Tuesday, 31 August 2010

On the Globalization of Gossip (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 26th, 2009 

Gossip is an inherent part of human nature and it has no particular definition other than what people engaged in it give it. Whether in politics or business, malicious gossip can be intended to harm an opponent, while “idle” office or neighbourhood gossip can be harmless conversation as a way people relate to each other so they avoid talking about themselves. Examples of institutionalized gossip as a form of institutional conformity include everything from the 17th-century witch trials to Stalin’s purge trials to the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s-early 1950s in the US designed to institutionalize an ideology and way of life at home and abroad. Today the culture of commercialized gossip has taken over the world and faithfully serves the capitalist system to distract people from what matters in their lives to focusing on the private lives of celebrities. Most magazines, TV shows, newscasts, newspapers, books, and now Internet blogs deal in gossip. This is not just in the US that is the center of such organized multi-billion dollar business, but rather the culture of gossip is now on a global commercial scale. Inane and tantalizing details about the private lives of celebrities of all types from billionaires and politicians to entertainers and serial killers, glorifying them in one way or the other and distracting the focus of people from their material lives and real interests as institutions impact and shape them is what the commercialization of gossip has become. Multinational media corporations make immense profits from commercialized gossip while at the same time serving a political/cultural agenda that perpetuates mediocrity in society. The issue is very serious because the culture of commercialized gossip has infiltrated educational systems that are an integral part of the rest of society fascinated by and immersed in gossip. Because of the media’s culture of gossip, students respond much better when their professor conveys something about the personal lives of John Maynard Keynes and Ludwig Wittgenstein, instead of their scholarly contributions. Similarly, the media makes certain that people are far more fascinated about the personal lives of politicians like Clinton or Berlusconi than their policies and their impact on society. What is worse, of course, is that celebrities remain in the spotlight if they engage in “value-added” gossip conduct, otherwise they face oblivion in the age when all publicity is good publicity. The question is the extent to which the corporate-owned media has moulded public opinion throughout the world and the extent to which it is exploiting the “gossip impulse” in human nature to the benefit of existing institutions. Gossip as a tool of conformity is also an issue of value systems and ideology that financial and political elites through institutions wish to impose on society. For example, when there is a story about an alcoholic politician, a drug addict actor, a gambling-addicted sports figure, more than likely the focus is on the individual instead of the wider societal problem. Gossip alleviates responsibility from the social order that is hardly ever at fault and places all blame or praise on the individual, thus reinforcing the individualist value system. Moreover, imbedded in the culture of gossip is anti-intellectualism and promotion of populism that appeals to people at the emotional level. It is of course inevitable that “globalization” would have an obvious cultural impact in every domain from soft drinks and chewing gum to media gossip that is shaping institutions and the way people think about each other. The question is whether the globalization of the culture of gossip best serves human needs and human creativity, or it is indeed serving to retard anthropocentric progress.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Economics: Twilight of the “Credit Middle Class”

