disgrace. (19 December 2017)
https://youtu.be/voZXwAE_JJ8

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A personal afterthought:

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American Decline (continues)

When we say the American Empire is in decline, what do we mean? Is it the decline of:

1) The U.S. economy (and consequently U.S. political power) in relation to and in competition with the other national economies, the regional groupings of economies (like the E.U.), and the aggregate world economy?, or the decline of

2) The industrial mode of economic organization of society?, or the decline of

3) The capitalist model now controlling the U.S. economy in its industrial mode (as opposed to, say, a socialist model whether of democratic form or of command form as in China)?, or the decline of

4) The competence of the economic managing elite, and the influence of white males as the demographic group devising and directing public policy, controlling the national economy and ensuring their demographic group is most favored in the distribution of national prosperity?, or the decline of

5) The standard of living, physical health and security, mental state and personal development of the majority of the members of the public?

We can abstract these five aspects of a national economy, respectively, as its:

1) power,

2) organization (as an industrial mechanism or as a social relations network),

3) purpose (capitalist or socialist),

4) leadership (ability and demographics), and

5) living conditions (the typical experience of daily life).

Clearly, any person’s view of the state of the economy will depend on which of these five aspects they most identify with; and any media account of the state of the economy will be crafted to resonant with the biases of the intended audience.

Economic Power

People in the corporate and political leadership classes will gauge the health of the economy on the basis of its power in relation to the international competition. The remora class of analysts, commentators, consultants and promoters, who base their livelihoods on the sale of information and “suggestions” to the executive classes, will also fabricate their interpretations of current events on the basis of the economy’s power.

Economic Organization

Critics of the industrial mode of economics will focus on the mismatch between the performance of our current economic machinery and the human and societal needs of the public, which is required to support this economy. Ivan Illich (1926-2002) wrote three books in the 1970s (Deschooling Society, Tools For Conviviality, and Medical Nemesis) arguing quite effectively that many of the institutions of the modern industrial state impede their own supposed purposes; he focused on education and medicine in particular.

For example, the educational “funnels” sought today so as to insert more knowledge more quickly into student minds are so burdensome (too much homework, “one-size-fits-all” regimentation, politically circumscribed curricula) that they work against the natural impulse to intellectual exploration by children and young adults, and rob them of the time to follow their natural inclinations toward discovering and learning at their own pace. Children are conditioned, programmed and trained to be passive receptacles rather than being nurtured to become self-directed learners and creators.

Another example of industrial mode counterproductively is the high-volume production of automobiles, which enables suburban sprawl. The unavoidable result is the clogging of increasing longer commute routes between suburban homes and city jobs. The losses to individuals in hours-per-day of living-time spent commuting, and the societal costs in air pollution and the national security liability of oil dependency, are all well known.

A “convivial” (Illich’s term) solution would be to group residential and work areas close together within smaller well-planned cities and towns linked by networks of intra-urban and inter-urban public transportation systems (trolley, bus, train). Such convivial towns and neighborhoods (structured around the natural scale of human interactions) would harken back to earlier times when every city block was not far from a park, and had a bakery, produce store, meat and fish store, druggist and newsstand along it or “just around the corner.”

The industrial mode requires that people serve the efficiency goals of a delivery system so it operates at its lowest cost per item moved. For example, the “big box” stores one must drive to, because they are beyond walking distance from home, and because no one can carry all the bulky items and large quantities one is required to purchase in order to get the array of supplies needed for home-life. How much easier stepping off a bus or trolley a block or two from home after work, and within half an hour buying one easily-carried grocery bag filled with all the supplies and fresh food needed for the next few days.

Another Illich concept is that of the “radical monopoly.” This occurs when a technical system or method appears to be most effective at meeting some common need, and as a consequence of its popularity makes alternatives so economically disfavored that the use of the dominant technology becomes effectively mandatory. This might be acceptable in the case where a more convenient technology replaces a less convenient one, such as personal computers replacing typewriters; but it might be detrimental when the radical monopoly consumes large amounts of energy and pollutes (which we could recast as “requires a wasteful consumption of environmental potential”). The automobile transportation required by suburbia is one such radical monopoly.

