Saturday, February 23, 2008

Profits are up but I'm down

Time to Recycle: A Blast From the Past (Tuesday, October 31, 2006)

Slavery ... was justified on humanitarian grounds, not entirely without reason: owners of property tend to treat it more carefully than those who merely rent and can discard it without loss. "Under slavery, after all, the native is bought as an animal," a senior administrator in Portuguese Angola argued. "His owner prefers him to remain as fit as a horse or ox." But when "the native is not bought," only hired, and is called "a free man," then "his employer cares little if he sickens or dies ..., because when he sickens or dies his employer will simply ask for another" -- at least, if unions, workers' rights, job security ("inflexibility") and other irrational interferences with free markets can be overcome.

The facts were well understood by American workers who derided the hypocrisy of bosses "professing to be abolitionists ... and making slaves at home," imposing "wage slavery" that is in some ways even more onerous than chattel slavery. "The poor negro has a master, both in sickness and in health," early union organizers commented, "while the poor white man is a slave as long as he is able to toil, and a pauper when he can toil no more." - World Orders Old and New, Noam Chomsky, pg 114

In 1987, 70% of all American workers (including the relatively unskilled, such as assembly-line workers, elevator operators and retail clerks) were covered by health insurance, most of them from health plans at work; in 2005, that figure was roughly 59.5%. Today, some 47 million (!) working Americans have no health insurance of any kind, including about 8.3 million kids under 11 (Source). On top of that, over 50% of all personal bankruptcies are a result of debt incurred by medical bills. Not surprisingly, the United States leads the industrial nations of the world in infant mortality.

President George W Bush was right to say - as he did at one of his staged town hall meetings - to the poor white woman who complained that she was holding down two jobs just to make ends meet, that she was "a real American."

This backhanded compliment - coming from a guy who never took on a job that he didn't walk way from unfinished (confident in his own financial security because he is backed by stolen millions squirreled away somewhere safe from public review) - pretty much sums up the attitude of the rich assholes who actually run this country.

We know that part of the arrogance of this statement reflects an aspect of his sociopathic personality that just doesn't give a shit about a fellow human being, but another interpretation of his statement is the acknowledgment of his training as a member of the upper-class super-rich: you were born to work for me for whatever I deign to pay you, and if that isn't enough, well, tough. Curl up and die. Thus was Adam Smith moved to observe that the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind" is, "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people."

These masters of mankind call that "personal choice," and sometimes "individual freedom," and, ever the Orwellians, "free trade," and even - God help us - "the right to work."

What's clear to me about Bush's statement, though, is its implicit recognition of the present social contract, reflecting a class division that is so huge as to stagger the imagination, but never mentioned in polite society; it's off the table to discuss "class" in America, although the truth is nearly blinding in its luminescence: a mere 10% of this country own 72% of everything, including the mortgage on your house (if you have one), your car, and all your credit cards. Indeed, they own all of your debt, having purchased it just like a "godfather" buys your gambling markers from your local bookie. Thus, they own you, and just as surely as if they had bought you off an auction block in the Charleston slave market. To add insult to injury, they have saddled your children with this massive debt, yes, even unto the third generation, if not longer. Further, when you ask for a raise - if you dare - they threaten to off-shore your job to India, and should you ask for an explanation, they plead "market forces," as if there were really such a thing as "free trade" over which they have no control.

They are, of course, lying. The way the ruling class has rigged it, there is no such thing as "free trade" and sure as shit, no "free enterprise."

All American industry is subsidized by the American taxpayer - that's you and not them - and that means biotech (medical) R&D, the public lands given away to the oil, lumber, and mining industries; the public airways given away to right-wing bigots; taxpayer purchases of unneeded nuclear submarines, land mines and weapons give-aways to Israel (we give them billions in foreign aide; they use it to buy bombs, ammo, jet fighters, and helicopters from us - a vicious financial circle jerk); the tobacco industry, corn and sugar farmers, and the computer industry, to name just a selected few.