Originally posted on March 7th, 2009
In all economic contracting cycles throughout finance capitalism’s history, labor (blue-collar skilled to unskilled, agricultural day laborers to small farmers, and white collar, clerical to professionals and mid-management) ultimately pays the price for dislocation. The middle class, as the media and governments define it today to include a very broad range from upper working class to highly paid professionals, experiences downward pressure toward “proletarization” status instead of upward mobility as it envisions its destiny. Very clear in the 1930s, this phenomenon is taking place today amid the current crisis not only because people are losing jobs, homes, retirement savings, etc., but because the future looks bleak for them and their children.
Besides part-time and contract work, blue-collar and white-collar workers are asked to accept pay cuts, reduced benefits, reduced work schedules, flexible working conditions, all of which will be accompanied by the expectation of retiring at a later age. Where are the blue collar, white collar, and the recently “proletariatized” middle class headed and will they emerge stronger than they did during the Great Depression, helped immensely by the war, or will the middle class society lapse into chronic decline? There is a fundamental question of whether the “middle class” was on sound footing, or artificially created by a deficit-spending system now in crisis. On paper, the combination of low labor values in the Third World that allowed for higher incomes in the advanced countries and the postwar credit economy accounted for the quantitative and qualitative growth of the middle class in core countries. A large percentage of the population in the West, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea experienced upward mobility in the past 40 years, but a large percentage of the middle class mobility was because of the credit economy. The “wealth effect” was a mirage because the middle class lived on credit and hoped values in everything from their incomes to homes and securities would continue to rise.
The current crisis has exposed the bourgeois facade of endless progress and revealed that a large percentage of the middle class was really working for the banks–all along, the proletariatization of the middle class was taking place serving both an economic and political purpose. The US Congressional Budget Office estimates that in the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between productive capacity and actual output; in short, more than 300% the amount that congress approved as part of Obama’s stimulus package. Such a gap will mean that the state must decide if the top 10% of income earners bare the brunt of the cost, or if the middle class and workers will have to endure lower living standards. Because capital accumulation on a world scale can take place by the more thorough exploitation of labor, the state will support financial elites’ efforts to squeeze out the maximum from middle class and workers short of precipitating social upheaval and political instability. Arbiter of social relations through control of the fiscal system, the state will largely determine how weak the working class and middle class will be for society to function without paying the price of radicalization and violence.
Hovering around 20% in the US and rising as it is throughout the world, chronic poverty will remain a permanent legacy of the current recession. “Third World-type” conditions already exist within the advanced capitalist countries–families in the American Deep South and northern inner cities subsist on a couple hundred dollars per month and rely on food stamps to feed themselves. Conditions for the bottom 20% of the population are not that much better in the EU where the prospects for recovery are not as bright as in US, and even less so for Japan. If finance capitalism is to survive with the inevitable wealth concentration within the top 10%, there must necessarily be downward income pressure on the middle class and workers. Generating greater surplus than the market can absorb will keep the capitalist economy in a limited-growth mode for at least a decade, unless the state absorbs the surplus and spends it for social development instead of defense.
Because the effective demand is limited by the earning power of workers and middle class in the post-credit crisis of the early 21st century, and the sharply reduced personal wealth (drop in real estate values, private pensions, and stock portfolios) the illusory middle class “wealth effect” will remain low and accumulated surplus capital high, thus keeping the world economy under limited growth prospects for a long time. Of course, China with a strong state structure and dynamic economy is the exception and of course, we must science and technology innovation take into account, as well as the degree to which the state will intervene to limit capital accumulation by the financial elites. But given existing conditions in the advanced capitalist countries, what impact will they have on the social order? Because there are multiple institutional means that condition people toward conformity, most people exercise self-restraint toward the status quo as they are convinced that there may be rewards in such behavior and punishment for social dissidence. There is also the cultural difference in every society–for example, in western countries historically the individual assumes responsibility for success or failure and thus internalizes what is in essence an outward or objective phenomenon like job loss. The internalization process entails that the individual feels guilty and may act against himself or loved ones, instead of criticizing or striking out at the system. Naturally, the mass media, schools, religion, business, and the state inculcate such thinking into the minds of the individual who blames himself as a failure, not realizing that the financial and political elites that control institutions have failed.
Accountant John Smith in Denver lost his life’s savings in the stock market, he cannot find work, his wife divorced him, and it is all his fault because he has failed to receive the requisite training to conform to the “new market conditions.” People permit their lives to be conditioned and ruled, and sometimes often ruined by man-made systems that the entitlement-minded financial and political elites have forged to retain their privileged status. The individual has been conditioned to equate man-made systems with natural disasters like earthquakes or floods. Part of this thinking is a testament to the resounding success of a ubiquitous “birth-to-death” PR campaigns that have convinced people to accept capitalism as “natural,” a premise that both Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus shared. Once people accept that premise, and they aspire to upward mobility possible only within the system, they never even consider working class consciousness for to do so is to demean their own self-image the credit economy makes possible and to lack ambition for individual (bourgeois) success.
How many ads are there online, in newspapers, etc., about “assistant manager” in everything from office clerical positions to fast food jobs, when in reality those are low-paying jobs veiled by a bourgeois “status title” people appreciate more than income? After all, the “real worth” of the individual was “creditworthiness” bundled as part of net worth, thereby giving the illusion to a large percentage of people that they were part of capitalism’s success. Class-consciousness is the enemy of the financial and political elites that constantly inculcate the idea that “all of us must work together and sacrifice” for the greater good, when in fact the “greater good” is largely the domain of the elites. As proletarization of the middle class become more apparent, the current global crisis will evolve into a middle class crisis of alienation, stratification, and erratic class/status identity.
Additionally, there will be the increasingly prohibitive costs of higher education, especially graduate school that will be out of reach for a larger percentage of people in the next decade and possibly the next half century. At the same time, there will be fewer positions available for the college-educated population that will have to be highly mobile not only within its own country but internationally and must accept jobs unrelated to their college degree–a phenomenon that has been growing in the past decade. Though society will become increasingly polarized and likely to remain so because of capital accumulation in a credit-tight environment, the cyber-eco-bourgeoisie will co-opt and thus de-radicalize a segment of the recently created “proletariatized” middle class and working class aspiring to upward mobility and lifestyle. More realistic and self-aware than the “credit bourgeoisie” of the past half century, the cyber-eco-bourgeoisie of the 21st century will also be useful to the political and financial elites in promoting corporatism whether that is in the US, Japan, or EU.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Europe's Werewolves: Roma (Gypsies) on the Run (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on August 28th, 2010

