Archive for International

As we wonder when people will take to the streets in America over growing inequality, they’re taking to the streets in Brazil over government efforts at lessening inequality. Aljazeera reports that the center-left Workers’ Party (PT) under President Dilma Rousseff saw hundreds of thousands demonstrating on March 15. She faces “the most conservative National Congress since 1964 as well as a decelerating economy, hostile media and a corruption scandal that implicates her party.” It doesn’t help that her trade unionist and social movement activist base have been alienated by “pro-market political appointments.” (Nope. No foreshadowing there.)

The people in the streets, “whiter and wealthier than the typical Brazilian,” are part of a growing conservative backlash among the elite and middle class:

Since Rousseff’s re-election campaign in 2014, political discourse in Brazil has become more polarized than ever. Legislators elected from historically progressive states openly defended policies such as torture and the extermination of indigenous peoples. Congress now includes a sizable “bullet caucus,” which supports militaristic responses to crime, as well as a substantial Christian fundamentalist caucus opposed to gay rights and a very large rural caucus that opposes land reform and indigenous rights. Meanwhile, the PT and parties to its left lost seats, and nearly 30 percent of voters cast blank ballots or abstained — a historic high.

Rousseff’s administration has fallen short of expectations on certain scores, including land redistribution and the reform of the political system. But most progressive commentators agree that the PT represents a significant break from the free-market orthodoxy that previously prevailed in Brazil. There are a number of impressive social achievements based on the unapologetic redistribution of resources and opportunity. Extreme poverty has been reduced by 75 percent since the PT came to power, and overall poverty gone down 65 percent, largely by means of direct cash transfers now received by 44 million Brazilians, or nearly 1 in 4. The inflation-adjusted minimum wage has doubled in the last 12 years, and domestic workers have won expanded rights, including paid vacation.

On its own, clearly not a situation the right people can allow to stand. But it’s the affirmative action program in the country’s public universities that has the elite really riled. Tuition is free, Aljazeera reports, but now future politicians, government ministers, and judges, etc. find themselves having to share those elite educational institutions with working class and lower middle class students and, yes indeed, issues of racial inequality are adding to the political friction. Furthermore, Rousseff’s party “has failed to present the redistributive project as one that benefits the entire nation and not just the dispossessed.”

The Guardian describes how the Latin American left is seeing pushback elsewhere. The global financial crisis has caught up with the reforms in Venezuela as well, and Argentina’s fight with “vulture funds” such as Paul Singer’s Elliott Management has dried up its credit:

Many see a conspiracy at work. “The Latin American left is coming up against an enemy that it has never prepared itself for,” said Federico Neiburg, an economic anthropologist at the Museu Nacional. “It’s an alliance between shifting geopolitical interests, economic and financial elites trying to impose politics that are beneficial to them, and political action on behalf of the media …

Paging Naomi Klein.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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This is an old story of mine about how views on education have changed:

I grew up thinking that education was its own reward. In college, I studied, philosophy, art, drama and science. Yeah, I waited tables and traveled for awhile. After college, I was appalled at the attitude of many customers. They’d ask if I was in college. No, I told them, I’d graduated. Next question: What was your major?

When I told them, their eyes went blank. “But what are you going to do with it,” they’d ask. You could see the gears going round in their heads. How did that (a philosophy degree) translate into *that* as they mentally rubbed their finger$$ together.

Education used to be valued for its own sake. Not anymore.

America’s founding ideas were cultivated and distilled by people of the Enlightenment, probably the best educated the world has ever produced. Men mostly. White men. Wealthy white men.

Two and a quarter centuries later, another collection of wealthy white men want America to return to those roots, where only wealthy, white people will be educated in wealthy, white, business-friendly ways. State supports for low tuition rates “distort” the market. Costs must rise to drive students who can still afford it into the more remunerative majors. Tech schools for the rest.

Our modern Übermenschen want to terraform our minds. To make humans suitable for their brand of capitalism, they must remake the culture. Emphasis on cult. The Great Whitebread Hope is trying to “reform” the University of Wisconsin into a vocational school. Meanwhile, the purge continues at the University of North Carolina. I’ve written about it over and over. Now it’s the Jedidiah Purdy’s turn at the New Yorker:

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”

All those stupid, unmarketable things our Enlightenment Founders had learned in school? You know, history, Greek and Latin? E pluribus unum? French. French literature and philosophy? What did they ever do with that? What use are they to homo corporatus? He needs a trade. Well okay, maybe a little philosophy of the proper sort. Purdy continues:

The other reformist front is a call to revive the Great Books model of humanities education: literature and philosophy as a source of eternal truths, dating back to Plato, passing through John Locke, and perfected by Ayn Rand and the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. A Pope Center research paper published this year describes a “renewal in the university” through privately funded programs dedicated to teaching the great books untainted by relativism. The report devotes a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to “the morality of capitalism,” which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs, which are often housed within business schools or economics or political science departments, were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to “retake the universities” from “statist/collectivist ideas.” He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is “clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.”

