Category Archives: History

Fear, fables, and fact: The age of raptor capitalism


Bill Moyers has evolved from the days he first crossed our path as press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, a tragic figure who fought for the poorest Americans at home and waged war on the poorest people of Vietnam, rising up in rebellion against a small elite maintained in power only by the force of American arms.

A trained seminarian, Moyers moved into the political and journalism realms with a sense of mission of the sort we call the Sermon on the Mount version of Christianity, carrying with the sense of faith a belief that Christian communion involves sharing and giving of things as well as affirmations of faith.

There’s a peculiar version of Christianity implicit in the neoliberal ideology that has transformed the U.S. into an economic system where wealth inequality has reached unprecedented levels [a transformation we’ve witnessed as a journalist]. What else but Calvinism on meth enabled the fairly straightforward investments we recall writing about three and four decades back into today’s kaleidoscopic cascade of   hallucinatory derivatives, in turn piled onto a stock market in which the same share of stock may me traded hundreds of times in a single second?

What have we lost? How did we lose it?

On 4 February 2013, Jacobin published “The Politics of Debt in America,” an essay by historian and writer Steve Fraser from which comes this telling quote:

Today, we have entered a new phase.  What might be called capitalist underdevelopment and once again debt has emerged as both the central mode of capital accumulation and a principal mechanism of servitude.  Warren Buffett (of all people) has predicted that, in the coming decades, the United States is more likely to turn into a “sharecropper society” than an “ownership society.”

In our time, the financial sector has enriched itself by devouring the productive wherewithal of industrial America through debt, starving the public sector of resources, and saddling ordinary working people with every conceivable form of consumer debt.

Household debt, which in 1952 was at 36% of total personal income, had by 2006 hit 127%.  Even financing poverty became a lucrative enterprise.  Taking advantage of the low credit ratings of poor people and their need for cash to pay monthly bills or simply feed themselves, some check-cashing outlets, payday lenders, tax preparers, and others levy interest of 200% to 300% and more.  As recently as the 1970s, a good part of this would have been considered illegal under usury laws that no longer exist.  And these poverty creditors are often tied to the largest financiers, including Citibank, Bank of America, and American Express.

Fraser — who has taught at both Columbia and NYU — is author of the forthcoming The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. Here’s author bio:

Steve Fraser is the author of Every Man a Speculator, Wall Street, and Labor Will Rule, which won the Philip Taft Award for the best book in labor history. He also is the co-editor of The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, The Nation, The American Prospect, Raritan, and the London Review of Books. He has written for the online site Tomdispatch.com, and his work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Salon, Truthout, and Alternet, among others. He lives in New York City.

With all that as prologue, here’s a very relevant discussion between Moyers and Fraser, via Moyers & Company:

Moyers & Company: The New Robber Barons

From the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Fables?

STEVE FRASER: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Of freedom?

STEVE FRASER: Yes. One of them is this notion of the free agent. That he’s out there and he’s going to reinvent himself. Another fable of freedom is an old one but it’s taken on new and very telling life in our time. And that is the fable that you can escape and be free privately through consumer culture. That that is the pathway to liberation. And that has always offered itself up all through the 20th century as a way of escape.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of material wellbeing for people and the need to live a civilized life. To have what you need to live a civilized life. The material things you need. But we have advanced way beyond that. And we deal in fantasy to an extreme degree. And it’s very hard to resist this because the media in all of its various forms presents an image of the country which we’re all supposed to respect, admire and strive for which is at variance with the underlying social and economic reality that millions upon millions of people live.

We’re fascinated by the glitz, the glamor, the high tech. We think of our country as a consummately prosperous one. Even while every social indice indicates the opposite. That we are actually undergoing a process of– we are a developed country underdeveloping. And because what does development mean?

First of all, if it doesn’t mean– how is the general population faring? How– what is the measure of their well being? And if we look at stagnant, declining real wages. If we look at families that can no longer support themselves without multiple jobs. Without both spouses working. If we look at college students deeply in debt in order to, in theory, get that degree which promises them, and that’s an illusory promise to some very significant degree, some upward mobility. It’s that reality which the media often does not portray.