“Roma” (gypsies) have been Europe’s werewolves for nearly one thousand years. As the mythological werewolf in Hollywood motion pictures is attacking “normal folk” and then running to save its life, “Roma” have that kind of mythological reputation. This is the case even among those who romanticize gypsies as free spirits, exotic dancers and mesmerizing musicians that gave the world the intoxicating Flamenco. Mystical creatures from Indian heritage that appear to reject European flags and Christ’s cross, they can see the future in the eyes or palms of the other, they celebrate funerals by providing all worldly possessions, with music, dance and fire.
Growing up in the 1960s, I watched women gypsy fortune tellers pass by my neighborhood to engage the “proper Christian ladies” for a session of fortune-telling. At the time, I did not know that the priest in the 1960s as the Pope 500 years before, in collaboration with governments Catholic and Protestant alike, launched a campaign to criminalize gypsies who posed a threat to Christendom. “Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday (Aug. 22, 2010) urged French-speaking Catholics to ‘accept legitimate human diversity’ and practice ‘universal fraternity.’”
Periodically, EU politicians trying to win popular support or in trouble with the public try to use the gypsies as scapegoats, as did Silvio Berlusconi in spring 2008 and now Nicolas Sarkozy. It has been many years since I was in France, but the last time I was there the socio-cultural ambiance romanticized in my mind appeared friendlier and more cosmopolitan than any other western country I have ever visited. That Sarkozy, who traces his lineage to Eastern and South-Eastern European Jews, has decided to exile Roma from France is reminiscent of the Nazi persecution after 1935, leading to the “gypsy holocaust.” Today’s civilized and pluralistic France cannot throw gypsies in concentration camps. Instead, it pays them 300 euros to leave for Romania or Bulgaria, both associate EU members whose citizens have the legal right to live in EU countries–an issue debated by legal scholars, but who really sheds tears and treasure for gypsies! Presumably, if a few thousand gypsies leave France, the country that gave the world the first modern socio-political revolution would be free of crime, free of social chaos, free of social ills, free to be “purely French.”
Mired in political scandals, suffering Bush-like approval in public opinion polls, confronting very serious social opposition owing to the current global recession and trimming of the welfare state, and losing the movie-star luster that he and his model wife commanded a couple of years ago, Sarkozy chose to persecute the “Roms.” For centuries gypsies have survived on the margins of the institutional mainstream, engaged in legal and illegal activities as the rest of mainstream population, as one would expect of a nomadic people not integrated into the mainstream. Sarkozy is engaging in “rightist populism,” and he is safe knowing that the majority not just of the French population but Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans, dislike gypsies. Naturally, “political correctness,” yet another treacherous brick on Liberal society’s wall of hypocrisy, does not permit them to say so openly, no matter the Vatican’s noble protestations. Sarkozy knows how to and he ably exploits popular prejudices on the cheap. But a Jew of the diaspora, a Jew who should empathize with the holocaust’s “other victims,” a Jew in charge of one of the most advanced countries in the world with a history of permitting dissidents to seek sanctuary in Paris! Maybe he is denying his heritage, and is more proud that his grandmother was Greek and he identifies with the Gentiles more these days as he implied when he spoke before the Greek Parliament, “I, the grandson of a Greek!” But is France any different than the rest of EU, should it be, and isn’t Sarkozy doing what he needs to survive in politics whether he is a Jew or not? Europe has a history of admiring the werewolf for its defiance of civilization, a history of chasing the werewolf away, confined back to its gypsy tent far from the view of the flag and the cross.

