Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Neoliberals Have Trouble Telling the Truth

Media Wars and Manufacturing Consent:

Getting People to Vote Against Themselves

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

"Newt Gingrich: Obama's 'Bureaucratic Socialism' Kills Jobs" is one of many similar headlines appearing on dozens of web-based news portals in this 2012 election season. This one keeps popping up, and I'm getting sick of seeing it.

The reason? It manages to pack several major lies, each of which you could write a book about, into just five words-and hardly an editor anywhere takes a blue pencil to it.

Don't get me wrong. I've got no problem with 'socialism.' My shoot-from-the hip response when someone spits the 'S' word out in a political argument is, "Socialism? I've been a socialist all my life, and proud of it. We should be so lucky as to have some socialism around here. Unfortunately, we're not even close."

First of all, Barack Obama is not a socialist. Even back in his more youthful years in Illinois, at best on a good day, he was simply a neo-Keynesian liberal with a few high tech green ideas. Keynesians believe, among other things, that when markets fail, government has the task of being the consumer of last resort, even hiring people directly to build infrastructure and put people to work,

But these days, surrounded by a 'Team of Rivals' largely from Wall Street, Obama has set aside any earlier Keynesian policies he held and has been, wittingly or not, sucked into the black hole of the prevailing neoliberal hegemony.

What's 'Neoliberal hegemony?' That's a shorthand phrase for the current domination of our government by Wall Street finance capital. It simply wants to diminish any government initiatives or programs, except for those that line their own pockets.

Keynesians and others, in and out of government, have opposed the neoliberals. They've advocated a range of reasonable proposals for getting us out of the current crisis-ending the wars, Employee Free Choice Act, Medicare for All, the People's Budget submitted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. John Conyer's HR 870 Full Employment Bill-but they all keep getting declared "off the table" by the neoliberals.

On Gingrich's second charge, far from being 'bureaucratic,' Obama, wisely or not, has actually reduced the number of federal employees, and made other cuts that will cause the states to do likewise.

On the third charge, far from 'killing jobs,' Obama's initial proposals regarding employment have actually created a few jobs, but not nearly enough. Why? Because of the real job-killing votes of Gingrich's Republican allies in the House.

It doesn't take a chess champion to figure any of this out. Any decent checker player could make an honest call of the false moves in the 'socialist job killer' gambit of Gingrich and other GOP presidential pretenders running the same rap.

But why distort the truth this way? Newt Gingrich is a smart man. He knows that Keynesianism is designed to keep capitalism going, and that socialism is something quite different and has very little to do with this debate. So why does he keep this 'Big Lie' business up?

It's a smokescreen. At bottom, Gingrich, the GOP and the far right are promoting a grand neoliberal project to repeal the New Deal and the Great Society, the primary past examples of liberal government dealing with market failure.

The right's problem is too many things that came out of those periods had some success and are still popular with a majority of voters-the elderly like Medicare and Social Security, labor likes the Wagner Act and the right to bargain collectively, Blacks and other minorities like the Voting Rights Act, and women like Title Seven. To take them all down, which is what the neoliberal-far right alliance wants, means you have to attack them indirectly, rather than directly.

So how does it work? You have to start with what most people fear most-losing their jobs-and then combine it with the darker demons of our past, such as anti-communism, racism and sexism. Next you mush all your potential adversaries--the socialist left, the liberals and progressives, and the FDR-loving moderates--into one huge combined bogey man. You make it into a hideous package that's going to scare voters into casting ballots against themselves. To put a fancier term on it, it's called manufacturing consent to combine with outright coercive force in getting you to submit to a renewed hegemonic bloc.

That's what Newt is doing here. In short, it's when they get you to think all your neighbors and co-workers are your enemies, while all the guys on Wall Street are your friends. You're going to hear a lot of it over the next year. Don't fall for it.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time to Get Serious About Full Employment

Yes, We Need a Jobs Program, But One

That Doesn't Tinker Around the Edges


By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Our regional daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to its credit, came out with an editorial today, Aug. 22, 2011, urging President Obama to push for a substantial jobs program over Republican opposition.

"Action on jobs: Obama must push hard to get people back to work" is the headline, and a key point stresses "Mr. Obama now needs to offer proposals equal to the size of the problem. That means bold strokes, not half-measures. If his Republican antagonists in Congress are determined to stand in the way of getting Americans back to work, the president must say so publicly -- and then go over their heads to enlist the nation in his effort."

Terrific, a good framing of the question. Unfortunately, however, once you get into the substance of the piece, it turns into a muddle. The Post-Gazette offers up a hodgepodge of proposals that tinker around the edges of the problem-more tax cuts and credits for jobs created, more unemployment benefits, and oddly, more trade deals, even though these deals mostly result in net job losses.

