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Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Also Created Global Warming’

February 28, 2015
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Best selling author/activist Naomi Klein. (photo: Anya Chibis/Guardian UK)
Best selling author/activist Naomi Klein. (photo: Anya Chibis/Guardian UK)

By Klaus Brinkbaumer, Der Spiegel

28 February 15

 

PIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren’t people able to stop climate change?

Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?

Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History,” the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?

Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You’re an activist, and you’ve blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you’re blaming it for climate change too?

Klein: That’s no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to our first question: Why have people been unable to stop this development?

Klein: We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment. Now we’re out of time. Where we are right now is a do-or-die moment. If we don’t act as a species, our future is in peril. We need to cut emissions radically.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to another question: Are you not misappropriating the issue of climate change for use in your critique of capitalism?

Klein: No. The economic system that we have created has also created global warming. I didn’t make this up. The system is broken, income inequality is too great and the lack of restraint on the part of the energy companies is disastrous.

SPIEGEL: Your son Toma is two-and-a-half years old. What kind of world will he be living in when he graduates from high school in 2030?

Klein: That is what is being decided right now. I see signs that it could be a radically different world from the one we have today — and that change could either be quite positive or extremely negative. In any case, it’s already certain that it will at least in part be a worse world. We’re going to experience global warming and far more natural disasters, that much is certain. But we still have time to prevent truly catastrophic warming. We also have time to change our economic system so that it does not become more brutal and merciless as it deals with climate change.

SPIEGEL: What can be done to improve the situation?

Klein: We have to make some decisions now about what values are important to us and how we really want to live. And of course it makes a difference if temperatures only rise by 2 degrees or if they rise by 4 or 5 degrees or more. It’s still possible for us humans to make the right decisions.

SPIEGEL: Twenty-six years have passed since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded in 1988. We have known at least since then that CO2 emissions from the burning of oil and coal is responsible for climate change. Yet little has been done to address the problem. Haven’t we already failed?

Klein: I view the situation differently given the enormous price we will have to pay. As long as we have the slightest chance of success or to minimize the damage, we have to continue to fight.

SPIEGEL: Several years ago, the international community set a target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Do you still consider that to be achievable?

Klein: Well, it’s still a physical possibility. We would have to immediately reduce global emissions by 6 percent a year. The wealthier countries would have to carry a greater burden, meaning the United States and Europe would have to be cutting emissions by around 8 to 10 percent a year. Immediately. It’s not impossible. It is just profoundly politically unrealistic under our current system.

SPIEGEL: You are saying our societies aren’t capable of doing so?

Klein: Yes. We need a dramatic change both in policy and ideology, because there is a fundamental difference between what the scientists are telling us we need to do and our current political reality. We can’t change the physical reality, so we must change the political reality.

SPIEGEL: Is a society focused on economic growth at all capable of fighting climate change successfully?

Klein: No. An economic model based on indiscriminate growth inevitably leads to greater consumption and to greater CO2 emissions. There can and must be growth in the future in many low carbon parts of the economy: in green technologies, in public transportation, in all the care-giving professions, in the arts and of course in education. Right now, the core of our gross domestic product is comprised of just consumption, imports and exports. We need to make cuts there. Anything else would be self-deception.

SPIEGEL: The International Monetary Fund makes the opposite claim. It says that economic growth and climate protection are not mutually exclusive.

Klein: They’re not looking at the same numbers as I am. The first problem is that at all these climate conferences, everyone acts as if we will arrive at our goal through self-commitments and voluntary obligations. No one tells the oil companies that, in the end, they are really going to have to give up. The second problem is that these oil companies are going to fight like hell to protect what they don’t want to lose.

SPIEGEL: You seriously want to eliminate the free market in order to save the climate?

Klein: I am not talking about eliminating markets, but we need much more strategy, steering and planning and a very different balance. The system in which we live is overly obsessed with growth — it’s one that sees all growth as good. But there are kinds of growth that are clearly not good. It’s clear to me that my position is in direct conflict with neo-liberalism. Is it true that in Germany, although you have accelerated the shift to renewables, coal consumption is actually increasing?

SPIEGEL: That was true from 2009 to 2013.

Klein: To me that is an expression of this reluctance to decide on what is necessary. Germany is not going to meet its emissions targets in the coming years either.

SPIEGEL: Is the Obama presidency the worst thing that could have happened to the climate?

Klein: In a way. Not because Obama is worse than a Republican. He’s not. But because these eight years were the biggest wasted opportunity of our lives. The right factors came together in a truly historic convergence: awareness, urgency, the mood, his political majority, the failure of the Big Three US automakers and even the possibility of addressing the failed unregulated financial world and climate change at the same time. But when he came to office, he didn’t have the courage to do it. We will not win this battle unless we are willing to talk about why Obama viewed the fact that he had control over the banks and auto companies as more of a burden than as an opportunity. He was a prisoner of the system. He didn’t want to change it.