Friday, 27 August 2010

POLITICS OF TERRORISM: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC

Originally published in 2005 at: http://cgi.stanford.edu/group/wais/cgi-bin/

"Professor Hilton's analysis and commentary on the "two faces of FARC" raises important questions about the definition and the politics of terrorism. Just as the Cold War produced its own rhetoric and oversimplification of "international Communism", a generic term that did not mean very much, similarly we have today an industry of people analyzing terrorism as a generic concept. Is FARC a "terrorist" organization because the Bush administration placed it on its Terrorism list, is it one because it uses tactics that may fit a dictionary definition, is it so because the Colombian government sees it in that light, or is it so because there is some international understanding, let us say an OAS consensus, that designates it so? The word terrorism evokes emotion and the concept is politically subjective. To the Zionists in the 1940s, Manachem Begin was a freedom fighter, but not to the British and the Palestinians. To the white South Africans, Nelson Mandela a terrorist when he was struggling to end white rule in the 1960s, but he was a freedom fighter to the majority of the population. Political violence assumes various forms, including random destruction of innocent civilians targeted largely for symbolic significance and publicity for a cause. Individual groups engaged in political violence for the sake of achieving a goal that may include social justice as in the case of FARC is unacceptable, it lacks legitimacy, it is "terrorism." Mass killings in the form of state-sanctioned warfare have always carried a sense of glory, virtue, and honor, though the end result is destruction just as in the case of guerrilla groups carrying out political violence. Is FARC a terrorist organization? Created in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party, FARC was a response to endemic poverty in southern Colombia, to concentration of land-ownership, government repression, and La Violencia that devastated the country from 1948 to 1958. Organized society produces guerrilla organizations like FARC or the New Peoples' Army in the Philippines, Sendero Luminoso in Peru, etc. as a response to state-sponsored violence and oppression. This is not to say that the tactics of such organizations should not be strongly condemned, but modern societies, whether the U.S., Russia, the EU, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, etc. do not address the conditions that give rise to insurgent organizations. Instead, they opt for the military solution which actually exacerbates political violence. Only a political solution that takes into account social justice can end political violence".

Learning History in America

Learning history is a reflection of any society's current cultural, ideological, and political trends at any particular era. If we lived in Victorian England, we would not be exposed to the same interpretation of the aristocracy's role in society during the Tudor dynasty, for example, as we are today at a U.S. or European university. Curriculum is always revised to reflect societal trends and prevailing social values. The current trend in American historiography is that there are "many Americas" reflecting the country's heterogeneous cultural composition and evolving values. When I went to school in Greece in the 1960s, there was never any talk about the role of gays and lesbians in history, or of the Ottoman Empire's contributions to civilization, to mention two of many examples. Historical interpretations are a reflection of changing times. One hundred years from now, historians will not view the Cold War in the same manner as Acheson and Gromyko did. As a historian in the U.S., I find it disturbing that increasingly there is a lack of focus on substance, and more on style, superficialities, and appearances. Mass media reflect this trend as well. News is about style that makes people feel good, not substance which may be painful. T.S. Elliot's "Hollow Men" is just as appropriate today as when he wrote it. With apologies to many excellent education professors for generalizing, the "hollow trend" is a reflection of college courses in Education Departments that focus so much on methods, rather than content. Even when content is the focus, historical figures are rarely given a multi-dimensional character that best represents them. I agree with Professor Hilton that Stalin has been stereo-typed, as have Napoleon, Caeser Augustus, Mao, Kennedy, De Gaulle, and countless others. The reason is because superficial analysis is the easy, painless, and popular way of explaining complex multi-dimensional personalities. Regrettably, complex policies and events are explained in the same manner by many educators, journalists, and politicians. Was Nicolo Machiavelli, among many others, correct to argue that people judge by appearances whether in politics or business, etc.? Perhaps the existentialists are correct to argue that there may be an innate proclivity in human nature to reduce people, events, policies, etc. to simple terms that best reflects one's world-view of objectifying the other, and of making sense of the outside world in simple terms".