Here's the heart of the matter. In a down economy, jobs are created by increasing demand, by more customers with bigger orders coming to a firm's doors. The problem is that consumer demand has taken a nose dive when the credit bubble burst. People don't have money to spend. They're cutting back on everything, and trying to unload their debt. This means business-to-business orders shrink as well. Companies may be cash-rich and have high profits, but with no increase in orders or customers at their door, they aren't likely to hire people to do nothing just to get a tax credit.

This is where government has to become the key customer. It has to make huge productive purchases for local work and local materials to build productive infrastructure-county-owned green energy plants, new and improved schools, modernized locks and dams, Medicare for all, investment in young students and veterans like we did with the GI Bill, investment in research in new industries, and so on.

Most important, to work well, it can't be nickel-and-dimed to death. It has to be on the scale of the expenditures for World War 2. That's when the 'multiplier effect' can kick in, and related growth in manufacturing can take off in turn. And it has to be paid for by going to where the most appropriate money is, imposing a financial transaction tax on unproductive and destabilizing speculation by Wall Street.

The best the P-G does on this matter is to support Obama's proposal for an 'Infrastructure Bank,' but urges him to find a way to bypass a GOP roadblock in Congress.

But even that is too passive. It says, in effect, here's a small pot of money. If you want to repair some roads, come and get some.

What we really need is something like the New Deal's Tennessee Valley Authority and Works Progress Administration, but on steroids, a TVA-WPA-CCC 2.0. We need to pass John Conyer's HR 870 Full employment Bill. We need the Dept. of Energy and the Dept. of Labor to go to every county in the country with a fully funded proposal to build new green energy wind farms and solar power arrays as public energy utilities, hiring local workers at union scale, with no obstacles to a union election. And that's just for starters.

Yes, we need a serious jobs program. But it's time for everyone who utters that phrase to get serious themselves. Why? Because it's going to take a massive upsurge in class struggle to get it by removing those standing in the way.

[Carl Davidson is a Steelworker Associate and a retired computer technician living in Beaver County.  His 'Keep On Keepin' On' column appears in Beaver County Blue, website of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.]

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Progressive Cynicism and Misplaced White Anger

The Far Right's Two Magic Weapons for 2012

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

If you want a Republican sweep in the 2012 election, follow this simple formula: Keep blaming the White House alone as the main cause of every problem the country faces, and ignore the Tea Party as overblown has-beens.

That's not advice from me. That's from Richard Viguerie, who some might remember as the think-tanker  and skilled pollster of the 1970's New Right that helped usher in Reagan and the era of neoliberal hegemony we've suffered under ever since. That's what he hopes the center and left will do over the next year.

An Aug, 10, 2011 syndicated column by Viguerie reminds us that presidential elections don't require a majority of popular votes, but only a majority of votes in the Electoral College.

"The Aug. 8 Gallup tracking poll shows that Obama is at 50 percent or better approval rating in only 16 states, the majority of which are normally considered Democratic bastions. Those 16 states represent 203 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency." Then he adds: "Key states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida that contributed to Obama's 365-to-173 blowout of the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008, are in play at this time. It gets better. The states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, which are now in play, were three of the top states where the tea party wave swept new constitutional conservative members into Congress."

Viguerie goes on to discuss the role of the Tea Party insurgency in Michigan and California among angry white voters. He adds an astute point: if the GOP puts up a 'moderate' like Romney, Obama wins narrowly. But if it plays its 'wild cards' like Bachmann and Perry, the far right's  activist base is energized-and at a time when Obama's strategy is dissing his own left-progressive base for the wimpy and ever-narrowing 'center.'

In short, keep the left inactive, the progressives and the center divided, and the Tea Party energizer bunnies get their 270 electoral votes.

It's not a bad projection for the prospects of a neoliberal alliance with proto-fascists, with the latter in the driver's seat. The alternative view is that the majority of serious Wall St finance capital is circling the wagons around Obama. They're not interested in the wilder instabilities that would be fueled by Bachmann or Perry White House.

Maybe so. Serious money matters in American politics. But the far right has some serious money too, and they can combine it with an army of insurgents.

Therein lays our problem. At the moment, we have no candidate for peace and prosperity at the top of the ticket. But we need candidates of that sort at any level if we are to unite and mobilize a left-progressive base in 2012. We have the negative motivator of a possible Tea Party win, but only if we take them seriously. But we need more than that. We need candidates that will fight positively for what working-class people need, not what Wall Street needs. The People's Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is a good starting point. We'll have some candidates who will back it, but we'll need them placed in the states with clout in electoral votes. We don't have enough at the moment.