Another radical monopoly is western medicine in the form of a pharmacologically and technologically intense industrial mode of centralized medical practice. A convivial alternative would be to have doctors (and their clinics) distributed throughout the well-planned towns mentioned earlier, so that one lived on every block, and every resident would have their “personal physician” living within walking distance. Hospitals would still exist, but patients would most likely enter them as a planned visit arranged by their local doctor, rather than as the only option in an emergency. This latter health care system is used in Cuba.

People address the problems of their daily lives by applying a wide array of tools: hand tools, kitchen and food storage appliances, transport vehicles and transportation systems, electronic devices and electrical power networks, houses and housing systems, drugs and medical devices and health care systems, and many other technical entities from simple pocket knives to trans-national social, monetary, judicial and government systems. Illich called all such entities “tools.”

His central point was that “A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.” Illich chose the term “convivial” to designate the opposite of “industrial productivity,” his concept of a society of autonomous and creative interaction between people, and between people and their environment, “where individual freedom was realized in personal interdependence.”

Tools that allow for many possible uses, as determined by the creativity of the user, and are not restricted to a narrow purpose by their designer, are convivial. Simple hand tools, like a hammer, are convivial tools. More complex examples are the telephone, in that the telephone company cannot restrict the nature of your conversations; and AC electrical power, in that the power company has no control over what you plug into an electrical outlet. In contrast, machines made for industrial productivity can only be used in a few ways, which is the intent of the designer so as to control and “own” the benefit of the tool’s use. The specialized machinery in any factory assembly line, big box stores, and “personal” computers with proprietary and purposely exclusive operating systems are examples of non-convivial tools. Non-convivial tools require humans to become their servants, who operate them in set ways to achieve unique purposes of benefit to the tool designer.

It is easy to see that centralized systems of supply (e.g., food) and service (e.g., medical) are industrial and non-convivial, they require people to “line up” and operate them in a set fashion (e.g., through inflexible bureaucracy, and customer service telephone holds), so the system providers can minimize their costs and maximize their returns. Conversely, decentralized systems of supply and service delivery — as we envisioned earlier in our hypothetical well-planned towns — would not operate at the lowest cost physically possible per item moved, but they would enable a much richer and freer living experience to the wide variety of people who were using and paying for these systems. This is conviviality.

Economic Purpose

An economy is a man-made procedural structure integrating the operation of the financial and commercial interactions engaged in by the members of its society. Every economy, however primitive and disorganized, or sophisticated and highly organized, is an artificial and intentional construction. It is built to a purpose by people, it is not an organism arising out of nature. So, no economy is based on natural and unbreakable laws. Every economy is a game, and is rigged. Just exactly how any particular economy is rigged is the purpose of politics.

Generally, economies are recognized to serve two purposes: capitalist and socialist. The capitalist purpose is the accumulation of private profit at general expense, and the socialist purpose is the support of varieties of social and humanitarian needs at general expense.

Most national economies today have some mixture of capitalist and socialist purposes, though usually the capitalism dominates. For both, the industrial mode is more popular. Capitalist big box stores aim to maximize the profits to the owners, while socialist big box stores aim to minimize the cost to the state for distributing the goods they dispense. Similarly for capitalist and socialist service dispensaries in the industrial mode (e.g., health care).

Both capitalist and socialist economic purposes can be organized in either the industrial or convivial mode. The socialist purpose industrial mode was forcefully promoted by Stalin. As Illich wrote:

“In 1931 Stalin translated ‘control over the means of production’ to mean the increase of productivity by new methods used to control the producer [the subject population]… Since then a socialist policy has been considered one which serves the industrially organized productivity of a socialist country. Stalin’s reinterpretation of Marxism has since then served as a form of blackmail against socialists and the left.”