Propaganda as Subjective Reality; on Wikipedia (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on: http://cgi.stanford.edu/group/wais/cgi-bin/?p=51341#comments
August 27th, 2010

With the ushering in of mass politics after the European revolutions of 1848, coinciding with the publication of the Communist Manifesto, it became necessary to constantly propagate for the hearts and minds of the masses. The Second Industrial Revolution and the “Age of Imperialism” also made propaganda more significant in all domains of life from businesses interested in selling their products to the non-Western World to missionaries trying to spread their faith.
Naturally, the most effective means of propaganda have always rested with the state, religious, and business elites. However, intellectuals from Marx to Marcuse as well as trade unionists and leftist opposition politicians engaged in propaganda and in many cases very effective. Even the rebuttal to propaganda is itself another form of propaganda regardless of the stated intention. The Nazi regime raised propaganda to new levels, until of course the Cold War, when propaganda became superimposed reality whether for the Soviets, US and NATO, Mao, Nasser, or De Gaulle. Each side engaged in propaganda gained legitimacy by presenting the other side as propaganda and issuing data to support its position. Institutions–from foreign ministries to universities–became part of the propaganda campaign serving a political agenda: domestic or foreign policy. Amid the epoch of mass politics and mass propaganda in every segment of society from politics to business designed to indoctrinate the masses, a segment of the population became co-opted and another apathetic–neutralized as far as the propagandist goal is concerned.
One reason for the attraction of many to Existentialism, Phenomenology, Nihilism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen for example, is because of the hypocritical Western culture and value system as it has unfolded especially in the past 100 years. The withering away of “objective reality” in the age of a narcissistic materialistic culture compels people to accept propaganda so they can experience the pleasures that conformity yields and avoid the pain of dissent. Naturally, safety and security are of paramount significance in the lives of people as Palmiro Togliatti argued in Lectures on Fascism. I have no problem with any government, organization, or other entity propagating, as long as there is full disclosure and there is no attempt to propagate for example against the rights of women, but in fact the goal is to curtail such rights. Similarly, I have no problem with Wikipedia engaged in “Zionist editing” (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, 26 August) as long as that is fully disclosed to the reader/audience. In fact, that I respect and could defend as “free speech” and of course would be free to propagate against it if I so choose. If Wikipedia, however, tries to present the killing of unarmed Palestinian children in the Gaza by Israeli fire as a case of Tel Aviv defending “human rights” of its citizens, then only those who already share the pro-Israeli position will read Wikipedia.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Mosque at Ground Zero (Jon Kofas, Greece)

 Posted on August 14th, 2010
Obama’s speech on the mosque at “Ground Zero” makes sense for his administration.
It makes sense politically for him to be in favor of building the mosque, because presumably it entails co-opting the “non-violent Muslim majority” and embracing America’s pluralistic tradition instead of yielding to right-wing Judeo-Christian ideologues. To oppose the project would in fact entail that the US is anti-Muslim and follows a double standard on religious tolerance, one for the Judeo-Christian tradition and another for all others. The mosque is all about symbolism and I have no doubt that intelligent US government analysts have looked at this issue from every possible angle. To advise Obama to hold a news conference in favor of the mosque is indicative that they concluded the “positives” outweigh the minuses in this case, namely, the mosque could be presented by the US government as a sort of “apology” and /or reconciliation for what fanatics did on 9/11. Of course, Democrats have no choice but to oppose Newt Gringrich and his crowd who want an open and indiscriminate Judeo-Christian crusade against Islam. Given the US problems with Iran, to say nothing of the rest of the Muslim world, there is no choice before the Obama administration but to give the green light, no matter where the $100 million to build the mosque comes from–and those who follow the trail of money in various extreme Islamic organizations know that the sources are often from well-respected conservative Arabs.

“Nativist” Politics and Prejudice of Immigration (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Originally Posted on WAIS 
November 19th, 2009