They constantly chant "jobs, jobs, jobs" at you while in Wall Street they cheerfully cut your pay and benefits and sing "profits, profits, profits" sotto voce, and sock their loot away in hidden bank accounts in the Caymans.

Meanwhile, in order to ensure "markets" for their state-subsidized industries (especially the guns and bombs), they slaughter peasant farmers by the millions all over Africa, and in Columbia, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and East Timur and Indochina, and even Eastern Europe, with mercenary "security forces" trained at our very own School of the Americas. They flood Third World countries with government-subsidized American wheat, rice and corn, collapsing the local subsidence economies, driving the remaining farmers to turn to the only profitable crops available: cocaine and heroin-producing poppies, turning them into the slave laborers of narco traffickers. Then, when you snort a line or two, they throw you into prison, because there is no money for social services like drug rehab programs.

These are vile people, Bush's People; you think that they would shrink from blowing up a couple of buildings in New York City to maintain their stranglehold on the world's economy?

Free trade (along with real representative liberal democracy) is a myth, Gentle Readers, a fairy tale told to appeal to your inner sense of justice, a sleight of hand to distract you from the truth:

The insanely massive taxpayer-supported military spending of the Cold War - which is what created American profits for a select few for over fifty years - could no longer be justified, so they invented another Big Lie - the Endless War on Terror - to camouflage their murders and their rape of the planet for their profit, and to justify their own merciless venality, penchant for terrorism, and disdain for you.

These people will do anything to maintain their profits: if you don't believe me, go and actually read the so-called USA Patriot Act or the brand-spanking new Domestic Terrorist Surveillance Act, with its arbitrary suspension of habeas corpus. With the endless "War on Terror" (sic), they can justify all their heinousness, including their obscene profits at the expense of your poverty and ill-health, and quite possibly your indefinite incarceration, as Americans are sorted - just like the rest of the world and as sure as death and taxes - into two classes: the haves and the have-nots.

And the Constitution? As King George told us in no uncertain terms: "It's just a goddamned piece of paper."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Election Madness

By Howard Zinn
From The Progressive
March 2008 Issue

There's a man in Florida who has been writing to me for years (ten pages, handwritten) though I've never met him. He tells me the kinds of jobs he has held-security guard, repairman, etc. He has worked all kinds of shifts, night and day, to barely keep his family going. His letters to me have always been angry, railing against our capitalist system for its failure to assure "life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness" for working people.

Just today, a letter came. To my relief it was not handwritten because he is now using e-mail: "Well, I'm writing to you today because there is a wretched situation in this country that I cannot abide and must say something about. I am so enraged about this mortgage crisis. That the majority of Americans must live their lives in perpetual debt, and so many are sinking beneath the load, has me so steamed. Damn, that makes me so mad, I can't tell you. . . . I did a security guard job today that involved watching over a house that had been foreclosed on and was up for auction. They held an open house, and I was there to watch over the place during this event. There were three of the guards doing the same thing in three other homes in this same community. I was sitting there during the quiet moments and wondering about who those people were who had been evicted and where they were now."

On the same day I received this letter, there was a front-page story in the Boston Globe, with the headline "Thousands in Mass. Foreclosed on in '07."

The subhead was "7,563 homes were seized, nearly 3 times the '06 rate."

A few nights before, CBS television reported that 750,000 people with disabilities have been waiting for years for their Social Security benefits because the system is underfunded and there are not enough personnel to handle all the requests, even desperate ones.

Stories like these may be reported in the media, but they are gone in a flash. What's not gone, what occupies the press day after day, impossible to ignore, is the election frenzy.

This seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.

And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. We are all vulnerable.

Is it possible to get together with friends these days and avoid the subject of the Presidential elections?

The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clich├ęs with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.

Even in the so-called left periodicals, we must admit there is an exorbitant amount of attention given to minutely examining the major candidates. An occasional bone is thrown to the minor candidates, though everyone knows our marvelous democratic political system won't allow them in.

No, I'm not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I'm talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let's remember that even when there is a "better" candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.