BILL MOYERS: How has the common opinion of elites changed since the first Gilded Age, the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller and the greatest industrialists of that period, and today?

STEVE FRASER: I think elites during the first Gilded Age, the people we sometimes, we used to call the robber barons, were held in great suspicion. Their motives were doubted. They seemed to be behaving in ways that violated the notions of economic justice. Of religious propriety. They seemed to be placing money before all else. They seemed to be threats to the democratic way of life. They were buying Supreme Court justices. They were buying senators and so on. They seemed to be an imminent threat to the American birthright of the democratic revolution.

Elites in our second Gilded Age, in our day, are far less frequently thought to be guilty of that, and on the contrary, as the champions of the free market are thought to be our wise men. Our savants.

BILL MOYERS: Even though the free market fails time and–

STEVE FRASER: Right. Time and again. Right.

BILL MOYERS: Here’s an irony to me. In the recent midterm elections, exit polls showed that 63 percent of the voters believe that the economy works only for the wealthy. Only 32 percent believe that the economy includes everyday people. And yet look how the vote went. Look who the victors were.

STEVE FRASER: Well, there could be nothing more telling that we are indeed living in an acquiescent moment than those kinds of statistics. And those kinds of statistics have been around for a long time. On the one hand, both political parties have run, the Republicans more swiftly than the Democrats, have run far away from the kind of social programs, welfare programs, infrastructure investments, progressive taxation, for fear that they will offend the right, the very powerful and vocal right in American life.

John Pilger on torture, the Ukraine, and history


John Pilger [his website] is one of the best documentarians around, relkentlessly charting the course of imperialism since the days of the Vietnam War.

An Australian native who lives in Britain, Pilger covered social issues for the London Daily Mirror for two decades, winning awards and producing for documentaries for Granada Television as well.

As Noam Chomsky writes of Pilger, “John Pilger’s work has been a beacon of light in often dark times. The realities he has brought to light have been a revelation, over and over again, and his courage and insight a constant inspiration.”

In this interview by RT’s Afshin Rattansi, Pilger covers a wide range, starting with the revelations of the torture report and moving on the conflict in the Ukraine — revealing, among other things, that one major beneficiary of the crisis has been Joe Biden’s son, who sits on the board of a fracking company that landed a contract in the Ukraine.

Pilger’s historical analysis is critical to gaining an understanding of the crisis that as been sorely lacking the U.S. mainstream media.

From Going Underground:

John Pilger: ‘Real possibility of nuclear war’ – Ukraine crisis could start World War 3

Program notes:

John Pilger, film-maker and award winning journalist, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about the headline events of the year, from CIA torture to the Ukraine crisis. He says the whole tenure of the BBC coverage of the Torture report was ‘does torture work?’ Modern British history is full of torture, and the British were ‘masters’ at it. When the OSS become the CIA, it split into 2 sections – one an intelligence gathering section, the other a covert operations arm for the presidency, the central part of which was torture.

He warns that the culture of apologising for the state, to minimise its responsibility, has ‘burrowed’ into the minds of correspondents, citing the defence correspondent on Newsnight failing to mention the role of Britain when appraising why the Middle East was a mess. He also says that parliamentary inquiries like the Nolan inquiry and the Chilcot inquiry are stopped before they can get anywhere, describing it as a ‘series of whitewashes.’ He talks of a ‘consensus’ to cover up, citing the arms to Iraq inquiry, where the only person that the judge commended was a Foreign Office official who described the Foreign Office as a ‘culture of lying.’

He says that the number of high-ups in the British establishment who committed serious offences ‘numbered in the dozens,’ and the only difference between the US and UK in torture is ‘in terms of scale.’ The real issue in democracies is ‘dissent being constrained’ physically on the streets. He believes it is ‘dangerous’ to protest in the way people did in 2003, whether you are an establishment figure, a journalist, or just a man on the street.