“Nativist” politics and prejudice of immigration are very old in both US and Europe, as are the arguments against immigration. The irony of all this is that the American colonists were invaders and destroyers of native cultures, as were the European Barbarians who migrated from Central Asia to colonize the continent.
But that is far too distant, far too historical and unemotional to have any relevance in the present. If indeed the countries of origin would be developed on “self-sufficiency” models instead of globalization rooted in draining their resources and keeping them perpetually underdeveloped, then I would agree with the argument some WAISers have advanced against “temporary immigrants.” The fact that there is “permanent and temporary foreign labor” is proof that the countries of origin are not developed in large measure because they exist under exploitative models of integration. This is not to excuse the utterly corrupt public and private sectors of the “countries of origin” (invariably underdeveloped in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), but they do not operate separately and distinctly from the world capitalist economy.
Regarding the impact of private remittances [see Tim Brown's post of 18 November--JE], I agree about their positive value to the country of origin, and thank God remittances are something although they come with the hard work, deplorable living conditions, and exploitative wages of legal and illegal immigrants in the advanced capitalist countries. Be that as it may, are remittances a structural solution to fix the chronic problem? Nor do I believe that trickle-down economics, as the great John Kenneth Galbraith noted during the Reagan-Thatcher decade, works to do much for the lower classes of either poor or rich nations.
And please let us correct the record: I am not one of those who has ever advocated, either in WAIS posts or in my publications on IMF and World Bank, that “trickle down economic development” works. And I think it is an insult to the millions of Mexicans in the US who have helped build the US economy in the past 200 years to dismiss them as gardeners and swimming pool cleaners for the rich, and to limit their vast and multifarious contributions to the US economy and social fabric. I believe kind well-intentioned people–whether politicians and intellectuals, including WAISers–or the corner drug store pharmacist in Cleveland or Paris, feel less secure when they see or hear about waves of immigrants threatening the status quo. I am not sure why people find it extraordinary that the poor–in this case poor immigrants–commit crimes, given that poverty is the real crime that capitalism precipitates. And I am seriously concerned when people single out Muslims, Africans, Latin Americans, Asians, or any other group to prove their point about the evils of immigration, and then they ask for empirical evidence to prove that higher percentage of crime is caused by natives instead of immigrants. All of this implies there is something in the DNA of the immigrant that causes him to commit crimes, and that the environment is free of any responsibility. As an emotionally charged issue, especially in this decade after 9/11 and the US-western-led wars against Muslims, immigration on the surface is an easy target for all calamities people believe befall their country, not realizing that as “established natives” they are descendants of immigrants.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Global Crisis 2008-2010: Lessons Learned (Jon Kofas, Greece)

History shows that deeply entrenched institutional interests prevent society from making progress and avoiding mistakes of the past that range from economic to military crises. The lesson from the Vietnam War was to do it with lower overall cost (financial, military and political) next time. Early indications are that the financial elites have learned nothing from the recent economic crisis, other than to concentrate capital at any social and political cost and circumvent legal hurdles. When the Vietnam War ended an entire industry of scholars, journalists, politicians, and military officers engaged in the debate of “lessons” so as not to repeat the “mistakes” of the past. Naturally, the “lessons of Vietnam” ranged from embracing neo-isolationist to giving the military a free hand to do its job next time it invades a Third World country. The “Rockefeller Managerialists” that Jimmy Carter brought to his cabinet ran foreign policy from the perspective that the Vietnam War had weakened the US economy and that imperialism does not have to assume the form of militarism to achieve the goal of global economic integration. Within a few years after the fall of Saigon, Vietnam was integrated into the world capitalist system, thus vindicating the “Managerialists,” but also proving in the long-term the US won the Vietnam War.
However, the right-wing manufactured image of a weak America (politically, economically, and militarily) persisted after the Nicaraguan and Iranian revolutions, at a time that Japan and Europe were also posing a challenge to the US economy. Of course, there were immense profits to be made by reverting to “Containment Militarism” (Keynesian Militarism), initially the ideology responsible for US involvement in Vietnam. When Reagan came to office he brought with him the “Containment Militarists” to conduct foreign and defense policy and the neo-liberals for fiscal, economic and trade policy. The ultimate goal was to strengthen defense and accelerate the nuclear arms race with the USSR. To help fund exorbitant defense spending, the Reagan militarists and neo-liberals had to weaken the welfare state and strengthen the corporate welfare regime. Despite mini-economic recessions of the 1980 and 1990s, the neo-liberal ideology accompanied by globalization took hold and spread around the world, emboldened of course with Communism’s downfall.
The deep recession of 2008-2010 exposed the myth that Keynesian Militarism and corporate welfare could be sustained by an overstretched credit economy, especially given the growing parasitic nature of finance capitalism. At the outset of the current global economic crisis, many politicians, journalists, and analysts of all types began to question neo-liberalism and Keynesian Militarism as implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan. The combination of parasitic finance capitalism that led to the real estate crisis after Lehman Brothers went belly up, Hedge Funds scandals and other scams, as well as immense US defense spending led to a global crisis. Naturally, finance capitalism resting on “debt and scam” was not confined to the US, but was indeed a global phenomenon. American-Style capitalism, consumerist culture, globalization, and neo-liberal ideology were popular with the political and financial elites. The economic crisis, however, forced the G-20 to inject capital equivalent to one-third of their GDP to save finance capitalism. To justify the massive transfer of capital from the general taxpayer to finance capital, governments promised that the lesson learned was tighter regulation. The banks took the money and consolidated their positions, but almost immediately refused to accept regulatory requirements of “rationalizing the system” to avert another deep recession in the future. Why should a bank executive whose compensation is 500 times higher than the average worker’s suffer the indignity of bonus cuts and stock options? Having stabilized the banking system in the first phase, the state turned to stabilizing the economy by asking working and middle-class taxpayers to suffer higher unemployment and lower living standards.
The credit economy is over-stretched globally and that means investment speculation and scams in a number of areas from currency to government bonds; also the phase the world is currently experiencing. In the first week of May 2010, EU leaders strongly condemned bond and currency speculation for destabilizing the European economy. In an interview for Russian TV, Obama agreed that indeed monetary instability in the EU, undermined by bond and currency speculators, does not serve US interests. Because the euro is the reserve currency representing the most powerful economic bloc in the world, monetary instability does not serve the interests of any country other than speculators. Precisely because the credit system is strained owing to the 2008-2010 crisis when both governments and private sector are chasing limited credit, the G-20 have agreed that economic recovery cannot take hold in the absence of monetary stability with the state as guarantor. Toward that end, the EU’s ECOFIN today (9 May 2010) is scheduled to announce stabilization fund of about 600 billion euros to ensure eurozone monetary stability and to help members whose bonds are targets for market speculation, a process that seriously impedes economic growth.
Not only is Southern Europe EU’s weak link, with Greece leading the “PIGS,” there is concern that France may be overextended, despite its banks profiting from government bond speculation. Against such a reality, Germany softened its stance on monetarist orthodoxy for eurozone members. As long as the economic crisis is lingering, the state will be guiding finance capitalism away from its own predatory, self-destructive, and manipulative “Invisible Hand.” What will the political elites do to check the role of the financial elites once the economy assumes a steady growth mode later in the decade? Finance capitalism has its own internal dynamics driven solely by accumulation. Anything short of institutional structures to counterbalance finance capitalism’s predatory orientation will lead to cyclical crises that will have a detrimental impact on the social structure and political landscape. Have the political elites learned the lessons of “neo-liberalism gone madly crooked,” or are they likely to repeat the mistakes of the past, as was the case with those claiming they learned the lessons of Vietnam?
Corporate elites fund political campaigns. Corporate elites also have the advantage of lobbying. Corporate elites enjoy the weight of status in a system that prays on their altar. The assumption that neo-liberal measures are the solution to economic growth, social and political stability is the lesson deeply ingrained in society. This mode of thinking is not just in Goldman-Sachs executives who have a profit motive to see the world in such distorted light, but regrettably in people who lost their money in this latest crisis. This lesson never learned will most definitely lead to far greater disasters in the future and bring society closer to social discontinuity.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