The unprecedented policies of the New Deal-Social Security, unemployment insurance, job creation, minimum wage, subsidized housing-were not simply the result of FDR's progressivism. The Roosevelt Administration, coming into office, faced a nation in turmoil. The last year of the Hoover Administration had experienced the rebellion of the Bonus Army-thousands of veterans of the First World War descending on Washington to demand help from Congress as their families were going hungry. There were disturbances of the unemployed in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Seattle.

In 1934, early in the Roosevelt Presidency, strikes broke out all over the country, including a general strike in Minneapolis, a general strike in San Francisco, hundreds of thousands on strike in the textile mills of the South. Unemployed councils formed all over the country. Desperate people were taking action on their own, defying the police to put back the furniture of evicted tenants, and creating self-help organizations with hundreds of thousands of members.

Without a national crisis-economic destitution and rebellion-it is not likely the Roosevelt Administration would have instituted the bold reforms that it did.

Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.

They offer no radical change from the status quo.

They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.

Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For instance, the mortgage foreclosures that are driving millions from their homes-they should remind us of a similar situation after the Revolutionary War, when small farmers, many of them war veterans (like so many of our homeless today), could not afford to pay their taxes and were threatened with the loss of the land, their homes. They gathered by the thousands around courthouses and refused to allow the auctions to take place.

The evictions today of people who cannot pay their rents should remind us of what people did in the Thirties when they organized and put the belongings of the evicted families back in their apartments, in defiance of the authorities.

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.


Howard Zinn is the author of "A People's History of the United States," "Voices of a People's History" (with Anthony Arnove), and most recently, "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress."

Seven Steps to Revolution

By Sara Robinson

"Those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." -- John F. Kennedy

There's one thing for sure: 2008 isn't anything like politics as usual.

The corporate media (with their unerring eye for the obvious point) is fixated on the narrative that, for the first time ever, Americans will likely end this year with either a woman or a black man headed for the White House. Bloggers are telling stories from the front lines of primaries and caucuses that look like something from the early 60s -- people lining up before dawn to vote in Manoa, Hawaii yesterday; a thousand black college students in Prairie View, TX marching ten miles to cast their early votes in the face of a county that tried to disenfranchise them. In recent months, we've also been gobstopped by the sheer passion of the insurgent campaigns of both Barack Obama and Ron Paul, both of whom brought millions of new voters into the conversation -- and with them, a sharp critique of the status quo and a new energy that's agitating toward deep structural change.

There's something implacable, earnest, and righteously angry in the air. And it raises all kinds of questions for burned-out Boomers and jaded Gen Xers who've been ground down to the stump by the mostly losing battles of the past 30 years. Can it be -- at long last -- that Americans have, simply, had enough? Are we, finally, stepping out to take back our government -- and with it, control of our own future? Is this simply a shifting political season -- the kind we get every 20-30 years -- or is there something deeper going on here? Do we dare to raise our hopes that this time, we're going to finally win a few? Just how ready is this country for big, serious, forward-looking change?

Recently, I came across a pocket of sociological research that suggested a tantalizing answer to these questions -- and also that America may be far more ready for far more change than anyone really believes is possible at this moment. In fact, according to some sociologists, we've already lined up all the preconditions that have historically set the stage for full-fledged violent revolution.

It turns out that the energy of this moment is not about Hillary or Ron or Obama. It's about who we are, and where we are, and what happens to people's minds when they're left hanging just a little too far past the moment when they're ready for transformative change.

Way back in 1962, Caltech sociologist James C. Davies published an article in the American Sociological Review that summarized the conditions that determine how and when modern political revolutions occur. Intriguingly, Davies cited another scholar, Crane Brinton, who laid out seven "tentative uniformities" that he argued were the common precursors that set the stage for the Puritan, American, French, and Russian revolutions. As I read Davies' argument, it struck me that the same seven stars Brinton named are now precisely lined up at midheaven over America in 2008. Taken together, it's a convergence that creates the perfect social, economic, and political conditions for the biggest revolution since the shot heard 'round the world.