SPIEGEL: The US and China finally agreed on an initial climate deal in 2014.

Klein: Which is, of course, a good thing. But anything in the deal that could become painful won’t come into effect until Obama is out of office. Still, what has changed is that Obama said: “Our citizens are marching. We can’t ignore that.” The mass movements are important; they are having an impact. But to push our leaders to where they need to go, they need to grow even stronger.

SPIEGEL: What should their goal be?

Klein: Over the past 20 years, the extreme right, the complete freedom of oil companies and the freedom of the super wealthy 1 percent of society have become the political standard. We need to shift America’s political center from the right fringe back to where it belongs, the real center.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, that’s nonsense, because it’s illusory. You’re thinking far too broadly. If you want to first eliminate capitalism before coming up with a plan to save the climate, you know yourself that this won’t happen.

Klein: Look, if you want to get depressed, there are plenty of reasons to do so. But you’re still wrong, because the fact is that focusing on supposedly achievable incremental changes light carbon trading and changing light bulbs has failed miserably. Part of that is because in most countries, the environmental movement remained elite, technocratic and supposedly politically neutral for two-and-a-half decades. We are seeing the result of this today: It has taken us in the wrong direction. Emissions are rising and climate change is here. Second, in the US, all the major legal and social transformations of the last 150 years were a consequence of mass social movements, be they for women, against slavery or for civil rights. We need this strength again, and quickly, because the cause of climate change is the political and economic system itself. The approach that you have is too technocratic and small.

SPIEGEL: If you attempt to solve a specific problem by overturning the entire societal order, you won’t solve it. That’s a utopian fantasy.

Klein: Not if societal order is the root of the problem. Viewed from another perspective, we’re literally swimming in examples of small solutions: There are green technologies, local laws, bilateral treaties and CO2 taxation. Why don’t we have all that at a global level?

SPIEGEL: You’re saying that all the small steps — green technologies and CO2 taxation and the eco-behavior of individuals — are meaningless?

Klein: No. We should all do what we can, of course. But we can’t delude ourselves that it’s enough. What I’m saying is that the small steps will remain too small if they don’t become a mass movement. We need an economic and political transformation, one based on stronger communities, sustainable jobs, greater regulation and a departure from this obsession with growth. That’s the good news. We have a real opportunity to solve many problems at once.

SPIEGEL: You don’t appear to be counting on the collective reason of politicians and entrepreneurs.

Klein: Because the system can’t think. The system rewards short-term gain, meaning quick profits. Take Michael Bloomberg, for example …

SPIEGEL: … the businessman and former New York City mayor …

Klein: … who understood the depths of the climate crisis as a politician. As a businessman, however, he chooses to invest in a fund that specializes in oil and gas assets. If a person like Bloomberg cannot resist the temptation, then you can assume that the system’s self-preservation capacity isn’t that great.

SPIEGEL: A particularly unsettling chapter in your book is about Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group.

Klein: Yes. I wouldn’t have expected it.

SPIEGEL: Branson has sought to portray himself as a man who wants to save the climate. It all started after an encounter with Al Gore.

Klein: And in 2006, he pledged at an event hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative that he would invest $3 billion in research into green technologies. At the time, I thought it was truly a sensational contribution. I didn’t think, oh, you cynical bastard.

SPIEGEL: But Branson was really just staging it and only a fraction of that money was ever spent.

Klein: He may well have been sincere at the time, but yes, only a fraction was spent.

SPIEGEL: Since 2006, Branson has added 160 new airplanes to his numerous airlines and increased his emissions by 40 percent.

Klein: Yes.

SPIEGEL: What is there to learn from this story?

Klein: That we need to question the symbolism and gestures made by Hollywood stars and the super rich. We cannot confuse them with a scientifically sound plan to reduce emissions.

SPIEGEL: In America and Australia, a lot of money is spent on efforts to deny climate change. Why?

Klein: It’s different from Europe. It’s an anger that is similar to that held by those who oppose abortion and gun control. It’s not only that they are protecting a way of life they don’t want to change. It’s that they understand that climate change challenges their core anti-government, free-market belief system. So they have to deny it to protect their very identity. That’s why there’s this intensity gap: Liberals want to take a little bit of action on climate protection. But at the same time, these liberals also have a number of other issues that are higher on their agenda. But we have to understand that the hardcore conservative climate change deniers will do everything in their power to prevent action.

SPIEGEL: With pseudo-scientific studies and disinformation?

