The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

William Pfaff: Why Europe should reject U.S. market capitalism

William Pfaff: Why Europe should reject U.S. market capitalism
International Herald Tribune

SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 2006

PARIS The specter of Anglo-American market capitalism dominated France's student unrest in March and April, and motivated popular rejection in France a year ago of the proposed new European Union constitution.

The election that has just given Italy a fragile center- left coalition, and recent conflict in German industry, involved the same question: how to remodel national economies, or whether to remodel them at all.

Advocates of the new model capitalism, and the globalization project that goes with it, like to present it as an expression of historical necessity, rooted in classical economics and embodying irrefutable laws. It is progress itself, they say. Those who do not conform to the rules of modern market capitalism, and do not offer the human sacrifices of lost employment and diminished living standards that the market demands, will fall by the wayside of history.

This is simply untrue, although most of those who say it undoubtedly believe it.

The new American and British market capitalist model, which dictated deregulation of industry and privatization of state enterprises in the 1970s, and globalization of international markets in the 1990s, exists as a result of free political decisions and ideological choices that were anything but inevitable. History may one day describe them as having been perverse and socially destructive.

Two of the most important influences on the new capitalism were academic in origin, and the third, improbably, was an instance of romanticized egoism.

The first influence was monetarist economic theory. This in principle excluded social considerations from economic policy decision. Government economic policy was to be made chiefly in response to a single objectively determinable factor, the money supply. The effect of this new theory was to "dehumanize" economic policy, previously held to be closely related to political considerations, as was the case with the Keynesian tradition that monetarism challenged.

The second influence was primarily political, a reaction to 20th-century totalitarianism. Working in London in the 1930s, the Austrian political theorist and economist Friedrich von Hayek began as a critic of Keynes, but eventually widened his argument so as to assert as a matter of principle that state intervention in society, even in democratic political systems, amounted to a "Road to Serfdom" (the title of a book he published in 1944).

State intervention in economy and society threatened human liberty. The free market produced economic efficiency and human freedom. Hayek had a great influence on Margaret Thatcher.

The third influence was an eccentric one, important in the United States. It was the creation by a Russian-American novelist, Ayn Rand, of a "philosophy" of heroic egoism and pursuit of individual self-interest (against the mob and the weak) by superior persons. Her ideas responded to the longings of impressionable college students (including Alan Greenspan) and her views became something of a mid-century American cult, if not a sect.

This is what underlay the transformation of American corporate culture, and of the American business corporation from an institution with national identity, constrained to reconcile interests of owners, employees and community, into the modern global corporation, effectively controlled by its managers and mandated to the single objective of producing "value" for stockholders, while handsomely rewarded its executives.

This change transformed labor into an anonymous commodity and put both blue-collar and white-collar staff into competition with an effectively unlimited global labor supply, resulting in employment insecurity, reduced or static wages, diminished or eliminated benefits and pensions, and the destructive social pressures of falling living standards.

In the United States, the new model of corporate business has evolved toward a form of crony capitalism, in which business and government interests are often corruptly intermingled, the system resistant to reform because of the financial dependence of both major political parties on contributed money.

Frequently described by its supporters as a progressive step in the development of a new international economy, the political-economic system that has evolved in the United States has proved regressive in crucial respects, as well as inefficient and abusive of the public interest.

Europe, one would think, should be looking for social and economic evolution on its own terms. It is perfectly capable of doing so, as a modern industrial society that in aggregate terms is larger and wealthier than the United States, as well as less shackled by obsolescent ideology and entrenched special interests - its problems with union corporatism notwithstanding.

In the longer term, for Europeans to embark on this project, instead of conforming to the currently received wisdom concerning the globalized economy, would serve the international interest as well as that of the European Union. It might even prove a service to the United States, whose future is now jeopardized by economic error and excess, as well as unachievable global political and military ambitions.

http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2006/04/28/opinion/edpfaff.php

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Howard Zinn - America's Blinders

America's Blinders
By Howard Zinn
The Progressive

April 2006 Issue

Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans - members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen - rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq. A small example of the innocence (or obsequiousness, to be more exact) of the press is the way it reacted to Colin Powell's presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, a month before the invasion, a speech which may have set a record for the number of falsehoods told in one talk. In it, Powell confidently rattled off his "evidence": satellite photographs, audio records, reports from informants, with precise statistics on how many gallons of this and that existed for chemical warfare. The New York Times was breathless with admiration. The Washington Post editorial was titled "Irrefutable" and declared that after Powell's talk "it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."