And even more interestingly: in every case, we got here as a direct result of either intended or unintended consequences of the conservatives' war against liberal government, and their attempt to take over our democracy and replace it with a one-party plutocracy. It turns out that, historically, liberal nations are very poor ground for revolution -- but deeply conservative ones very reliably create the conditions that eventually make violent overthrow necessary. And our own Republicans, it turns out, have done a hell of a job.

Here are the seven criteria, along with the reasons why we're fulfilling each of them now, and how conservative policies conspired to put us on the road to possible revolution.

1. Soaring, Then Crashing

Davies notes that revolutions don't happen in traditional societies that are stable and static -- where people have their place, things are as they've always been, and nobody expects any of that to change. Rather, modern revolutions -- particularly the progressive-minded ones in which people emerge from the fray with greater rights and equality -- happen in economically advancing societies, always at the point where a long period of rising living standards and high, hopeful expectations comes to a crashing end, leaving the citizens in an ugly and disgruntled mood. As Davies put it:

"Revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. The all-important effect on the minds of people in a particular society is to produce, during the former period, an expectation of continued ability to satisfy needs -- which continue to rise -- and, during the latter, a mental state of anxiety and frustration when manifest reality breaks away from anticipated reality....

"Political stability and instability are ultimately dependent on a state of mind, a mood, in is the dissatisfied state of mind rather than the tangible provision of 'adequate' or 'inadequate' supplies of food, equality, or liberty which produces the revolution."

The American middle class was built on New Deal investments in education, housing, infrastructure, and health care, which produced a very "prolonged period of objective economic and social development." People were optimistic; generations of growing prosperity raised their expectations that their children would do even better. That era instilled in Americans exactly the kind of hopeful belief in their own agency that primes them to become likely revolutionaries in an era of decline.

And now, thanks to 28 years of conservative misrule, we are now at the point where "manifest reality breaks away from anticipated reality;" and the breach is creating political turbulence. The average American has seen his or her standard of living contract by fits and starts since about 1972. This fall-off that was relieved somewhat by the transition to two-earner households and the economic sunshine of the Clinton years -- but then accelerated with the dot-com crash, followed by seven years of Bush's overt hostility toward the lower 98% of Americans who aren't part of his base. Working-class America is reeling from the mass exodus of manufacturing jobs and the scourge of predatory lending; middle-class America is being hollowed out by health-care bankruptcies, higher college costs, and a tax load far heavier than that of the richest 2%. These people expected to do better than their parents. Now, they're screwed every direction they turn.

In the face of this reversal, Davies tells us, it's not at all surprising that the national mood is turning ominous, from one end of the political spectrum to the other. However, he warns us: this may not be just a passing political storm. In other times and places, this kind of quick decline in a prosperous nation has been a reliable sign of a full-on revolution brewing just ahead.

2. They Call It A Class War

Marx called this one true, says Davies. Progressive modern democracies run on mutual trust between classes and a shared vision of the common good that binds widely disparate groups together. Now, we're also about to re-learn the historical lesson that liberals like flat hierarchies, racial and religious tolerance, and easy class mobility not because we're soft-headed and soft-hearted -- but because, unlike short-sighted conservatives, we understand that tight social cohesion is our most reliable and powerful bulwark against the kinds of revolutions that bring down great economies, nations and cultures.

In all the historical examples Davies and Brinton cite, the stage for revolution was set when the upper classes broke faith with society's other groups, and began to openly prey on them in ways that threatened their very future. Not surprisingly, the other groups soon united, took up arms, and rebelled.

And here we are again: Conservative policies have opened the wealth gap to Depression levels; put workers at the total mercy of their employers; and deprived the working and middle classes of access to education, home ownership, health care, capital, legal redress, and their expectations of a better future for their kids. You can only get away with blaming this on gays and Mexicans for so long before people get wise to the game. And as the primaries are making clear: Americans are getting wise.

Our current plutocratic nobility may soon face the same stark choice its English, French, and Russian predecessors did. They can keep their heads and take proactive steps to close the gap between themselves and the common folk (choosing evolution over revolution, as JFK counsels above). Or they can keep insisting stubbornly on their elite prerogatives, until that gap widens to the point where the revolution comes -- and they will lose their heads entirely.

