Archive for Corporatocracy

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.)

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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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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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“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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Jan
23

Are we not Ubermen?

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Those using the Gregorian calendar count the years since the birth of Christ as Anno Domini, A.D. Bullshit is probably a lot older. But given that it’s a new millennium, maybe it’s time we started counting the years in A.B. “One of the most salient features of our culture,” as Aaron Hanlon quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Salon, “is that there is so much bullshit.”

Case in point. In its obsession with turning everything on this planet into the Precious (other planets will come later), the Midas cult has turned its sights on sleep because “sleep is the enemy of capital.” Thus, sleep must be abolished. From caffeine-laced Red Bull to topical sprays to marshmallows, “perky jerky,” and military experiments with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), Newsweek  looks at how we are waging the war on sleep:

For those looking to sleep less without drugs or military tech, there’s the “Uberman” sleep schedule: 20 minute naps taken every four hours. That’s just two hours of sleep in every 24 hours. Uberman is based on the theory that while humans experience two types of sleep, we only need one of those to stay alive. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the stage in which we dream, and it also has been shown in lab tests to be critical to survival: Rodents deprived of REM sleep die after just five weeks. Then there is non-REM sleep, which itself is broken down into four separate stages. One of those is short wave sleep (or SWS). Scientists aren’t really sure what function SWS serves, and Uberman advocates argue that it may not be critical to survival at all.

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What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?

Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.

What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?

As I wrote after the Center for Media and Democracy posted online a trove of ALEC documents:

The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.

But first, the “risk takers” must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won’t stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it’s the power it brings.

Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” Giroux writes:

Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.

The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these “dangerous times,” Giroux continues:

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Dec
28

2015: Imagine greater

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“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
— Ursula Le Guin, accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2014 National Book Awards

So much of what bloggers write about is serendipity. Sometimes focusing fiercely on a single topic and searching out components to flesh out an idea, or else grazing the Net at random for articles that spark one, or sometimes just happening upon ideas floating around that connect in ways that say something about the zeitgeist.

This morning I ran across this post on Raw Story featuring Ursula Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards ceremony in November:


I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. …

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

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Naomi Klein contemplates the struggle between climate change and the globalization juggernaut. It is a struggle she once left to environmentalists. But having struggled with infertility and having covered the Gulf oil spill, her perspective changed. “It’s not that I got in touch with my inner Earth Mother,” Klein writes, “it’s that I started to notice that if the Earth is indeed our mother, then she is a mother facing a great many fertility challenges of her own.”

That climate change is linked to our lifestyle and our economy – and our attempts to deal with planetary warming without changing either – is the crux of Klein’s long piece in the Guardian:

“What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.”

Read: Billionaires with good intentions, flashy pronouncements, and market-driven solutions have failed to curb emissions. Much of the piece focuses on Richard Branson’s failed, but much ballyhooed efforts to apply a the same business savvy that made him rich to save the planet.

The idea that only capitalism can save the world from a crisis it created is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested in the real world. We can now take a hard look at the results: at the green products shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were meant to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed to cut emissions. And, most of all, at the billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided, on second thoughts, that the old one was just too profitable to surrender.

Post-Reagan, deregulated capitalism has long looked like something out of Mary Shelley or science-fiction films, a creature we created, but no longer control. Billionaires and their acolytes see only its benefits, but as Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm says in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running, and then screaming.” Where once We the People held capitalism’s leash, now we wear the collar.

Whether it’s turning your child’s education from a shared public cost into a corporate profit center; or turning the principle of one-man, one-vote into one-dollar, one-vote; or carbon tax credits and accounting tricks for addressing rising sea levels; questioning the universal application of a business approach to any human need or problem often prompts the challenge, “Do you have something against making a profit?” A more subtle form of red-baiting, this ploy is supposed to be a conversation stopper. Yes? You’re a commie. Game over.

Maybe it’s time our billionaire problem-solvers got over themselves.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Jul
19

People At Risk, Water A Weapon

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Michigan has Rick Snyder. North Carolina has Pat McCrory. Here in Detroit for Netroots Nation, it is clear that Michigan is facing some of the same issues with GOP governance as North Carolina. The Koch brothers’ influence is palpable to these people. And where North Carolina has Art Pope, Michigan has the DeVos family.

With twenty percent of the world’s fresh water in the Great Lakes and flowing past our hotel, Detroit faces water privatization. It was not lost on those in Asheville that when Michigan’s governor appointed an emergency manager for Detroit — superseding local democracy and local governance — about the first public asset that went on the auction block was its water and sewer.

Sound familiar?

Over and over again this weekend, stories being told at Netroots echo what we are experiencing in North Carolina. The same destructive agenda is being acted out across the country. Other states are worse off, having enacted budgets like Gov. Sam Brownback’s in Kansas ahead of Pat McCrory’s in North Carolina. But the results will be the same in the Old North State. We are only now seeing the leading edge.

As we sit here, a panel of local activists is discussing the privatization of Detroit’s water system and Michigan’s public schools. In actions described by activist Maureen Taylor as “beyond demonic,” thousands of poor residents are having their water cut off in Detroit. Some going without running water for over a year. Mothers with children. The United Nations

It is not encouraging to see how widespread the assault is on public institutions, but it is good to know we are not alone in the fight.