Because when betterment meets bottom line, betterment loses (or is redefined). “A successful humanities education makes the obvious questionable,” Purdy writes. But questioning is not the object for results-oriented businessmen. They want results and a return on investment. Just a wild guess, but the only market testing these Market mavens did (if any) for their proposed curriculum was among other wealthy, white men.

As it happens, I wrote about BB&T’s putsch to indoctrinate university students in Ayn Rand’s sociopath morality as the Great Recession took hold in January 2009. Reprised here:

A struggling George Bailey once received a fat cigar and a generous job offer from banker Henry Potter. Potter pointed out that it would be in George’s self-interest to accept it and forget about that old savings and loan and all the little people it served. George Bailey turned down that deal.

Western Carolina University and other financially struggling universities have received similar offers from the BB&T Foundation. The catch is that they have to indoctrinate students in Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy and teach Atlas Shrugged.

Mountain Xpress’ report on the BB&T grant to WCU [“Capitalism on Campus,” Dec. 23] quotes College of Business Dean Ronald Johnson saying, “As a businessperson, you have to have a set of principles—or a philosophy. … Those people who do not have a firm foundation … are not likely to be very successful.” Also, “The base of my philosophy is wealth maximization.”

Wealth maximization, I take it, has always been the primary philosophical foundation of business ethics—pretty thin gruel—and the foundation for both Duke University’s recent Fuqua School of Business cheating scandal (among others elsewhere) and the scruple-free atmosphere behind the subprime gold rush.

Pursuit of—if not full realization of—the “pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism” that Rand advocated has brought the world economic system to its knees. Rational self-interest wasn’t supposed to be so irrational. Nonetheless, free marketers have redoubled efforts to resuscitate their philosophy, including offering colleges lucrative grants to teach it.

Economic meltdown is not a failure of their philosophy—no. Washington just didn’t do laissez-faire right. When tax cuts failed to produce promised jobs, it just meant we needed more tax cuts. Or as the blogger Digby observed, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.”

The Detroit bailout debate revealed that, for many opponents, the loss of millions of jobs was acceptable collateral damage in propping up their economic philosophy: Government intervention would be a deplorable violation of free-market principles.

It is symptomatic of the Gilded Age that economic principles trump all others. Most people learn better in Sunday school.

In the wake of business-school scandals, the Enron/WorldCom/Tyco scandals and Wall Street’s sub-prime/derivatives scandal: If parents and churches don’t, somebody should teach remedial ethics. But is it acceptable for our shrugging Atlases to bribe colleges to teach theirs?

Having taken control of state governments, conservatives/libertarians no longer have to ply potential converts with beer or pay bribes to have their faith taught in state schools. They can simply “reform” the schools. I call them the Midas Cult. Their behavior and tactics continue to reinforce that impression.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Corporatocracy
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Mar
19

Rigging the rigging

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It is one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s signature lines: “The game is rigged.” Lina Khan at Washington Monthly fleshes out just how much. Forget the social safety net. Khan looks at how binding arbitration clauses in consumer contracts snip away what’s left of the legal safety net protecting consumers. Warren may have birthed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to give Average Joe a fighting chance, but binding arbitration still leaves the Man with all the power:

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report documenting the prevalence and effects of arbitration clauses in consumer financial products. CFPB’s report captures the effects of arbitration clauses in financial products and services, based on data from the American Arbitration Association, which handles the vast majority of consumer financial arbitration cases. A few main takeaways from the study [edited for length - TS]:

•Arbitration tends to work out better for companies than it does for individual consumers: in cases initiated by consumers, arbitrators awarded them some relief in around 20 percent of cases. By contrast, arbitrators provided companies some type of relief in 93 percent of cases that they filed.