It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people. If we can understand those reasons, we can guard ourselves better against being deceived.

One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If we don't know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. I am not speaking of the history we learned in school, a history subservient to our political leaders, from the much-admired Founding Fathers to the Presidents of recent years. I mean a history which is honest about the past. If we don't know that history, then any President can stand up to the battery of microphones, declare that we must go to war, and we will have no basis for challenging him. He will say that the nation is in danger, that democracy and liberty are at stake, and that we must therefore send ships and planes to destroy our new enemy, and we will have no reason to disbelieve him.

But if we know some history, if we know how many times Presidents have made similar declarations to the country, and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled. Although some of us may pride ourselves that we were never fooled, we still might accept as our civic duty the responsibility to buttress our fellow citizens against the mendacity of our high officials.

We would remind whoever we can that President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn't that Mexico "shed American blood upon the American soil," but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

We would point out that President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that we really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to "civilize" the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Woodrow Wilson - so often characterized in our history books as an "idealist" - lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to "make the world safe for democracy," when it was really a war to make the world safe for the Western imperial powers.

Harry Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was "a military target."

Everyone lied about Vietnam - Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia, all of them claiming it was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanting to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country.

And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991 - hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait (can one imagine Bush heartstricken over Iraq's taking of Kuwait?), rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

Given the overwhelming record of lies told to justify wars, how could anyone listening to the younger Bush believe him as he laid out the reasons for invading Iraq? Would we not instinctively rebel against the sacrifice of lives for oil?

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught.

We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was "we the people" who established the new government after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn't talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like "national interest," "national security," and "national defense" as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that - not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor - is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there - the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be "checks and balances" - do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth. Not to know that is to make us helpless before determined liars.

The deeply ingrained belief - no, not from birth but from the educational system and from our culture in general - that the United States is an especially virtuous nation makes us especially vulnerable to government deception. It starts early, in the first grade, when we are compelled to "pledge allegiance" (before we even know what that means), forced to proclaim that we are a nation with "liberty and justice for all."

And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand and bow our heads during the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner," announcing that we are "the land of the free and the home of the brave." There is also the unofficial national anthem "God Bless America," and you are looked on with suspicion if you ask why we would expect God to single out this one nation - just 5 percent of the world's population - for his or her blessing. If your starting point for evaluating the world around you is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then you are not likely to question the President when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values - democracy, liberty, and let's not forget free enterprise - to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world. It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful wars against small countries a tenth our size: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. At the end of World War II, Henry Luce, with an arrogance appropriate to the owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, pronounced this "the American century," saying that victory in the war gave the United States the right "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit."

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, said that spreading liberty around the world was "the calling of our time." Years before that, in 1993, President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point commencement, declared: "The values you learned here . . . will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities."

What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison - more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.

--------

Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of Voices of a People's History of the United States.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/042506F.shtml

Mike Whitney - Preparing for the Economic Typhoon

Preparing for the Economic Typhoon

By MIKE WHITNEY

Gold traders love George Bush. They know that his blundering mismanagement of the economy will keep gold soaring well into the future. In the last year alone gold increased nearly $200 an ounce capping off a 5 year run that has taken it from $274 per ounce to $635 at Friday's close.

These are serious numbers and they reflect the uneasiness with the global political situation (Iran, Nigeria) as well as concern about the oceans of debt generated by our Oval Office numbskull.

Is it really possible for one man to single-handedly obliterate the world's most robust economy?

Guess so.

After 6 years of looting the public till, the cupboard is just about bare. Bush has chalked up another $3 trillion of public debt which sounds the death-knell for Social Security, public education, and the social safety net.

Think I'm kidding? Consider what new Fed-master Ben Bernacke said just yesterday, "If the dollar declined sharply, it would not necessarily disrupt markets".

That's right; the Fed is conspiring to reduce its debt payments by driving a wooden stake into the heart of the greenback. In three to six months the dollar will probably be valued at 1.40 to 1.50 per euro. That is, if the bottom doesn't fall out completely. After all, allies and enemies alike are pretty sick of the good old USA, so it wouldn't be out of the question for someone (perhaps, China) to start a sell-off that would end in disaster.