Don't expect much help from the Blue Dog and upper crust Democrats. No matter how you slice it, it's going to be a tough fight. So organize your co-workers and neighbors independently, and prepare for some fierce battles.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Taxes for More Wars?

Scrambled Brains in High Places

Photo: Wasted War Junk in Iraq

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Members of Congress had best be careful. If it hasn't already done so, the 'deficit madness' virus circulating in those hallowed halls will turn your brains into scrambled eggs.

That's the conclusion to draw from the latest bright idea from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) reported in the Aug 16 Washington Post-a new tax surcharge on taxpayers across the board to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"These wars ought to be paid for and not put on a credit card so that our kids will have to pay for this in the future," McGovern said in a recent telephone interview. It's morally wrong for members [of Congress] to call for support of our soldiers and then not ask the rest of us to pay for it .?.?. or have it left to the poor and middle-income and seniors to bear the sacrifice along with our soldiers and their families. That's wrong."

McGovern wants the 'Super-Congress' Deficit Commission to take it up.

Only the last phrase about putting the burden on the poor contains any sense, especially since the overall costs, not to mention lives lost on all sides, is approaching $3 trillion. The rest is just screwy.

But I have a better idea. First, end the wars immediately, and only allocate enough money to get all our troops and contractors back home lickety-split. Second, pass a bill to pick up the tab by doing away with the oil depletion allowances and all other tax breaks on the oil companies. If that's not enough, put a tax on transfers of oil stocks and the profits of military contractors. And if they try to jack up the price of gasoline to cover their war expenses, nationalize them. After all, they're the only ones really benefiting from these foreign policy disasters.

Once that's out of the way, we can turn to the more strategic solution: a job creating financial transaction tax on all Wall Street gambling to fund the clean energy and green manufacturing revolution we need to move away from fossil fuels altogether. There are all sorts of places to begin, from 'shovel-ready' low-skilled jobs repairing the locks and dams on our rivers, to higher skilled jobs building and installing county-owned wind and solar generators as public power utilities.

In short, 'Jobs, Not War!' and 'Windmills, Not Weapons' are much better alternatives every which way than more taxes to pay for more wars. Back to the drawing board, Congressman McGovern.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London: ‘Shock Doctrine’ as a Two-Way Street

The Approaching Winter of Our Discontent

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Watching the rebellions of the young and poor continue in London and now spread to other industrial centers in the UK raises an interesting question: Will the Arab spring and the European summer lead to a fall and winter of discontent here in the USA?

All the makings for it are here. We have impoverished communities of the unemployed where there are huge numbers of young people who have never had a regular job of any sort. Now that any form of taxing the rich for funding a jobs program like that proposed by Rep. John Conyers’ HR 870 has been declared ‘off the table,’ it doesn’t appear likely to change, either.

Add to that the GOP’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ (with an assist from the White House) of creating a neoliberal deficit hoax to take from the working class and give to Wall Street, and you spread deeper misery across all of Main Street.

Now the AFL-CIO, thank goodness, is calling for a new round of mass actions against austerity and in defense of the tattered safety net. Add to that the project, where the peace and justice movement is planning to camp out in downtown DC’s Freedom Plaza until all the troops are brought home from the wars.

It’s a perfect storm shaping up.  Hopefully, many of our young unemployed and under-employed will be drawn to these events. But any police outrage could set off a chain reaction like those in London-we’ve seen this many times in our history.

We have a few decent politicians facing up to the problem, like the 80 votes of the Congressional Progressive Caucus behind the People’s Budget. But our top political class has declared their efforts ‘off the table,’ too.

In brief, they’re telling us our views don’t count and we have nowhere to go.

That’s what the bigwigs in London thought, too. Now they’re all in a tizzy about riots and violence. In contrast, in one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you? Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

Of course, many small shops and working-class homes, unfortunately, are being harmed in the UK events. Street heat is best when the target is narrowed on the upper class, and you keep the moral high ground. That way you can draw even more millions into relatively peaceful assembly with powerful and lasting implications. But when long-ignored social dynamite explodes, things don’t always work out that way, with the well-controlled niceties of a tea party, no pun intended.

It is right to rebel against outrages and unjust conditions imposed from above. The ‘Shock Doctrine’ is a two-way street, and once it erupts, more than you might think will know which side of the barricades to gather on.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

‘City of Steel’ by Jasiri X, Our Own Rapper

By Jasiri X and Paradise Gray

According to the New Pittsburgh Courier, “The average homicide victim in 2010 was a 33–year-old Black male with four prior arrests, most likely shot on the North Side, in the Hill District or the East End with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol in the early morning hours of a Saturday in July. The average shooter was a 29-year-old Black male with four prior arrests. The motive was likely retaliation. And according to the clearance-rate data, there is a 46 percent chance that he is still at large.”