•Even the degree of relief varies notably: within the slice of arbitration outcomes that CFPB could assess, consumers won an average of 12 cents for every dollar they claimed. By contrast, companies on average won 91 cents for every dollar they claimed. In total, consumers received less than $400,000 from arbitrators in 2010 and 2011. Companies won $2 million over that same period
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•Notably, CFPB found evidence undercutting a favorite pro-mandatory arbitration trope: that nixing arbitration clauses would burden companies with greater litigation costs, which they would be forced to pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices for their goods. CFPB found that the banks that had to drop arbitration clauses from their contracts as part of an antitrust settlement in 2009 did not subsequently raise prices for consumers.

The CFPB is expected to propose rules “limiting mandatory arbitration clauses in these take-it-or-leave-it contracts,” Khan reports. Over 90 percent of consumers in contracts with a binding arbitration clause were unaware they could not sue “or had no idea.” On average, $27,000 of consumer money is at stake in these disputes. But paired with class action bans, these contracts leave financial organizations holding all the high cards in the game and “de facto privatizes” a legal process funded with tax dollars that, at least in theory, level the playing field.

The sharks are running the fish hatchery.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Mar
19

Getting Base With The Base

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The lefties are busing THEM to the polls. Yes, it’s a thing.

Categories : International
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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, NV, one of several test sites promoted by the state.

We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. – Pres. George W. Bush, Cincinnati, OH, October 7, 2002

That was the first time many of us heard the term “unmanned aerial vehicles.” Ticking off a litany of bogus reasons for invading Iraq, Bush hoped we would collectively wet our pants in fear of unmanned drones over America unleashing death from above. That was then. This is now.

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Mar
13

Guess It Depends On What You Count

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Somwething Digby posted today is worth reposting for the North Carolina audience. FL Gov. Rick Scott’s tweet yesterday (I assume) is intended to convince the uncritical reader that Florida’s economy must kick California’s ass. Digby notes that the same day, Bloomberg posted this:

There are plenty of reasons to presume that California must be a bad place to do business. The Tax Foundation says the state’s tax structure is the third worst for business in the U.S. Forbes ranks California’s business costs fifth highest among the 50 states and its regulatory environment the eighth most burdensome.

Just how burdensome, you ask? (Emphasis mine.)

The exceptional performance of California companies helps explain why (with no official gross domestic product data available yet) the state would have the world’s seventh largest economy if it were a country, bigger than Brazil’s, which saw its GDP decline in 2014. Here’s the rough calculation: Companies based in California grew 4.7 percent during the first three quarters of last year. Using 4.7 percent as a proxy for the growth of the market capitalization of California, the total market cap of the state grew to $2.3 trillion from $2.2 trillion in 2013. (Brazil’s GDP declined 1 percent from $2.25 trillion in the first three quarters of 2014 as its exports of raw materials fell.) As of March 10, 33 California companies are included in the 500 largest companies in the world. At the end of 2009, when the U.S. was recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, there were only 24 California companies in the Global 500, according to Bloomberg data.

As unemployment declined to 7 percent in December from a peak of 12.4 percent in 2011, California’s growth was substantial enough that during the 24-month period ended Sept. 30, 2014, the jobless rate fell the most of any state. This helps explain why California remains the No. 1 state for manufacturing, producing $239 billion, or 12 percent of all manufacturing in the U.S., according to Bloomberg data. Texas is No. 2 with $233 billion.

If taxes are really the bane of California existence, why aren’t they preventing rich people from making the state their primary residence? Some 123 of the world’s wealthiest 400 people live in the U.S., and 28 of them, or 23 percent, are California residents, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. New York is No. 2 with 22 billionaires, or 18 percent, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.

Uh, because they’ve hidden so much of their wealth offshore?

NC Gov. Pat McCrory has been following the playbook of ALEC, Scott-free Walker and Sam Brownback. Consider the above next time he brags about his Carolina Comeback. Is it even a halfback?

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Mar
06

No joy in joystick

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The Air Force seems to have a problem retaining drone pilots. They are quitting faster than new ones can be trained, writes Pratap Chatterjee at Alternet:

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war — by remote control — is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward’s war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Burnout may be a factor. Whereas pilots for manned Air Force aircraft log 300 hours per year, the drone warriors can spend 900-1,800 flying drones in circles, working “either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” according to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh.

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“I want to stop paying tax, until everyone pays tax,” Wise told the Evening Standard. “I have actively loved paying tax, because I am a profound fucking socialist and I believe we are all in it together. But I am disgusted with HMRC. I am disgusted with HSBC. And I’m not paying a penny more until those evil bastards go to prison.”

Actor Greg Wise is married to Oscar winner Emma Thompson, reported the Guardian.