US Military, Gen. James Mattis and Liberalism (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on July 15th, 2010 

If Gen. Mattis acted in the name of liberal democracy that he obviously serves, how can anyone accuse him of employing “undemocratic” language while exercising his duty to boost troop morale as part of a NATO mission to bring liberalism to Afghanistan–at gunpoint, of course, and for the duration? I understand that it is difficult to defend general Mattis’s morale-boosting speech, so we must figure out in the name of our ideological convictions and perhaps our self-interest to explain how the General is really a servant of Western liberalism. Liberalism triumphed over Soviet-style Communism, aspects of liberalism American-style have spread all over the world with the triumph of globalization (the current recession notwithstanding); liberal democracy seems to satisfy what the middle class in Western nations desire, perhaps since the French Revolution that popularized bourgeois liberalism. However, from Locke, its ideological founder, to Mill and down to present-day Western intellectuals, politicians, and ordinary citizens clinging to this ideology, liberalism as an ideology provides the “socio-politically acceptable” shield behind which rests the reality of how it translates in society. Liberalism is not social democracy and it does not entail social justice at home or abroad. On the contrary, liberalism is predicated and thrives on inequality at all levels–social, political, economic, and geographic. History has demonstrated that Western liberals conveniently employ the ideology to justify immoral and unjust acts, especially in foreign affairs when dealing with non-white societies, and domestically when dealing with minorities, women and the poor. Liberalism in foreign policy and military operations often masks the ugly reality of imperialism, racism, and militarism.
Nazis used the “I was following orders” defense, but they did not invent that line of defense nor were they the last to employ it as we have seen in many cases of US covert and overt military operations since the Spanish-American War. The exact same pretext was used from Vietnam to Iraq by people operating under the “liberal” regime and policy label, therefore, the immoral acts are justified because God is on the side of liberals.
Liberals want to separate liberalism from authoritarianism, and that is appropriate. But we must not lose track that just as deeds through history define authoritarians, so must be the case with liberals. Every undergraduate who has enrolled in a Western Civ course knows that European and American liberals have made policy decisions that have resulted in mass destruction, territorial occupation, exploitation by violent and other means, and above all the struggle for global hegemony–all in the name of liberalism!