Fifty-three percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent on pure Stalinism, known simply as the Pentagon, a non-convivial radical monopoly used for political intimidation.

Social Security is another example of a socialist purpose within an otherwise capitalist U.S. economy, that purpose being the dignified management of the transition from taxpaying productive life for old people to their taxpayer-supported maintenance and death. Another socialist purpose proposed for the capitalist-dominated U.S. economy, but so far rejected, is that of universal health care. Publicly funded education through college and child-care are similarly as-yet rejected socialist purposes (note that socialized child-care is a way to ease the strain of industrial mode employment of women; the convivial alternative is socializing the costs of mothers caring for their own children).

Realize that all of these socialist purposes can be addressed in either an industrial or a convivial way. Too often the choice between an industrial organization or a convivial one is ascribed to either a capitalist or socialist motivation (whether as a recommendation or criticism).

This author’s preference is for convivial socialism, probably because he lives in a capitalist-dominant industrial economy.

Economic Leadership

The leadership classes of the United States are disproportionately populated by white males, and also include attendant females and accepted minority individuals (tokens) who service the class-race ascendancy imperatives. The whys and wherefores of this are well known. The essential public responsibility of an economic leadership class is to be competent (and, it should go without saying, to be honest).

Economic Living Conditions

The conditions of daily life in the U.S. are noted and reported on by the journalists of ethnic minority and working class life. At this time there is an economic depression for the working class because of the collapse of the housing market and financial bubble of 2007 [The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which implemented the $700 billion emergency bank bailout Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), was signed into law on October 3, 2008], and because of the permanent loss of U.S. jobs outsourced to China and other minimum labor-cost economies.

The U.S. population has a capitalist utility as a market — a mass from which to extract cash and dump goods into — but this population is largely unnecessary as regards productivity (Pentagon industries excepted). Much cheaper foreign labor can produce the goods needed to absorb the retail cash from the U.S. market. How the U.S. population is supposed to get this retail cash in the first place does not seem to be a matter of concern for U.S. capitalism’s economic planners.

Food, energy consumption and entertainment, often in combined forms such as “fast food,” flashy oversized automobiles, giant plasma-screen home-theater systems and hand-held video-viewing telecommunications devices (telescreens aplenty), are popular retail goods. Like the soma and feelies of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, they serve the political purpose of pacifying the U.S. population so it conforms itself to the service of the capitalist industrial mode economy that profits from them. In rural communities in California’s Central Valley, Mexican-American children of farm-worker parents play with iPods in homes with dirt floors.

Decline And Expectation

The experience of economic decline is a matter of expectation. Investors in stocks, bonds, real estate and currencies might fear a decline of the U.S. economy when the productivity of foreign economies surges relative to that of the U.S. Changes of this type are the result of: continuing progress in less-developed nations, changes in labor and resource availability, the unexpected twists and turns of international politics, and the occasional influence of geophysical forces (e.g., natural disasters and climate effects).

Investors might also fear a “downturn” of their expectations if there is a serious possibility that sectors of the economy might be reorganized in a convivial fashion (meeting people’s needs instead of just extracting cash from them), or worst yet become nationalized.

However, if a working class family is now covered by an industrial mode national health care plan, it could easily experience better economic conditions even if the cost of the plan actually reduced the national gross domestic product, and the economy’s power relative to the international competition. That family would feel even richer if their health care were available through a convivial system of neighborhood-based physicians and clinics, even if the Wall Street Journal were to assure them that they were now living in an even weaker national economy. In reality, no wealth would be lost. Quite simply, the profit potential of investor fantasy in an industrialized mode capitalist economy would have been used to provide the people-centered national health care benefit. A potential wave of private profit, and chips for financial speculation, having been smoothed out into a rising tide of socialized benefit.

This is an evolving planet, and some can view changes in demographics as an economic decline. This is race-based thinking, something like tribalism; it is primitive, ignorant and very popular.