This is why we decided to dedicate our latest video to the problem of violence in our community.

“City of Steel” was filmed on Pittsburgh’s Northside at, Northview Heights housing project, Allegheny County General Hospital, Zone No.1 Police Station, Union Dale Cemetery, and the newly reopened state prison, SCI Pittsburgh.

“City of Steel” was produced by Rel!g!on and directed by Paradise Gray.

This is the third video, in the four video series entitled “The Pittsburgh Press”, which was made possible by a generous Seed Award from the Sprout Fund.

In Pittsburgh PA you’ll get served each day
You’re either fiending or you’re tryin to be the Kingpin

In the late hours thugs dream to take power
baked powder cocaine entry in the dope game
X or the Big H reps come from big weight
you can catch a big break graduate to biggate
you can catch a big case graduate to triple max
affidavits, eye witness, warrants for official taps
legal fees cripple stacks, ya funds is limping
with your money on crutches you can’t run from prison
now it got ya gums itching, now you’ve begun snitching
saying you’ve become Christian no more drugs and women
but the press leaked ya name so 44 guns is spitting
no more tongues is flipping you got slugs in ya system
ain’t no happy endings in this coke opera
just broke coppers and dope poppers, bodies found in coat lockers
hope nada you’ll get ya folk shot up
only guarantee is they’ll be another boat with product, here

In Pittsburgh PA you’ll get served each day
You’re either a customer or hustler

In Pittsburgh PA you’ll get served each day
You’re either fiending or you’re tryin to be the Kingpin

In the early morning when ya barely yawning
thugs is carry on and what they carry is long and
sound like cherry bombs and will cherry ya garment and
bury ya squadron
for that cash stash that’s buried in your apartment
be wary of a cartridge
that’s loaded and fired by legendary marksmen
dead on with dead eyes dead weight cause dead guys’
don’t tell the Feds lies therefore the lead flies
In Pittsburgh PA you’ll get served each day
we stay on the fast lane of the freeway
each day’s a replay no room for delay
he say she say he spray she lay
on the pavement she’s going away with
her virginity in tack because she said she’d save it
till the day she got married but that day will never come
cause she died at 16 so she’ll stay forever young, here

In Pittsburgh PA you’ll get served each day
You’re either a customer or hustler

In Pittsburgh PA you’ll get served each day
You’re either fiending or you’re tryin to be the Kingpin

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Jobs and GOP ‘Dialectics’: Turning Things Into Their Opposites

By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

People sometimes either groan or laugh when they hear the term ‘dialectics,’ a word which some people use to bamboozle others into thinking they know something when they don’t.

But here’s a great ‘laughing out loud’ example inspired by a few lines for Mike Hall’s current post on the AFL-CIO blog today, Aug. 2:

“The 4,000 furloughed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) workers and 90,000 workers on airport construction projects stalled by the Republican shutdown of the FAA are worrying about how they will pay their bills in the coming weeks.

“But the only worry House Republicans have is how they are going to spend their six-week summer vacation. House Republicans leaders adjourned the House last night until Sept. 7 without taking action on reauthorizing an FAA bill so the agency—shutdown since July 22—could reopen and construction funds move down the pipeline again.”

So here’s a great example of Republican ‘dialectics’, their ‘Jobs Plan’ of turning real jobs into their opposites, non-jobs. It’s easy to laugh at, if it didn’t mean so much suffering for so many working-class families. I suppose we could say there’s a ‘unity of opposites’ there, too.

One thing that burns me up more than GOP nonsense, though, are many of the mainstream media pundits who don’t have any idea on how to ask a decent follow-up question. When our right wing lawmakers (and their White House allies) go on at length about cutting this and slashing that, taking money from low-income and middle-income workers and giving it to the super-rich, there always comes a point where they assert, ‘and this will create jobs!.’

Back in my youth I taught logic for a year at the University of Nebraska. Full disclosure here: I actually appreciate real dialectics, and other rules of argument. But one point I often made to my students: An assertion is not an argument.

Now why can’t our media pundits say, ‘Wait a minute here, Congressman (or other policy wonk). You’re cutting both spending and jobs, reducing overall demand. Then you assert this creates jobs? Can you tell us exactly how that works? Especially when it’s mainly demand that creates jobs? An assertion is not an argument.”

If I heard it just once on CNN, it would make my day.

My logic course back in 1965 was for incoming freshman. Wouldn’t it be great if news anchors could at least reach that level, even if it’s too much to expect of Congress and the White House? All the more reason we have to rely on our own labor-oriented blogs and news services. We know how to make use of decent dialectics, and put a spotlight on the foolish versions of our adversaries.

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