Klein: With all of that, of course.

SPIEGEL: Does that explain why you are connecting all of these issues — the environment, equity, public health and labor issues — that are popular on the left? Is it out of purely strategic considerations?

Klein: The issues are connected, and we also need to connect them in the debate. There is only one way that you can win a battle against a small group of people who stand to lose a lot: You need to start a mass movement that includes all the people who have a lot to gain. The deniers can only be defeated if you are just as passionate as them, but also when you are superior in numbers. Because the truth is that they really are very few.

SPIEGEL: Why don’t you believe that technology has the potential to save us?

Klein: There has been tremendous progress in the storage of renewable energies, for instance, and in solar efficiency. But climate change? I, in any case, don’t have enough faith to say, “We’ll come up with some invention at some point, so let’s just drop all other efforts.” That would be insane.

SPIEGEL: People like Bill Gates view things differently.

Klein: And I find their technology fetish naïve. In recent years, we’ve witnessed some really big failures where some of the smartest guys in the room screwed up on a massive scale, be it with the derivatives that triggered the financial crisis or the oil catastrophe off the coast of New Orleans. Mostly, we as people break things and we don’t know how to fix them afterwards. Right now, it’s our planet that we’re breaking.

SPIEGEL: Listening to you, one might get the impression that the climate crisis is a gender issue.

Klein: Why would you say that?

SPIEGEL: Bill Gates says we need to keep moving forward and come up with new inventions to get the problem, and ultimately our complicated Earth, under control. You on the other hand are saying: Stop, no, we have to adapt ourselves to this planet and become softer. The US oil companies are run by men. And you, as a critical woman, are described as hysterical. It’s not an absurd thought, is it?

Klein: No. The entire industrialization was about power or whether it would be man or nature that would dominate Earth. It is difficult for some men to admit that we don’t have everything under control; that we have amassed all this CO2 over the centuries and that Earth is now telling us: Well, you’re just a guest in my house.

SPIEGEL: A guest of Mother Earth?

Klein: That’s too cheesy. But you’re still right. The oil industry is a male-dominated world, a lot like high finance. It’s very macho. The American and Australian idea of “discovering” an endless country and that endless resources can be extracted is a narrative of domination, one that traditionally casts nature as a weak, prone woman. And the idea of being in a relationship of interdependence with the rest of the natural world was seen as weak. That’s why it is doubly difficult for alpha men to concede that they have been wrong.

SPIEGEL: There’s one issue in the book that you seem to steer clear of. Although you revile the companies, you never say that your readers, who are customers of these companies, are also culpable. You also remain silent about the price that individual readers will have to pay for climate protection.

Klein: Oh, I think that most people would be happy to pay for it. They know that climate protection requires reasonable behavior: less driving, less flying and less consumption. They would be happy to use renewable energies if they were offered them.

SPIEGEL: But the idea isn’t big enough, right?

Klein: (laughs) Exactly. The green movement spent decades educating people that they should compost their garbage, that they should recycle and that they should ride their bikes. But look at what has happened to the climate during these decades.

SPIEGEL: Is the lifestyle you lead climate-friendly?

Klein: Not enough. I bike, I use transit, I try to give speeches by Skype, I share a hybrid car and I cut my flying to about one-tenth of what it was before I started this project. My sin is taking taxis, and since the book came out, I’ve been flying too much. But I also don’t think that only people who are perfectly green and live CO2-free should be allowed to talk about this issue. If that were the case, then nobody would be able to say anything at all.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, we thank you for this interview.

 

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One in Three Germans Say Capitalism to Blame for Poverty, Hunger

February 26, 2015

Woman during anti-capitalism protests in Germany with euro on her face. (photo: photos50.blogspot.com)
Woman during anti-capitalism protests in Germany with euro on her face. (photo: photos50.blogspot.com)

By Reuters

26 February 15

 

early a third of Germans believe that capitalism is the cause of poverty and hunger and a majority think true democracy is not possible under that economic system, according to a survey published on Tuesday by the Emnid polling institute for Berlin’s Free University.

The poll of 1,400 people found that 59 percent of Germans in the formerly communist east consider communist and socialist ideals a good idea for society. In western Germany, 37 percent said they considered communist and socialist ideals to be good.

The radical Left party in Germany remains strong in the formerly communist East, a quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell, paving the way for German unification in 1990.

The survey found that more than 60 percent of Germans believe there is no genuine democracy in their country because industry has too much political influence and that the voice of the voters plays only a subordinate role.