The fertility rate of whites is lower than that of nonwhites in the U.S., and the fertility rates of northern latitude and industrialized countries are lower than those of less-developed and tropical latitude countries. This is the glacially advancing demographic steamroller that flattened the apartheid regime of South Africa, will eventually inundate the Israeli colonial project in Palestine, and is darkening the complexion of North American and European life.

For some of the most insular and least cosmopolitan populations of white North Americans, the visible changes in the complexion of the leadership classes — still predominately white but now routinely mixed in with non-white personalities — is too jarring a reminder of their own social and economic stagnation, and they express their resentment over their own unacknowledged backwardness by a rejection of any society with nonwhite members of equal status. This in turn is voiced most honestly as simple racism (against Latinos, blacks and muslims in the U.S., and muslims and blacks in Europe), or disingenuously nuanced as anti-government sentiment, by which they mean opposition to the socialized purposes of the national economy because such socialized activity is by definition racially integrated. These are the Tea Party people.

These resentful whites, angry at the imagined loss of their assumed race-based socio-economic privileges rail about the illegal immigrants (a.k.a. Mexicans) “taking” jobs and “getting free government benefits” which they have to pay for through their taxes (this is usually just the overblown hyperbole of simple misers resenting taxation). Yet, they never seem perturbed that 53 cents of every tax dollar they hand the government goes straight to the Pentagon and funds the most wasteful and destructive subsidy on Earth, at a societal cost far beyond that actually created by undocumented immigrants.

But, these resentments grow out of fears born out of ignorance, and logical argument can do little to break through to the emotional engine driving this mindset. These people see loud, uncouth and very rich nonwhite people on their televisions; they see as their president a black man whose sophistication and intellectual attainments they will never match; in their towns and shopping malls they see Mexicans, walking in large family groups and chattering in an undecipherable lingo, and obviously spending money, where did they get it?

It all comes back to hammer the painful point home: “things aren’t as I expected, I’m not special, and they’re making me pay to have it this way.” This mindset sees national social and economic decay in the darkened complexion of the national demographic, and harrumphs about “taking the country back.” Tea Party politicians will try to actualize their faction’s guiding delusion by disabling as much of the socializing purpose of the national economy as will return the country to a more racially segregated and white-favored past, without the loss of subsidies popular with white people, like Medicare and the military. In this work of social regression they will be the useful idiots of the capitalist ownership class, for whom industrialization is profit, conviviality is taxation, and socialism is expropriation.

Decline? Yes Or No For Five Factors

1) Decline of economic power? Yes.

China and India combined hold 36% of the world population (2.49B of 6.89B). The 2010 GDP third quarter growth rate for India was 8.9% and for China 9.6%. These rates are representative of their respective economies during the last three years (though all economies experienced some dip near the 2008 U.S. banking collapse). The growth of U.S. GDP during the 2010 third quarter was 2.6%, and the average U.S. growth rate over the last 15 quarters was 0.49%. The U.S. population of 311.9M is 4.5% of the world total.

If we take the GDP (in 2009 $) of India, China, the U.S. and the World ($1.31T, $4.99T, $14.12T, $58.14T) and divide each by their respective population (1.155B, 1.331B, 0.312B, 6.893B) we arrive at a productivity per capita (GDP/#) of, respectively: $1134, $3749, $45,270, $8438. Note that we are assuming that every single person in the country (and World) is a “worker” who contributes to the GDP; hardly exact but usefully indicative.

We can compare the performance of two different economies by forming ratios from pairs of GDP/#, to arrive at:

— the number (at top of the resulting fraction) of U.S. workers that produce the same absolute output ($ amount) as

— the number (at bottom of the resulting fraction) of workers from India, China, the U.S. and the World, respectively,

— as: 1/40, 1/12, 1/1, 2/11.