He says the Sydney siege, whilst horrific, still has to be deconstructed to find what’s missing from it. He points out that the Australian PM declared it a ‘terrorist act’ within minutes of it starting, when it turned out to be a lone wolf, and asks why someone with his history was on the loose. He argues that looking at the list of demands, they were all negotiable, and asks why force was used, and says ‘it seems very likely that the people in there were killed by the police and not by the terrorist.’

With Russia, he says he has never known the truth ‘so inverted’ over any one issue. He believes we are in the midst of a cold war more dangerous than the one he grew up with, comparing the raw propaganda of the prior to what we’re seeing now, with a ‘real possibility’ of a nuclear war. He compares it to Iraq, because both involved ‘fiction,’ the idea that Russia is attacking the West. He says oil prices were driven down by agreement between the US and Saudis, to wreck the Russian economy. He says it was NATO and the US that took over Ukraine, to the point that Joe Biden’s son is on the board of Ukraine’s biggest private gas provider. At a meeting in Yalta in September 2013, the ‘takeover of Ukraine was planned’ by prominent politicians and multinationals. There was a ‘coup stage-managed by the Obama administration,’ and blame shifted to Russia, who acted purely defensively. He says there is a ‘real prospect of war’ with a nuclear power and strong conventional military, and Putin has now started ‘talking red lines’ himself. He describes ‘extraordinary propaganda’ promoting tension and demonising Russia, which ‘may end up being self-fulfilling.’

John is crowdfunding his new documentary, ‘The Coming War between America and China’, about the perceived threat to the US from China.

You can find out more and contribute at bit.ly/ComingWar

Charts of the day: Call it the post-Ferguson bump


From Gallup:

BLOG Race 2

But in a broader context, the concern remains well below levels reached following Brown vs. Board of Education, the Watts Riot, the nationwide turmoil following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and still below the level reach in the post-Rodney King beating verdict riots:

BLOG Race

InSecurityWatch: Terror, cops, hacks, war, zones


Much ground to cover, mostly because of illness yesterday and overnight that leaves us two days worth of gleanings. So on with the show, with little preamble.

From Sky News, the deplorable:

Pakistan Militants Kill 141 In School Massacre

  • One boy describes his friends “lying injured and dead” around him as the Taliban says it wanted them to “feel our pain”

Taliban gunmen have killed 141 people, including at least 132 children, in a school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Nine men stormed the army-run school while around 500 children and teachers were believed to be inside, with many students taking exams at the time.

Most of the victims of the country’s deadliest terror attack were killed in the first few hours as the gunman fired bullets indiscriminately at pupils and teachers.

A local hospital said the dead – and the more than 120 who were injured – were aged from 10 to 20 years old.

The Independent covers Cold War 2.0 in escalation:

As Russia unveils nuclear subs with underwater drones and robots, the stealth race heats up: governments pour cash into secret armies

Russia, apparently not wanting to be overshadowed by yesterday’s announcement that China has built a long-range heat ray weapon, has revealed plans for its nuclear submarines — including on-board battle robots and underwater drones.

Through small, unmanned drones in the air, to the invisible pain gun like that made by China, the race in military tech is to create weapons that can go mostly unnoticed, while at the same time managing for control on the battlefield and during civil unrest.

Russia’s new submarine takes that battle underwater, too.

The country’s new fifth generation submarines could feature drones that can be released by submarines and stay still, while the ship itself moves away. That would allow the submarine to evade anyone watching by giving the impression it has stayed in place, while only the drone has done so.

Meanwhile, a sidebar to the story most Western media devoured, via New York Times:

In Sydney Hostage Siege, Australia’s New Antiterrorism Measures Proved Ineffective

Around the time that grisly images of beheadings circulated across the world this fall, Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia introduced a raft of laws in response to what he said was an increasing threat that the Islamic State jihadist group would attempt a bold act of terrorism on Australian soil.

The laws, which passed Parliament with wide support, made it an offense to advocate terrorism; banned Australians from going to fight overseas; allowed the authorities to confiscate and cancel passports; and provided for the sharing of information between security services and defense personnel. The government also deployed hundreds of police officers in counterterrorism sweeps across the country.