Right now, all we're asking of our modern-day corporate courtiers is that they accept a tax cut repeal on people making over $200K a year, raise the minimum wage, give us decent health care and the right to unionize, and call a halt to their ridiculous "death tax" boondoggle. In retrospect, their historic forebears might have counseled them to take this deal: their headless ghosts bear testimony to the idea that's it's better to give in and lose a little skin early than dig in and lose your whole hide later on.

3. Deserted Intellectuals

Mere unrest among the working and middle classes, all by itself, isn't enough. Revolutions require leaders -- and those always come from the professional and intellectual classes. In most times and places, these groups (which also include military officers) usually enjoy comfortable ties to the upper classes, and access to a certain level of power. But if those connections become frayed and weak, and the disaffected intellectuals make common cause with the lower classes, revolution becomes almost inevitable.

Davies notes that, compared to both the upper and lower classes, the members of America's upper-middle class were relatively untouched by Great Depression. Because of this, their allegiances to the existing social structure largely remained intact; and he argues that their continued engagement was probably the main factor that allowed America to avert an all-out revolution in the 1930s.

But 2008 is a different story. Both the Boomers (now in their late 40s to early 60s) and Generation X (now in their late 20s to late 40s) were raised in an economically advancing nation that was rich with opportunity and expectation. We spent our childhoods in what were then still the world's best schools; and A students of every class worked hard to position ourselves for what we (and our parents and teachers) expected would be very successful adult careers. We had every reason to believe that, no matter where we started, important leadership roles awaited us in education, government, the media, business, research, and other institutions.

And yet, when we finally graduated and went to work, we found those institutions being sold out from under us to a newly-emerging group of social and economic conservatives who didn't share our broad vision of common decency and the common good (which we'd inherited from the GI and Silent adults who raised us and taught us); and who were often so corrupted or so sociopathic that the working environments they created were simply unendurable. If wealth, prestige, and power came at the price of our principles, we often chose instead to take lower-paying work, live small, and stay true to ourselves.

For too many of us, these thwarted expectations have been the driving arc of our adult lives. But we've never lost the sense that it was a choice that the America we grew up in would never have asked us to make. In Davies' terms, we are "deserted intellectuals" -- a class that is always at extremely high risk for fomenting revolution whenever it appears in history.

Davies says that revolutions catalyze when these deserted intellectuals make common cause with the lower classes. And much of the energy of this election is coming right out of that emerging alliance. The same drive toward corporatization that savaged our dreams also hammered at other class wedges throughout American society, creating conditions that savaged the middle class and ground the working class toward something resembling serfdom. Between our galvanizing frustration with George Bush, our shared fury at the war, and the new connections forged by bloggers and organizers, that alliance has now congealed into the determinedly change-minded movements we're seeing this election cycle.

4. Incompetent Government

As this blog has long argued, conservatives invariably govern badly because they don't really believe that government should exist at all -- except, perhaps, as a way to funnel the peoples' tax money into the pockets of party insiders. This conflicted (if not outright hostile) attitude toward government can't possibly lead to any outcome other than bad management, bad policy, and eventually such horrendously bad social and economic outcomes that people are forced into the streets to hold their leaders to account.

It turns out there's never been a modern revolution that didn't start against a backdrop of atrocious government malfeasance in the face of precipitously declining fortunes. From George III's onerous taxes to Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake," revolutions begin when stubborn aristocrats heap fuel on the fire by blithely disregarding the falling fortunes of their once-prosperous citizens. And America is getting dangerously close to that point now. Between our corporate-owned Congress and the spectacularly bad judgment of Bush's executive branch, there's never been a government in American history more inept, corrupt, and criminally negligent than this one -- or more shockingly out of touch with what the average American is going through. Just ask anyone from New Orleans -- or anyone who has a relative in the military.