Davos and the crisis of internatiional capitalism

February 5, 2015
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From flickr.com/photos/70981241@N00/16154727648/: Helipad Stilli Davos - WEF 2015
Helipad Stilli Davos – WEF 2015
(image by Kecko)

It’s Wednesday, Jan. 21, first day of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the posh mile-high ski resort in Davos, Switzerland. 1500 executives of the world’s largest corporations have descended from the sky on private jets to network with each other and 40 heads of state. They can also mix with specially invited celebrities, academics and NGO representatives.Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s Founder and Executive Chairman, wants the capitalist elite to assemble and talk about pressing global issues affecting the well-being of humanity world-wide. Speakers and seminars will address such issues as climate change, political instability and economic inequality, problems affecting multinational corporations operating around the globe.

To get solutions to such giant problems, Schwab believes, you need to engage the real powers of this world–multinational corporations rather than governments whose interests are limited by national borders. As he puts it , “The sovereign state has become obsolete… [we need] a ‘global issue alliance.'” Real power in the capitalist world order rests with multinational corporations, 37 of which have revenues that place them in the top 100 economies .

For the most part, the 63 nations in the top 100 list are oligarchies dominated by politically active billionaires whose fortunes are tied up with multinational corporations. The United States and China, the two biggest economies, demonstrate the political flexibility of capitalist oligarchy.

In an interview with Bloomberg News at Davos, prominent economist Nouriel Roubini had this to say about American ‘democracy': “In the US we have a system of legalized corruption if you think about it. K Street and the lobbying affect legislation with the money they give the politician. . . . So it’s not a true democracy, it’s a plutocracy.” He should have added that politicians are subservient because they depend on the super-rich to fund their election campaigns.

At the other end of the capitalist spectrum, China’s Communist Party dispenses with the trappings of Western democracy. As John Chan of the World Socialist Web Site reported : “The corporate empires now controlled by leading figures in the “communist party” are as big, if not bigger, than those appropriated by their Stalinist counterparts in Russia after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991.” As the Shanghai Daily boastedlast year, the number of billionaires in the world grew by 28% to 1867, and “The US and China headed the list, with 481 and 358 dollar billionaires respectively.”

The capitalist nobility at Davos will hear from Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, that the global 1% are likely to control more than half of the world’s total wealth in 2016. Moreover, “The 80 wealthiest people in the world altogether own $1.9 trillion, [Oxfam’s] report found, nearly the same amount shared by the 3.5 billion people who occupy the bottom half of the world’s income scale” ( NYT 1/19/15 ). Will the very people whose political activity has brought about extreme inequality want to do something to reverse this dangerous trend?

At the Conference On Inclusive Capitalism in London last May, Christine Lagarde, director of the International Monetary Fund, put this question to the super-rich audience: “Is ‘inclusive capitalism’ an oxymoron?” Capitalism, she said, will not survive unless it brings “rewards for all within a market economy.”

The alternative, Lagarde suggested, is the fulfilment of Marx’s prediction that capitalism “carried the seeds of its own destruction, the accumulation of capital in the hands of a few, mostly focused on the accumulation of profits, leading to major conflicts, and cyclical crises.”

Lagarde’s tone was cautiously optimistic about restoring the legitimacy of capitalism. She answered her own question by saying that a more sustainable, democratic and inclusive capitalism “is not an oxymoron, [but] it is not intuitive either.” There is no guarantee that the rising tide of capital will lift anything except yachts.

South Africa is a vivid illustration of the overwhelming power of international capital. Nelson Mandela’s televised release from prison on Feb. 11, 1990 inspired the whole world. After 27 years of imprisonment by the Apartheid regime in South Africa, he walked between admiring throngs, with clenched fist upraised, seemingly unbowed and uncompromising.

However, after attending the 1992 WEF in Davos, he told his party, the African National Congress, that it must abandon its goal of nationalizing big industries in order to afford programs that would relieve the crushing poverty of black South Africans under Apartheid. He had learned at Davos that nationalization would drive away the capital needed to run the economy.

During his presidency (1994-99), Mandela’s business-friendly policies attracted vast amounts of outside capital, and the South African economy has been since then the fastest growing in Africa. But it is the very opposite of what Christine Lagarde meant by “inclusive.”

As Jim Irvin, leader of South Africa’s largest union, said in 2013: “There is still a war between capital and labour. Nothing has changed. During the struggle, workers fought for a living wage, but the apartheid wage gap is still there.”

Optimism, anyone?

 

I’m a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. I also am a regular columnist for our local paper, The Danville Advocate-Messenger, as well as the Lexington Herald-Leader. My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically about the Future (more…)

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Can Capitalism Save Itself?