The dollar is now recognized as the empire's Achilles heel and the primary target for any asymmetrical warfare directed at America. If that means regime change at home, count me in. I'll worry about the wheelbarrow-loads of greenbacks for a loaf of bread some other time.

The Group of Seven industrialized nations (G-7) took a few swipes at Washington's profligate spending this weekend; warning that they wanted "more flexibility" in the Asian currencies. This is a clear sign that the path is being paved for a freefalling dollar while the other currencies gain ground.

How do you like the idea that half of your savings will be erased through executive fiat?

Since Bush took office the dollar has plummeted 30% against the euro. The only thing that has kept it from joining the peso is the skyrocketing oil prices which have allowed the Fed to keep the printing presses going at full tilt. That's because oil is denominated exclusively in dollars, so while the price per barrel continued upward, the Fed was able to circulate another $2.5 trillion of funny money. The high cost of oil has kept the dollar reasonably stable even though the twin-deficits have eroded its true value. Maintaining the monopoly on the sale of oil (which forces foreign central banks to hold billions of greenbacks in reserve) is critical to US prosperity. A switch to euros would weaken demand for the dollar and send the American economy into a tailspin.

Unfortunately, other countries are frustrated with the recklessness of the Bush team and are threatening to destabilize the system. First there was the danger of Iran opening an oil bourse that would compete head-on with the dollar; increasing the number of euros stockpiled in the central banks. Now, the Russian Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin has fired a broadside at his American counterparts saying, "The US dollar is NOT the world's absolute reserve currency". He noted that the unsustainable' US trade deficit is "causing concern" and that "the international community can hardly be satisfied with this instability."

Kudrin's remarks were greeted with the shock one would expect from a dirty bomb on a crowded subway. America's global dominance requires that it maintain the dollar as the world's reserve currency; if that changes then the US will be unable to trade its painted-script for valuable resources. It would also mean that America would have to start paying back its $9 trillion national debt.

Kudrin's comments were interpreted to mean that Russia might ease away from the dollar in its oil transactions; a change that might spread to other countries that are equally skeptical of Uncle Sam's recklessness.

The eroding value of the dollar is just one of the economic crises facing the American people. A 6 month downturn in housing starts signals that the housing bubble, the largest equity bubble in history, is quickly losing steam. With long term interest rates steadily rising (along with energy prices) the shaky loans that were blessed by former Fed-chief, Greenspan, are beginning to unravel. "No down payment", ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages) and easy financing have the over-extended American public teetering towards insolvency. Foreclosures are up, mortgages balances are at unprecedented levels, and inventories are larger than they've been since the early 90s. Last month produced the biggest slowdown in sales in a decade and the real pain hasn't even begun. At least $3 trillion of the $9 trillion equity bubble is built entirely on the cheap money pumped into the system by the Federal Reserve to keep the economy percolating while Bush and Co. stole every last farthing in the US Treasury. Greenspan's low interest rates were nothing more than a carnival-hucksters' scam to shift the vast wealth of America's middle class into the pockets of well-heeled constituents.

Thanks, Alan.

Last year Americans used their homes as a personal ATM; withdrawing over $600 billion to pay off credit card debt and for personal spending. That "presto-equity" is quickly evaporating as home prices flatten out and wages continue to stagnate. Personal debt is currently in the stratosphere and there are some gloomy signs that the American consumer, that great engine of global economic power, is finally tapped out. Consumer spending represents 70% of US GDP (Gross Domestic Product) so, as housing prices retreat and energy prices increase; Americans will face the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression.

One thing is absolutely certain; Bush will stick by his constituents to the bitter end. It is physically impossible for him to act in the interests of the American people. He won't be deterred by the falling dollar, the deflating housing market, or the skyrocketing energy prices. He'll make his budget-busting tax cuts permanent and plunge the country into a sea of red ink.

Betting that George Bush will do the wrong thing for the nation is not a matter of conjecture; it is a mathematical certainty. He is deliberately destroying the middle class, the prospects for upward mobility, and the currency. The economic underpinnings of American democracy have been demolished in just 6 short years. Smart people will prepare themselves for the typhoon ahead.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com

http://www.counterpunch.org/whitney04252006.html

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lawrence Wilkerson - Is the U.S. Being Transformed into a Radical Republic?

Is the U.S. Being Transformed into a Radical Republic?
by Lawrence Wilkerson


We Americans came not from a revolution but from an evolution.