Liberal democracy avoids this by building in a fail-safe: if the bastards ignore us, we can always vote them out. But if we've learned anything over the last eight years, it's that our votes don't always count -- especially not when conservatives are doing the counting. If this year's election further confirms the growing conviction that change via the ballot box is futile, we may find a large and disgruntled group of Americans looking to restore government accountability by more direct means.

5. Gutless Wonders in the Ruling Class

Revolution becomes necessary when the ruling classes fail in their duty to lead. Most of the major modern political revolutions occurred at moments when the world was changing rapidly -- and the country's leaders dealt with it by dropping back into denial and clinging defiantly to the old, profitable, and familiar status quo. New technologies, new ideas, and new economic opportunities were emerging; and there came a time when ignoring them was no longer an option. When the leaders failed to step forward boldly to lead their people through the looming and necessary transformations, the people rebelled.

We're hard up against some huge transformative changes now. Global warming and overwhelming pollution are forcing us to reconsider the way we occupy the world, altering our relationship to food, water, air, soil, energy, and each other. The transition off carbon-based fuels and away from non-recyclable goods is going to re-structure our entire economy. Computers are still creating social and business transformations; biotech and nanotech will only accelerate that. More and more people in the industrialized world are feeling a spiritual void, and coming to believe that moving away from consumerism and toward community may be an important step in recovering that nameless thing they've lost.

And, in the teeth of this restless drift toward inevitable change, America has been governed by a bunch of conservative dinosaurs who can't even bring themselves to acknowledge that the 20th century is over. (Some of them, in fact, are still trying to turn back the Enlightenment.) Liberal governments manage this kind of shift by training and subsidizing scientists and planners, funding research, and setting policies that help their nations navigate these transitions with some grace. Conservative ones -- being conservative -- will reflexively try to deny that change is occurring at all, and then brutally suppress anyone with evidence to the contrary.

Which is why, every time our current crop of so-called leaders open their mouths to propose a policy or Explain It All To Us, it's embarrassingly obvious that they don't have the vision, the intelligence, or the courage to face the future that everyone can clearly see bearing down on us, whether we're ready or not. Their persistent cluelessness infuriates us -- and terrifies us. It's all too clear that these people are a waste of our tax money: they will never take us where we need to go. Much of the energy we're seeing in this year's election is due to the fact that a majority of Americans have figured out that our government is leaving us hung out here, completely on our own, to manage huge and inevitable changes with no support or guidance whatsoever.

Historically, this same seething fury at incompetent, unimaginative, cowardly leaders -- and the dawning realization that our survival depends on seizing the lead for ourselves -- has been the spark that's ignited many a violent uprising.

6. Fiscal Irresponsibility

As we've seen, revolutions follow in the wake of national economic reversals. Almost always, these reversals occur when inept and corrupt governments mismanage the national economy to the point of indebtedness, bankruptcy, and currency collapse.

There's a growing consensus on both the left and right that America is now heading into the biggest financial contraction since the Great Depression. And it's one that liberal critics have seen coming for years, as conservatives systematically dismantled the economic foundations of the entire country. Good-paying jobs went offshore. Domestic investments in infrastructure and education were diverted to the war machine. Government oversight of banks and securities was blinded. Vast sections of the economy were sold off to the Saudis for oil, or to the Chinese for cheap consumer goods and money to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.

This is no way to run an economy, unless you're a borrow-and-spend conservative determined to starve the government beast to the point where you can, as Grover Norquist proposed, drag it into the bathtub and drown it entirely. The current recession is the bill come due for 28 years of Republican financial malfeasance. It's also another way in which conservatives themselves have unwittingly set up the historical preconditions for revolution.

7. Inept and Inconsistent Use of Force

The final criterion for revolution is this: The government no longer exercises force in a way that people find fair or consistent. And this can happen in all kinds of ways.

Domestically, there's uneven sentencing, where some people get the maximum and others get cut loose without penalty -- and neither outcome has any connection to the actual circumstances of the crime (though it often correlates all too closely with race, class, and the ability to afford a good lawyer). Unchecked police brutality (tasers, for example) that hardens public perception against the constabulary. Unwarranted police surveillance and legal harassment of law-abiding citizens going about their business. Different kinds of law enforcement for different neighborhoods. The use of government force to silence critics. And let's not forget the unconstitutional restriction of free speech and free assembly rights.