January 29, 2015

Lady de Rothschild hosted the ‘Conference on Inclusive Capitalism’ in London last year. (Photo: Rex)

Today’s pop quiz involves oxymorons, those often amusing contradictory two-word expressions like jumbo shrimp, amicable divorce and Fox News. Okay, which of the following oxymorons have gained favor within the higher ranks of finance and politics: a.) Moderated democracy b.) Humanitarian intervention c.) Benevolent despot d.) Inclusive capitalism e.) Compassionate conservatism. If you guessed d.) Inclusive capitalism, you’re correct.

Sadly, the laugh out loud, beyond satire nature of this new buzz phrase is totally lost on those disseminating it with a straight face. This was the case last May when 250 of the world’s titans of finance and business attended a by-invitation-only summit on “Inclusive Capitalism,” held appropriately at an 800 year-old castle in London, England. The attendees represented $30 trillion in assets, fully one-third of the world’s total investable assets.

Hosted by Rothschild banking dynasty heiress, Lady Lynn Foester de Rothschild, the movers and shakers heard keynotes from International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Legard, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Harvard President and U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and His Royal Highness Prince Charles.

Lady Rothschild voiced the gathering’s purpose by stating that “…it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one society’s problems. And that is where we are today.” Paul Polman, Univeler’s CEO, worried about “the capitalist threat to capitalism,” while conference Alan Mendoza openly fretted that “…we felt such was public disgust with the system, there was a very real danger that politicians could seek to remedy the situation by legislating capitalism out of business.”

The participants were spooked by a thoroughly disillusioned public that has lost confidence in capitalism. When combined with people’s rampant distrust of government – seen the coddler of corrupt bankers – elite squirming is well-founded. Further, many people believe that because government only responds to lobbyists from the financial sector, it’s now an open question whether capitalism and democracy are compatible. Dr. Nafeez Ahmed,writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, detected “an undercurrent of elite fear” about how several decades of capitalist indifference towards most of the world population might play out.

For well documented reasons, ordinary working people have lost faith in capitalism’s implicit promise of upward mobility and sharing in the prosperity and benefits of society’s advance. By contrast, we learn from Oxfam’s recent report that the 80 richest people (85 last year) on the planet — 0.000001 percent of the global population — now have a collective net worth of $1.9 trillion. Their wealth, which doubled between 2009 and 2014, is equal to that shared by 3.5 billion people at the bottom of the world’s income scale. For perspective, the average wealth per head among the 80 individuals is $23.7 billion compared to $540 for the bottom 3.5 billion people. (Parenthetically, 571 of the world’s 1,645 billionaires are citizens of the United States).

How will this play out? According to Ahmed, the London Summit “represented less a meaningful shift of direction than a barely transparent effort to rehabilitate a parasitic economic system on the brink of facing a global disaster.” For the most part Inclusive Capitalism is a carefully calibrated PR gambit in the service of self-preservation. The ruling groups must convey the image of a chastened system now intent on “including” those previously left out. We’ll be hearing more about financial regulation, profit-sharing, curbing CEO pay, helping the “middle class” and various Neo-New Deal (minus the Deal) bromides.

The challenge for panicky plutocrats and their wholly-owned politicians is to convince the 99.0% that capitalism is the answer, not the problem. And they must accomplish this cosmetic fine-tuning without endangering profits and wealth accumulation. To expect the uber-rich to voluntarily alter the system’s fundamentals is to entertain a perilous naiveté.

My take is that barring significant public agitation from below, a system in which government is merely an appendage of our corporate overloads is not outside the realm of capitalist responses. Calling that system neofascism will offend some readers so for now let’s label it a hybrid American totalitarianism. Hopefully that’s another oxymoron.

Gary Olson, Ph.D. Is chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. Contact: olsong@moravian.edu

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Trickle-Down Was Nothing More Than the Politics of Helping the Rich and Powerful Get Richer and More Powerful

January 22, 2015

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: Getty Images)
Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: Getty Images)

By Elizabeth Warren, Reader Supported News

21 January 15

 

oday, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke at the AFL-CIO National Summit on Raising Wages. The text of Senator Warren’s remarks as prepared for delivery follows, and a PDF copy of her remarks is available here:

Good morning, and thank you MaryBe for the introduction, and for your work with the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Your efforts make a real difference for our families.

I want to start by thanking Rich Trumka and Damon Silvers for your leadership on economic issues, for your good counsel, and, for a long time now, your friendship. I also want to give special thanks to my good friends from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO who are here today, Steve Tolman and Lou Mandarini.

I love being with my labor friends, and I’m especially glad to join you today for the AFL’s first-ever National Summit on Wages. You follow in the best tradition of the American labor movement for more than a century-always fighting for working people, both union and non-union. Today you’ve spotlighted an economic issue that is central to understanding what’s happening to people all over this country.