Europe: Eurozone Myths and Global Crisis (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on February 7th, 2010
The economic crisis of 2008-2010 has exposed several Eurozone myths and weaknesses that would require political decisions if the EU is to remain a progressive interdependent union and not result into a tiered (geographically unequal) “dependency model” like NAFTA, with wide gaps between members. First myth, the Eurozone’s common currency will remain strong even in times of recession because its members have pledged not to exceed budgetary deficits above 3% of GDP. Second myth, the EU unlike the US is not as concerned about pursuing a monetarist course (strong reserve currency) at the cost of growth, which the IMF has been advocating and imposing on borrowing members throughout its history. Third myth, the EU inter-dependent integration model as compared with the US “dependency” model as expressed through NAFTA for example, will remain the key feature to attracting new members and expand into the largest economic bloc with the strongest economy and currency in the world. Fourth myth, integration into the Eurozone will lessen informal economies and strengthen legitimate trade to the benefit of all, owing to steady growth for the union. Final myth, Eurozone members are shielded from global contracting cycles more than the rest of the world. The current crisis has brought to the surface the reality that the Eurozone is a bloc captive to its strongest members, determined to compete with other dominant economies who have their own regional blocs, especially the US and Japan.
Along with private banking houses and rating firms, the IMF is optimistic that 2010 will be a year of recovery not just for China and India but for many of the advanced countries like US and Germany. That optimism is based on corporate growth of large businesses, and does not trickle down to small businesses, the middle class and labor. Within the EU, growth prospects are even worse for Europe’s “PIGS” – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (Ireland also belongs in this group), all of which are targets by bond speculators and partly responsible for the euro’s and stock market slumps since January 2010. With 11.5% of the EU’s GDP, Spain is the fourth largest Eurozone economy confronting a budgetary deficit that is 9.3% of GDP (lower than the US percentage) and cumulative public/private debt that amounts to 207% of GDP (equal to Japan’s), while European average currently runs about 180%. As of December 2009, Eurozone’s private debt as a percent of GDP was divided as follows: Businesses–73.6%; Households–61%; Mortgages–44.5%; and Credit card & consumer–16.5%. Credit will become much tighter as interest rates will be rising and banks will be reluctant to float loans. Because banks receiving bailout public funds reinvested to consolidate by strengthening their own and/or purchasing other banks, credit tightening has already choked the real economy and in 2010 interest rates will be going higher according to several EU central bank forecasts.
At the same time, to bring their budgetary deficits down to the Eurozone maximum of 3% of GDP, the public sector will undertake drastic cuts in the next three years. This means that for most countries, not just the “PIGS” whose public sector accounts for half of GDP, there will be substantial bleeding of the economies at the expense of labor and the middle class. Strikes and social unrest are inevitable for many countries in 2010, but more significantly, the loss of confidence in the political economy and in the political and financial elites will continue to erode. The absence of mostly “two-party” choices that represent the same financial elites against the reality of no Communist revolution to fear any longer, translates into a relative free hand for political elites to ask the masses for sacrifices. To deflect responsibility from themselves, many EU political leaders are blaming profiteers for the euro’s current slide. Some analysts are suggesting that the US with UK as its European proxy, want a weaker EU. All indications, however, are that the real beneficiaries are German investors buying bonds to finance Eurozone bonded debt. Just as the state has stepped in to help financial elites regain their strength, the European Central Bank could have just as easily developed a “crisis fund” with central bank subscriptions for bailout emergencies like the current one facing the “PIGS” (Ireland included). Now that the Eurozone myths are exposed, the question is what action EU leaders wish to take to shape the regional bloc’s future. Is the Eurozone role solely to remain competitive with US and Japanese regional blocs by strengthening finance capital at the expense of the broader social classes and uneven geographic growth and development within the union? Or is the EU’s mission to close the geographic and social gap in order to foster a more democratic regional bloc that will remain attractive for associate members to join?