So, the output of one averaged U.S. worker equals that of 40 averaged Indian workers (as defined here), or 12 averaged Chinese workers; and 2 averaged U.S. workers produce as much as 11 averaged World workers.

Performing the same exercise but this time comparing India, China, the U.S. and the World to the averaged World worker, we find, respectively (World/country): 2/15, 4/9, 11/2, 1/1. So, 2 averaged World workers produce as much as 15 averaged Indian workers, 4 World to 9 Chinese, 11 World to 2 U.S. (and 1/1 for World to World).

If we assume that the third quarter 2010 growth rates remain constant, then (by simple exponential extrapolation) the Chinese economy will match the total output of the U.S. economy in 15.8 years, at $21.2T (unchanging $).

By a similar extrapolation, India’s economy will match that of the U.S. in 39.9 years, at $39.4T. The estimated averaged Chinese “worker” productivity in 15.8 years will be one quarter that of the averaged U.S. worker then, and a similar calculation for Indian productivity at GDP parity yields 23% that of the U.S. in 39.9 years. (These calculations used national populations projected for 15.8 years and/or 39.9 years in the future; the projections were calculated using constant population growth rates of 1.3%, 0.5%, 0.9%, respectively, for India, China and the U.S.)

The sheer size of China’s population compared to that of the U.S. means that it must inevitably outpace the U.S. economy, as long as China’s productivity increases over time (and there is no revolutionary improvement in U.S. productivity). India follows the same trend but at less than half the pace.

2) Decline of economic organization? Neutral (yes and no).

The U.S. economy is as highly organized as it ever was, in its overwhelmingly dominant industrial mode. There has been no overall decline of organization, nor modal shift to conviviality (the no part).

However, there are significantly fewer industrial sectors today than existed three decades ago. The range of possible industrial production has diminished because of the permanent loss of major portions of the manufacturing base (the yes part).

In brief, civilian manufacturing industries have largely been “outsourced” to replace American labor with lower-cost foreign labor (primarily Chinese). Those portions of the domestic productivity base that have not been abandoned are strictly, even obsessively, organized along the industrial mode.

The haste, one might say panic, with which U.S. capitalist planners tossed domestic manufacturing labor overboard and walked away from domestic manufacturing physical plant suggests there has been little useful thought about the future economic impact of a swelling population of the permanently unemployed, and expanses of decaying industrial ruins (http://jalopnik.com/5110995/the-ruins-of-detroit-industry-five-former-factories).

The outsourcing gimmick has kept “the economy” (as experienced by U.S. capitalism’s management, ownership and investor classes) robust and competitive (factor #1). However, the detritus of mega-capitalist “open loop” schemes of wealth generation, in this case entire industries and their skilled domestic labor populations, is just too large a burden to dump onto the public for reabsorption and regeneration, without cost to the schemers. There will have to be “taxes” on future “earnings” to help pay for the reintegration of the jettisoned industrial capacity into a new type of all-are-included domestic economy.

The political conflict at hand is between capitalist exploiters and speculators, who wish to escape paying for the waste and societal damage of their schemes, and the working class taxpaying public (most of the people), which deserves receiving sizable payment for damages caused to the commonwealth, because the people of that public will do all the work of reprocessing abandoned industrial ruins and unemployed industrial workers into a new regrouped national community, with cleaned-up reusable sites, and revitalized neighbors, colleagues and co-workers.

3) Decline of capitalism and shift to socialism? No.

It would be wonderful, but circumstances have yet to decay to the point where they batter most Americans severely enough so they question their childhood indoctrination to capitalism (think Berlin or Tokyo, 1945).

Health care is the single issue that draws most interest to socialism in the U.S. today. The pressure for socialized medical care arises out of the stresses of the industrial mode of employment and service delivery.