I recently read an article in Politico called “Everything is Awesome.” The article detailed the good news about the economy: 5% GDP growth in the third quarter of 2014, unemployment under 6%, a new all-time high for the Dow, low inflation.(i)

Despite the headline, the author recognized that not everything is awesome, but his point has been repeated several times: On many different statistical measures, the economy has improved and is continuing to improve. I think the President and his team deserve credit for the steps they’ve taken to get us here. In particular, job growth is a big deal, and we celebrate it.

I’ve spent most of my career studying what’s happening to America’s middle class, and I know that these four widely-cited statistics give an important snapshot of the success of the overall economy. But the overall picture doesn’t tell us much about what’s happening at ground level to tens of millions of Americans. Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.

Think about it this way: The stock market is soaring, and that’s great if you have a pension or money in a mutual fund. But if you and your husband or wife are both working full time, with kids in school, and you are among the half or so of all Americans who don’t have any money in stocks,(ii) how does a booming stock market help you?

Corporate profits(iii) and GDP are up. But if you work at Walmart, and you are paid so little that you still need food stamps to put groceries on the table, what does more money in stockholders’ pockets and an uptick in GDP do for you?

Unemployment numbers are dropping. But if you’ve got a part-time job and still can’t find full-time work — or if you’ve just given up because you can’t find a good job to replace the one you had — you are counted as part of that drop in unemployment,(iv) but how much is your economic situation improving?

Inflation rates are still low. But if you are young and starting out life with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt locked into high interest rates by Congress, unable to find a good job or save to buy a house, how are you benefiting from low inflation?

A lot of broad national economic statistics say our economy is getting better, and it is true that the economy overall is recovering from the terrible crash of 2008. But there have been deep structural changes in this economy, changes that have gone on for more than thirty years, changes that have cut out hard-working, middle class families from sharing in this overall growth.

It wasn’t always this way.

Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class unlike anything seen on earth. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, as GDP went up, wages went up pretty much across the board. In fact, 90% of all workers-everyone outside the top 10%-got about 70% of all the new income growth.(v) Sure, the richest 10% gobbled up more than their share-they got 30%. But overall, as the economic pie got bigger, pretty much everyone was getting a little more. In other words, as our country got richer, our families got richer. And as our families got richer, our country got richer. That was how this country built a great middle class.

But then things changed.

By 1980, wages had flattened out, while expenses kept going up. The squeeze was terrible. In the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much, adjusted for inflation, on mortgages as they had a generation earlier. They spent more on health insurance, and more to send their kids to college. Mom and dad both went to work, but that meant new expenses like childcare, higher taxes, and the costs of a second car. All over the country, people tightened their belts where they could, but it still hasn’t been enough to save them. Families have gone deep into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, or just to stay afloat a while longer.(vi) And today’s young adults may be the first generation in American history to end up, as a group, with less than their parents.(vii)

Remember how up until 1980, 90% of all people-middle class, working people, poor people-got about 70% of all the new income that was created in the economy and the top 10% took the rest? Since 1980, guess how much of the growth in income the 90% got? Nothing. None. Zero. In fact, it’s worse than that. The average family not in the top 10% makes less money than a generation ago.(viii) So who got the increase in income over the last 32 years? 100% of it went to the top ten percent. All of the new money earned in this economy over the past generation-all that growth in the GDP-went to the top.(ix) All of it.

That is a huge structural change. When I look at the data here – and this includes years of research I conducted myself – I see evidence everywhere about the pounding that working people are taking. Instead of building an economy for all Americans, for the past generation this country has grown an economy that works for some Americans. For tens of millions of working families who are the backbone of this country, this economy isn’t working. These families are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead. Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them – and they are right. The game is rigged against them.

Since the 1980s, too many of the people running this country have followed one form or another of supply side – or trickle down – economic theory. Many in Washington still support it. When all the varnish is removed, trickle-down just means helping the biggest corporations and the richest people in this country, and claiming that those big corporations and rich people could be counted to create an economy that would work for everyone else.

Trickle-down was popular with big corporations and their lobbyists, but it never really made much sense. George Bush Sr. called it voodoo economics.(x) He was right, and let’s call it out for what it is: Trickle-down was nothing more than the politics of helping the rich-and-powerful get richer and more powerful, and it cut the legs out from under America’s middle class.

Trickle-down policies are pretty simple. First, fire the cops-not the cops on Main Street, but the cops on Wall Street. Pretty much the whole Republican Party – and, if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats – talked about the evils of “big government” and called for deregulation. It sounded good, but it was really about tying the hands of regulators and turning loose big banks and giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do-turning them loose to rig the markets and reduce competition, to outsource more jobs, to load up on more risks and hide behind taxpayer guarantees, to sell more mortgages and credit cards that cheated people. In short, to do whatever juiced short term profits even if it came at the expense of working families.