None of these measures prevented a man with a long history of run-ins with the law, known to both the police and leaders of Muslim organizations as deeply troubled, from laying siege to a popular downtown cafe this week and holding hostages for 16 hours. The attacker, Man Haron Monis, an Iranian immigrant, and two of the 17 hostages were killed early Tuesday amid the chaos of a police raid. The victims were identified as Katrina Dawson, 38, a lawyer, and the cafe’s manager, Tori Johnson, 34.

BBC News covers the ironic:

Sydney gunman was ‘wanted in Iran’

Iran says it requested 14 years ago the extradition of Man Haron Monis – the gunman behind the Sydney siege – but Australia refused to hand him over.

The head of Iran’s police, Gen Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told reporters that Monis was wanted for fraud at the time.

He said Monis had fled to Australia via Malaysia in the late 1990s.

Monis and two hostages were shot dead on Tuesday morning, when commandos stormed the Sydney cafe where he had been holding captives for 16 hours.

Sky News adds that he. . .

. . .fled to Malaysia after committing fraud while working as the manager of a travel agency in 1996.

Following legal proceedings in 2000, Iran’s judiciary reportedly informed Interpol about his crime and demanded his extradition from Australia.

Australia allegedly refused to do so, saying it did not have a criminal extradition agreement with Iran.

The Daily Californian covers a Berkeley media event:

Artists claim responsibility for depictions of apparent lynchings hung from Sather Gate

On Sunday, a Bay Area collective of artists released a statement taking responsibility for the installation of the effigies.

The group identified itself as AnonArt Oakland and described its members as consisting of queer and black members. According to the statement, the group intended the project to be in “unambiguous alignment” with the affirmation of black lives and apologized for the disturbance it caused.

The statement emphasized that the images of historical lynchings remain relevant today, as the recent deaths of black men, such as Garner, illustrate the consequences of systemic racism.

“For those who think these images depict crimes and attitudes too distasteful to be seen — we respectfully disagree. Our society must never forget,” the statement read. “We apologize solely and profusely to black Americans who felt further attacked by this work. We are sorry — your pain is ours — our families’, our history’s.”

More from the Guardian:

“We are sorry – your pain is ours, our families’, our history’s,” the group wrote. But they also refused to back down. “For those who think these images no longer relevant to the social framework in which black Americans exist everyday – we respectfully disagree.”

The effigies, found hanging with virtually no context or explanation of intent, left the campus community baffled and on edge after their discovery on Saturday morning. Each cutout featured the name of a lynching victim and year of death, but only one had a modern point of reference: the words “can’t breathe” – an allusion to the last words of Garner, an unarmed black man whose July death at the hands of a white policeman has prompted protests around the US.

The group wrote that they vehemently disagreed with the suggestion that the cutouts were racist, and said they “intended only the confrontation of historical context”. The statement explained that the group meant the effigies to represent crimes that “are and should be deeply unsettling to the American consciousness”.

The collective refused to heed the call of the UC Berkeley chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, that the group responsible identify itself: “We choose to remain anonymous because this is not about us as artists, but about the growing movement to address these pervasive wrongs.” Before the collective posted its statement, Dirks had called for calm and unity, and said that regardless of intent “the imagery was deeply disturbing”.

And still more from the Washington Post:

Leigh Raiford, an associate professor of African American studies at UC Berkeley, told the Chronicle she didn’t think the effigies were intended to threaten students.

“To me this suggested a really powerful public art installation that was trying to provoke people to make a historical connection between the history of lynching, state violence against black folks and the contemporary situation that we’re faced with around police brutality and these non-indictments,” she said.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers belligerence blowback:

San Jose cop on leave over tweets on protests

A San Jose police officer was placed on leave after he posted, and later deleted, two threatening Twitter messages directed at protesters rallying against police brutality.