That is in large part why our so-called revolution produced success while most throughout history did not. We came as much from the Magna Carta as from our own doings, as much from British common law and parliamentary development as from the Declaration of Independence and Continental Congress.

Unlike the true revolution on the other side of the Atlantic that led to Napoleon's dictatorship and strife and conflict all across Europe, our evolution founded the greatest country the world has ever seen. That was true in every element of power and in the uniqueness that makes us great, our constant striving for "a more perfect union" and, as we do so, our open arms for the other peoples of the world "yearning to be free."

As Alexis de Tocqueville once said: "America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

In January 2001, with the inauguration of George W. Bush as president, America set on a path to cease being good; America became a revolutionary nation, a radical republic. If our country continues on this path, it will cease to be great - as happened to all great powers before it, without exception.

From the Kyoto accords to the International Criminal Court, from torture and cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners to rendition of innocent civilians, from illegal domestic surveillance to lies about leaking, from energy ineptitude to denial of global warming, from cherry-picking intelligence to appointing a martinet and a tyrant to run the Defense Department, the Bush administration, in the name of fighting terrorism, has put America on the radical path to ruin.

Unprecedented interpretations of the Constitution that holds the president as commander in chief to be all-powerful and without checks and balances marks the hubris and unparalleled radicalism of this administration.

Moreover, fiscal profligacy of an order never seen before has brought America trade deficits that boggle the mind and a federal deficit that, when stripped of the gimmickry used to make it appear more tolerable, will leave every child and grandchild in this nation a debt that will weigh upon their generations like a ball and chain around every neck. Imagine owing $150,000 from the cradle. That is radical irresponsibility.

This administration has expanded government - creation of the Homeland Security Department alone puts it in the record books - and government intrusiveness. It has brought a new level of sleaze and corruption to Washington (difficult to do, to be sure). And it has done the impossible in war-waging: put in motion a conflict in Iraq that in terms of colossal incompetence, civilian and military, and unbridled arrogance portends to top the Vietnam era, a truly radical feat.

In Eugene Jarecki's documentary Why We Fight, Richard Perle, head theoretician for the neo-Jacobins who masquerade under the title "neoconservatives," claims that America was changed forever by 9/11. He tells us that those attacks are responsible for all this radicalism. The Jacobins were members of a radical political club during the French Revolution that instituted brutal repression in what became known as the "reign of terror."

Mr. Perle says that we may think we can go back, but we cannot. "We are not the same people we were before," he says emphatically, as if he were our king. If he's correct, then our country is as spent as was Rome, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain and a host of other great powers before each toppled from the mountain.

Mr. Perle is not correct.

First, it was Mr. Perle and people such as he who put us where we are today, not the terrorists of 9/11. A somnolent Congress assisted - a Congress that, as Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia said as the Senate failed to debate in the run-up to the Iraq war, was "ominously, ominously, dreadfully silent."

Second, people such as Mr. Perle do not represent the bulk of Americans, who are anything but radical. Instead, they represent the Robespierres and Napoleons of this world, the neo-Jacobins of today. Robespierre was a leader of the reign of terror.

We can turn back; moreover, we must if the world is to continue on a trajectory of more freedom and more prosperity for increasing numbers of people. Without American leadership - the good America - the world cannot progress.

If we are in some way the indispensable nation that a few Americans have said we are, then that is why. And it is no arrogance of power to say it; rather, it is to admit abiding reverence for the way the world works.

Such awesome responsibility generates not the swaggering ineptitude of which we have witnessed so much of late, but the abject humility that should flood us when we confront such unprecedented responsibility. I imagine the feeling to be something akin to what Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower felt moments before the invasion of Normandy began June 6, 1944.

Congress can awaken and discover that the Constitution is correct, that Congress is in fact a separate and equal branch of government. The American people will find a way to deal with the remainder of the radicals, whether at the ballot box, in the courts or in the Senate.

We can halt the precipitate slide in our standing around the world, convince the majority of the Islamic world that we can and must co-exist - and eventually prosper together - and at the same time confront, confound and defeat the small element in Islam's midst that lives to murder innocents, Christian, Jew and Muslim alike.

All we need do, in reality, is return to our roots. Never in our almost 800-year history since the Magna Carta have we been radicals.
Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a visiting professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell from 2002 to 2005.

Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0423-31.htm