Trickle down was also about cutting taxes for those at the top. Cut them when times are good, cut them when times are bad. And when that meant there was less money for road repairs, less money for medical research, and less money for schools and that our government would need to squeeze kids on student loans, then so be it. And look at the results: The top 10% got ALL the growth in income over the past 30 years-ALL of it-and the economy stopped working for everyone else.

The trickle-down experiment that began in the Reagan years failed America’s middle class. Sure, the rich are doing great. Giant corporations are doing great. Lobbyists are doing great. But we need an economy where everyone else who works hard gets a shot at doing great!

The world has changed beneath the feet of America’s working families. Powerful forces like globalization and technology are creating seismic shifts that are disrupting our economy, altering employment patterns, and putting new stresses on old structures. Those changes could create new opportunities-or they could sweep away the last vestiges of economic security for 90% of American workers. Those changes demand new and different economic policies from our federal government. But too many politicians have looked the other way. Instead of running government to expand opportunity for 90% of Americans and to shore up security in an increasingly uncertain world, instead of re-thinking economic policy to deal with tough new realities, for more than 30 years, Washington has far too often advanced policies that hammer America’s middle class even harder.

Look at the choices Washington has made, the choices that have left America’s middle class in a deep hole:

  • the choice to leash up the financial cops,
  • the choice in a recession to bail out the biggest banks with no strings attached while families suffered,
  • the choice to starve our schools and burden our kids with billions of dollars of student loan debt while cutting taxes for billionaires,
  • the choice to spend your tax dollars to subsidize Big Oil instead of putting that money into rebuilding our roads and bridges and power grids,
  • the choice to look the other way when employers quit paying overtime, reclassified workers as independent contractors and just plain old stole people’s wages,
  • the choice to sign trade pacts and tax deals that let subsidized manufacturers around the globe sell here in America while good American jobs get shipped overseas.

For more than thirty years, too many politicians in Washington have made deliberate choices that favored those with money and power. And the consequence is that instead of an economy that works well for everyone, America now has an economy that works well for about 10% of the people.

It wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make new choices – different choices – choices that put working people first, choices that aim toward a better future for our children, choices that reflect our deepest values as Americans.

One way to make change is to talk honestly and directly about work, about how we value the work that people do every day. We need to talk about what we believe:

  • We believe that no one should work full time and still live in poverty – and that means raising the minimum wage.
  • We believe workers have a right to come together, to bargain together and to rebuild America’s middle class.
  • We believe in enforcing labor laws, so that workers get overtime pay and pensions that are fully funded.
  • We believe in equal pay for equal work.
  • We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.

We also need a hard conversation about how we create jobs here in America. We need to talk about how to build a future. So let’s say what we believe:

  • We believe in making investments – in roads and bridges and power grids, in education, in research – investments that create good jobs in the short run and help us build new opportunities over the long run.
  • And we believe in paying for them-not with magical accounting scams that pretend to cut taxes and raise revenue, but with real, honest-to-goodness changes that make sure that we pay-and corporations pay-a fair share to build a future for all of us.
  • We believe in trade policies and tax codes that will strengthen our economy, raise our living standards, and create American jobs – and we will never give up on those three words: Made in America.

And one more point. If we’re ever going to un-rig the system, then we need to make some important political changes. And here’s where we start:

  • We know that democracy doesn’t work when congressmen and regulators bow down to Wall Street’s political power – and that means it’s time to break up the Wall Street banks and remind politicians that they don’t work for the big banks, they work for US!

Changes like this aren’t easy. But we know they are possible. We know they are possible because we have seen David beat Goliath before. We have seen lobbyists lose. We’ve seen it all through our history. We saw it when we created the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when we passed health care reform. We saw it when President Obama took important steps to try and reform our immigration system through executive order just weeks ago. Change is difficult, but it is possible.

This is personal for me. When I was 12, my big brothers were all off in the military. My mother was 50 years old, a stay at home mom. My daddy had a heart attack, and it turned our little family upside down. The bills piled up. We lost the family station wagon, and we nearly lost our home. I remember the day my mother, scared to death and crying the whole time, pulled her best dress out of the closet, put on her high heels and walked to the Sears to get a minimum wage job. Unlike today, a minimum wage job back then paid enough to support a family of three. That minimum wage job saved our home-and saved our family.

My daddy ended up as a maintenance man, and my mom kept working at Sears. I made it through a commuter college that cost $50 a semester and I ended up in the United States Senate. Sure, I worked hard, but I grew up in an America that invested in kids like me, an America that built opportunities for kids to compete in a changing world, an America where a janitor’s kid could become a United States Senator. I believe in that America.