I suspect that most Americans (U.S.) would lose interest in socialized medicine if they had access to a convivial capitalist health care system they could afford. An individual might state it this way: “If I have to be just one of the herd in some industrial medical system, then I’d rather it were government-run and taxpayer funded. At least then I wouldn’t have the added anxiety about paying for the indignity, nor even about being able to get it when I needed it. However, if I could get quick and easy access close to home anytime, and a professional to deal with the hospital for me when that was needed, I’d be happy to pay dues comparable to a swim club.”

4) Decline of economic leadership? Yes.

There has been an absolute decline in the competence of economic leadership, certainly since the days of John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith, and especially since the onset of the Reagan Administration (and Thatcherism in England), with its rabid Chicago School ideology (e.g., Milton Friedman’s “free market”).

The logical terminus of Reaganomics was the bank crash of 2008, though today’s economic managers remain witless before it, their minds still possessed by the free market cult. How can anyone think that the economic managers, ministers, experts and regulators, who collectively gave us the economic crisis of 2007 to the present, are competent? Unfortunately, neither these incompetents nor their Reaganomic mindset — which has eviscerated the American economy as a living experience, as opposed to an investment climate — have been swept off the scene so an authentic recovery and effective reforms can be started. Present U.S. fiscal policy is the equivalent of trying to blow air back into a burst balloon. Somewhere, Santayana’s ghost is laughing.

As described earlier, from a Tea Party perspective there has been a decline of the leadership elite by virtue of demographic titration. This is really a public health problem regarding epidemic mental illness.

5) Decline of the standard of living? Yes.

This is the great theft in the U.S. during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A specific instance is the abandonment of the American skilled industrial laborer, but the overall scheme affects every working person: the socialization of vast speculative losses and the costs of capital flight from civic responsibilities.

As long as the political problem of reintegrating the U.S. economy, so it includes all workers in an equitable sharing of economic gains, remains unsolved, even unaddressed, then the standard of living will continue to decay, and with it prospects of long term profitability even for members of the elite economic classes.

“Big capital” uses its money to forestall any political engagement on this fundamental issue, and too much of the public accepts being distracted and pacified by high-tech trinkets, toys and endless entertainment streams, to focus on the work needed for their own education in reality, and the commitment needed to organize politically in the public interest.

When a quorum of the public wakes up (Yoo Hoo! Stop watching and believing TV!) and comes together to take action, the capital interests will be forced to negotiate for their survival, and that will make it possible to actually reform the economic machinery of the country, to re-rig the game in the public’s favor.

Conclusions

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, respectively: yes, neutral, no, yes, yes.

The economy-as-lived by Americans has declined steadily for three decades, and sharply after 2007. This economy is in a depression now, with no indication of imminent improvement. Further decline is inevitable unless an extensive recovery scheme is implemented (think non-militarized Keynes plus significant financial reforms plus large and permanent cuts in military spending).

The economy-for-investors, which hosts financial speculation, is growing slowly. However, it is a non-convivial shell game that excludes a large population of unemployed and underemployed people, except as members of a public dump used to absorb cast-off banking corporation liabilities and environmental damage. This is politically unsustainable in the long term. An economy that produces livelihoods for everyone is needed.

The long term solution to both problems is a reorganization and reorientation (a.k.a., ‘re-purposing’) of the U.S. economy, by dissolving and recombining the economy-as-lived and the economy-for-investors into a re-integrated whole. Of necessity, the result would have significantly more socialism and some more conviviality. A public that could accomplish this reform would understand that “lost” potential profits (which could have been had from the old economy-for-investors) would only have gone into risky and destabilizing gambling activities, and “lost” potential subsidies (like the excessive Pentagon favoritism in the old economy-as-lived) would only have gone into wasteful military adventurism and consumption. The new economy would produce living wealth.

How do we achieve this? Politics. Impossible? Remember, the barriers are all in our minds, collectively.

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Originally published on 21 January 2011:

American Decline
21 January 2011
http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/01/21/american-decline-2/

The re-posting here was prompted by the following.

“Deaths of despair” are surging in white America
23 March 2017
https://youtu.be/56k4TCJvVZQ

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