HMRC has come under fire in the HSBC scandal because of a failure to carry out a criminal investigation against the bank, which has its headquarters in the UK. While the agency found more than 1,000 tax evaders among the almost 7,000 UK clients of HSBC Suisse, only one individual has been prosecuted. About £135m has been recovered in tax, a lower figure than in other European countries.

Stuart Gulliver, the head of HSBC, has apologised in writing and again on Monday, when he said the bank’s bosses were shamed and humbled by the scandal.

How refreshing. On both sides of the Atlantic, we’re all breathless with anticipation to see pubic servants who’ve taken oaths to uphold the law do actually something about it, you know, and-justice-for-all-wise. Sent the evil bastards to prison already.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Feb
25

A flash of sanity in a weary world

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Willy Wonka: [touching the gobstopper Charlie has just set on his desk] So shines a good deed in a weary world.

Liberals may not be ready to hand her the chocolate factory over it, but on MSNBC’s All In last night, Chris Hayes literally applauded Laura Ingraham for speaking sanity to Fox & Friends star power. Mediaite as the clips:

“I don’t think we should jump every time the freaks with the ACE bandages around their faces put out videos,” Ingraham told the Fox hosts on Tuesday, adding that the U.S. should not be reacting “emotionally” to threats from ISIS, Al-Shabab or other terrorist groups.

“Amen, sister,” Hayes replied, literally applauding Ingraham’s commentary. The host said he was “incredibly gratified” to see Ingraham make the same arguments he’s been making on his show all along, that “everyone needs to keep calm and stay rational in the face of what is obvious emotional manipulation” through use of propaganda.

The ability of those terrorists groups to “murder people they have captured and even make videos of those murders does not correlate in any meaningful way to the actual threat they pose to Americans here in the U.S.,” Hayes reminded his viewers.

Ingraham’s pro-clearheadedness comments bookended her seeming to approve allowing Mall of America shoppers to come packing AR-15s. But I guess Hayes figured, these days you take your sanity where you can find it.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, Media
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Feb
15

Is it something in the water?

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Is there something in London’s water? From the Not Gonna Happen Here Dept.:

The Conservative party needs to break its dependence on millionaires, the former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke has told the Observer, amid a growing furore over the tax affairs of the party’s donors.

After a week of some of the most intense fighting between the parties in recent years, Clarke said the Conservatives would be strengthened by loosening the hold of rich men on their financial survival.

He called on David Cameron to cap political donations and increase state funding of political parties to put an end to damaging scandals and rows. The Conservatives have been rocked in the past week by a potentially toxic combination of allegations of tax evasion by clients of the HSBC bank, whose chairman, Lord Green, became a Tory minister; tax avoidance by party donors; and leaked details of the secretive black and white fundraising ball.

Meanwhile here in the Colonies, The Man Who Would Be Bush III is looking to lock in Mitt Romney’s network of presidential campaign donors from the “private equity and investment worlds.” It’s a trick Jeb Bush learned from his no-accountability brother, George. Suck all the air out of the GOP candidates’ Green Room room along with the money:

“It’s absolutely a kind of aggressive shock-and-awe strategy to vacuum up as much of the fund-raising network as you possibly can,” said Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and a prolific Romney fund-raiser now helping Bush. “And they’re having a large measure of success.”

On the other side of the pond, however, the conservative Ken Clarke has had the scales fall from his eyes:

“What happens is that the Conservatives attack the Labour party for being ever more dependent on rather unrepresentative leftwing trade union leaders, and the Labour party spends all its time attacking the Conservative party for being dependent on rather unrepresentative wealthy businessmen. In a way both criticisms are true. And the media sends both up.

“The solution is for the party leaders to get together to agree, put on their tin hats and move to a more sensible and ultimately more defensible system.”

As previously noted, Clarke wants to see a cap on political donations. And it’s not just Tories having attacks of common sense:

Announcing that a Labour government would launch an independent investigation into the culture and practices of HMRC [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs service] with regard to tax avoidance, [Labour leader Ed] Miliband told a Welsh Labour conference in Swansea: “The government’s failure to tackle tax avoidance is no accident. It has turned a blind eye to tax avoidance because it thinks that so long as a few at the top do well, the country succeeds. It thinks that wealth and power fence people off from responsibility. It thinks the rules only apply to everybody else.”

Imagine that.

Could any of this be contagious? Maybe there’s a vaccine they’re not taking in London that Villagers can not take here.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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