Abroad, there's the misuse of military force, which forces the country to pour its blood and treasure into misadventures that offer no clear advantage for the nation. These misadventures not only reduce the country's international prestige and contribute to economic declines; they often create a class of displaced soldiers who return home with both the skills and the motivation to turn political unrest into a full-fledged shooting war.

This kind of capricious, irrational ineptitude in deploying government force leads to public contempt for the power of the state, and leads the governed to withdraw their consent. And, eventually, it also raises people's determination to stand together to oppose state power. That growing solidarity and fearlessness -- along with the resigned knowledge that equal-opportunity goons will brutalize loyalists and rebels alike, so you might as well be a dead lion rather than a live lamb -- is the final factor that catalyzes ordinary citizens into ready and willing revolutionaries.

* * *

"A revolutionary state of mind requires the continued, even habitual but dynamic expectation of greater opportunity to satisfy basic needs...but the necessary additional ingredient is a persistent, unrelenting threat to the satisfaction of those needs: not a threat which actually returns people to a state of sheer survival but which put them in the mental state where they believe they will not be able to satisfy one or more basic needs....The crucial factor is the vague or specific fear that ground gained over a long period of time will be quickly lost... [This fear] generates when the existing government suppresses or is blamed for suppressing such opportunity."

When Davies wrote that paragraph in 1962, he probably couldn't have imagined how closely it would describe America in 2008. Thirty years of Republican corporatist government have failed us in ways that are not just inept or corrupt, but also have brought us to the same dangerous brink where so many other empires have erupted into violent revolution. The ground we have gained steadily over the course of the entire 20th Century is eroding under our feet. Movement conservatism has destroyed our economic base, declared open war on the middle and working classes, thwarted the aspirations of the intellectual and professional elites, dismantled the basic processes and functions of democracy, failed to prepare us for the future, overseen the collapse of our economy, and misused police and military force so inconsistently that Americans are losing respect for government.

It's not always the case that revolution inevitably emerges wherever these seven conditions occur together, just as not everybody infected with a virus gets sick. But over the past 350 years, almost every major revolution in a modern industrialized country has been preceded by this pattern of seven preconditions. It's fair to say that all those who get sick start out by being exposed to this virus.

Hillary is failing because this is a revolutionary moment -- and she, regrettably, has the misfortune to be too closely identified with the mounting failures of the past that we're now seeking to move beyond. On the other hand, Ron Paul's otherwise inexplicable success has been built on his pointed and very specific critique of the kinds of government leadership failures I've described.

And Obama is walking away with the moment because he talks of "hope" -- which, as Davies makes clear, is the very first thing any would-be revolutionary needs. And then he talks of "change," which many of his followers are clearly hearing as a soft word for "revolution." And then he describes -- not in too much detail -- a different future, and what it means to be a transformative president, and in doing so answers our deep frustration at 30 years of leaders who faced the looming future by turning their heads instead of facing it.

Will he deliver on this promise of change? That remains to be seen. But the success of his presidency, if there is to be one, will likely be measured on how well his policies confront and deal with these seven criteria for revolution. If those preconditions are all still in place in 2012, the fury will have had another four years to rise. And at that point, if history rhymes, mere talk of hope and change will no longer be enough.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Feds decide to hide economic data

Another ominous sign in a season full of ominous signs: the US Department of Commerce will shut down their website,, effective March 01, 2008.

This is the central clearing house that economists and commodities futures traders rely on for various crucial reports, such as Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services, Gross Domestic Product, New Residential Construction; stuff like that.

Apparently, the coming depression is going to be so massive, nobody will give a crap about any of this stuff anyway.

In related news, Mike Whitney has this report on Fed Chair Bernake's recent sitdown with Congress, engagingly titled, Bernanke's State of the Economy Speech: "You are all Dead Ducks."

It doesn't look good, Gentle Readers.

Critical Update: U.S. Credit Markets Collapsing!