Officer Phillip White tweeted on Saturday, “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”

White also tweeted that he would use his “God given and law appointed right and duty to kill” anyone who threatens his family. He ended the message with the hashtag #CopsLivesMatter — a twist on the popular #BlackLivesMatter hashtag used during protests following grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for killing unarmed black men in Missouri and New York.

White later deleted his tweets, and eventually his entire account, but Buzzfeed captured screen shots of the remarks. The San Jose Police Department said it is taking “the matter very seriously” and conducting an internal investigation.

From Associated Press, influence exerted:

Police altering tactics after killings, protests

With tensions running high over the killings of blacks by police, departments around the country are changing policies and procedures to curb the use of deadly force, ease public distrust and protect officers from retaliation.

New York City plans to issue stun guns to hundreds more officers. The Milwaukee department is making crisis-intervention training mandatory. And in Akron, Ohio, police have begun working in pairs on all shifts for their own safety.

Police departments are constantly updating training. But some of the more recent measures have been prompted by rising anger toward police. And in some cases, departments are making sure to let the public know about these changes.

“It’s not a mistake or a coincidence that a lot of these departments are publicizing their training or are perhaps revamping their training guidelines and things like that in the wake of these really high-profile incidents,” said Kami Chavis Simmons, director of the criminal justice program at the Wake Forest University School of Law in North Carolina and a former federal prosecutor in Washington.

A Monday protest in the neighborhood, via the Oakland Tribune:

Oakland: Two dozen arrested in protest at police HQ

More than 250 protesters blocked Oakland’s downtown police headquarters for more than four hours Monday morning, including some who chained themselves to the front doors and one who clambered up a flagpole.

A total of 25 protesters were arrested for blocking access to a public building and obstructing or delaying a police officer, among other charges, Officer Johnna Watson said.

The mostly peaceful protest by Black Lives Matter began about 7:30 a.m. outside the police administration building at 455 Seventh St. and ended about 1:35 p.m.

By midmorning, one man had climbed a flagpole in front of the building, and police were trying to persuade him to come down. Six people chained themselves to the pole, and protesters chanted “Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all.”

The bar barring, via the Los Angeles Times:

Lawyers lie down in the rain to protest killings by police

Amid calls for justice and chants of “black lives matter,” more than 100 lawyers, law students and others staged a “die-in” outside a downtown Los Angeles courthouse Tuesday, arguing that the legal system in which they operate is broken.

The group blocked a lane of traffic and clogged the walkway leading to the Hill Street entrance of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, making it virtually impossible for passing motorists and court visitors to ignore their message.

“The issue of police brutality is not about any single officer or victim, nor is it about good people versus bad people,” Priscilla Ocen, a law professor, declared over a bullhorn. “The number of unjustified homicides is a result of an entire system left too long without the leigitimate checks necessary to ensure accountability and justice.”

The Oakland Tribune covers the sadly expectable:

Fallout grows over Richmond police chief’s participation in #BlackLivesMatter protest

One week after photos of him holding a “#BlackLivesMatter” sign at a peaceful local protest went viral on social media, Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus is still grappling with the fallout — including accusations from his department’s police union that he broke the law — but says he has no regrets.

“It wasn’t the easiest statement to make,” Magnus said by phone Monday morning, “but it was the right thing to do.”

Since the small protest, Magnus has been flooded with more than 300 emails, dozens of phone calls and a flurry of messages on Twitter and Facebook. He estimated that more than 70 percent of the responses have been in support.

From the Guardian, detox for the fruit of the poisonous tree:

Supreme court: car stop was mistake, but drugs found are legal evidence

  • Rules 8-1 against driver stopped for invalid reason found to have drugs in car
  • Chief justice says officer’s error did not violate driver’s constitutional rights

The US supreme court on Monday ruled that a police officer in North Carolina lawfully stopped a car with a faulty brake light – and then found a stash of cocaine in the vehicle – even though driving with one working light is not illegal in the state.

In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled against Nicholas Heien, who had argued that the sandwich bag of cocaine found in the April 2009 search should not have been allowed as evidence when he was charged with drug trafficking because the Surry County sheriff’s department sergeant had no valid reason to stop the car.

Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped, pleaded guilty and was given a maximum prison term of two years.

After the jump, a Texas cop tasers an innocent 76-year-old, a Tennessee cop charged with rape, body cams for L.A. cops on the way, commodifying a whistleblower, torturers in white coats, cell phone interception sites in Norway prompt demands, Pyongyang tweaks Washington over torture, and on to the hack of the year with a new threat, warnings of theatrical attacks, exploding head suspicions, Sony claims high moral ground over media, Sorken gets sore, hospital gets ransom demand over stolen patient data, malware spam attacks accelerate, a data theft at UC Berkeley, corporate data theft in the cloud, Dutch fine Google for Gmail and search data consolidation for marketing, Google News completes retreats from Spain, pushing the West to intervene in Libya, t Chinese fighting for ISIS, the Syrian war continues,  Spain cracks an ISIS recruiting ring, anti-Islamic far right surges in Germany, Netanyahu’s settlement surge, a plea for troops in the Congo, A Chinese drone shootdown brings calls for a crackdown, the final Occupy Hong Kong eviction, China admits a fatal miscarriage of justice, and predictions of a Sino/American Game of Zones confrontation, and on to Japan for a Red victory of sorts, Abe sets his revisionist militarized agenda and his newly elected legislators back his play, Abe looks to Washington with details to come [but the public dissents], some things just aren’t said, Tojo fans threaten a newspaper, and hate speech aimed at Japan’s Koreans continues. . . Continue reading

R. Cobb: It’s the existential question


From the remarkable R. Cobb, as as true today as when it was first created for the late Los Angeles Free Press 45 years ago:

BLOG Cobb cops

Rap News: Tacklin’ the New World Order


Direct from Melbourne, Australia, we bring you the latest edition of Juice Rap News, created by Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant, this time targeting yet another powerful meme.

From their YouTube channel, thejuicemedia:

The New World Order [RAP NEWS 30]

Program Notes:

The New World Order: They control the world’s governments; THEY rule over all of us from the top of the pyramid. While WE suffer at the bottom. Right? Today we blow open the truth about the NWO in order to shed light on this widespread conspiracy which has frequently been invoked to explain the state of our world. Join intrepid host Robert Foster as he takes control of the lever of critical inquiry, alongside special guests Russell Brand, conspiracy guru Terrence Moonseed, and NWO representative William De Berg, in order to ask: who is the New World Order? And how can we stop it?

Warning: This episode of Rap News has been in the making since we started the show, 5 years ago. No punches will be pulled, no quarter will be given, and no depth will be left unplumbed on this arduous quest for the harsh truth. Welcome to the New World Order, bitches.

Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a suburban backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, on Wurundjeri Land.

The pyramid of the hierarchy of control/power is posted here, and worthy of your consideration [click on the image to enlarge for legibility].

The Invisibles: Animating the Internationale


From British artist Nisha Duggal comes an animated version of an anthem dear to our heart, composed in the wake of the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune to rally of the hearts of those stirred by the lost chance of making a world more equitable than that which would arise during the grossly inegaliatarian Belle Epoque.

As French economic Tomas Piketty has revealed, the industrialized nations of the North have now once again attained the same levels of wealth disparity as those attained in the late 19th Century and seem destined to surpass them absent a rising resistance, as the discussion in our previous post makes eminently clear.

So for all of you who might be looking for a moment of inspiration, this from Nisha Duggal:

The Invisibles [The Internationale – English]

Program notes:

In a singular call to action The Invisibles employs and re-affirms Socialist anthem The Internationale for a contemporary audience. Vive la Révolution!

Music: The Internationale:

Eugène Pottier (1871) & Pierre de Geyter (1888)

Traditional translation with adaption by Billy Bragg (1990)

Performed by Nisha Duggal, Drums by James Broomfield

From Tomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century:

BLOG Unequal

We were born in the U.S. when inequality was at its lowest, and in our lifetime it has risen to levels never before seen. Unless we act together, all signs are that it will only grow worse.