I believe in an America that builds opportunities. An America that ensures that all hardworking men and women earn good wages. An America that once again grows a strong, vibrant middle class.

I believe in that America, and I will fight for that America! And if we fight-side-by-side-I know we will build that America again.


Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

Republicans and Wall Street Say, ‘To Hell With Protecting the Public!’

January 22, 2015

Posted: 01/20/2015 11:22 am EST Updated: 01/20/2015 5:59 pm EST

Since December, Congress has twice passed measures to weaken regulations in the Dodd-Frank financial law that are intended to reduce the risk of another financial meltdown.

In the last election cycle, Wall Street banks and financial interests spent over $1.2 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions, according toAmericans for Financial Reform. Their spending strategy appears to be working. Just this week, the House passed further legislation that would delay by two years some key provisions of Dodd-Frank.

“[Banks] want to be able to do things their way, and that’s very dangerous,” MIT economist Simon Johnson tells me.

“‘Here we go again’ — I think that’s exactly the motto, or the bumper sticker, for this Congress. It’s crazy, it’s unconscionable, but that is the reality.”

Lawmakers are pinning these provisions to Dodd-Frank onto bigger must-pass bills like spending measures that the president doesn’t dare veto.

Bill Moyers: The safeguards that Congress is tearing down, even as we speak, were put in place after the financial disaster of 2008 to prevent another one like it from happening. Why do you think the Republicans are trying to sabotage them?

Simon Johnson: It’s mostly the lobby, specifically a few very large banks that don’t like those restrictions on their activities. They want to be able to take more risk. They’re not worried of course about how that could negatively impact the rest of us, and they’ve persuaded the Republicans to help them in that quest.

Moyers: Are they putting depositors and taxpayers at risk?

Johnson: Yes, absolutely. That’s the core of the reforms: Try and make sure — and it’s hard — that part of the financial system is safe; that depositors are safe; that the taxpayers, as the ultimate backstop for deposits, are safe; and of course, try and make sure that you don’t have a huge crisis that affects the broader economy with millions of people being thrown out of work. That’s the goal. And JPMorgan, Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo don’t like that. They want to be able to do things their way, and that’s very dangerous.

Moyers: Aren’t these the same banks that nearly broke the economy in 2008 and helped to destroy millions of jobs and households?

Johnson: They were at the center of what happened. Citigroup, for example, went spectacularly wrong. Parts of Bank of America were in big trouble. In 2008 and 2009, JPMorgan Chase was relatively okay, but they’ve gotten themselves into lots of trouble subsequently, with big trading losses, the so-called London Whale problem, and by fixing interest rates, and accusations of fixing exchange rates and other kinds of market manipulation. So all of these very big financial institutions are potential trouble.

Moyers: But we put these rules in place to reduce the risk of their reckless gambling with our money, and here we go again, it seems.

Johnson: “Here we go again” — I think that’s exactly the motto, or the bumper sticker, for this Congress. It’s crazy, it’s unconscionable, but that is the reality.

Moyers: What do you make of the fact that the tea party opposed those bank bailouts back in 2008 when George W. Bush was pushing for them, and the tea party helped Republicans win control of Congress last fall, and here the tea party is silent as their party turns into Wall Street’s puppet?

Johnson: I’ve always been puzzled and frustrated by this. When I talk to people on the right, more libertarian people, people who don’t like government, intellectuals, they get this. They would be able to participate in this conversation with you and me, and we’d be getting on just fine. The problem is when you get to the political right, they don’t want to get involved. They don’t want to touch this. They don’t even want to talk about it. It has exactly the irony that you just put your finger on, which is that people on the right who rose up against government bailouts –and with some justification — are now supporting the repeal of some of the safeguards that were put in place to prevent any such bailouts in the future. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the political reality.

Moyers: In my research, I couldn’t find any evidence that Republican candidates, or Democrats for that matter, asked voters last November if they wanted to let the wolves of Wall Street loose again. Do you remember any indication that there was a mandate in the election to turn the country over to the big banks again?

Johnson: I’m assuming that certainly no one made that proposal. What’s interesting is how few candidates, including on the left, mention the threat of Wall Street or mention these dangers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who wasn’t up for election in November but did a lot of campaigning for other people, is one of the very few leading national-level politicians who talks about this. She says, “It’s the Wall Street problems that gave us the massive crisis, the deep recession, the budget problems and the austerity. So first and foremost, make sure that Wall Street can’t do it again.” But it’s really interesting how few politicians are willing to explain that the deregulation of Wall Street led to the 2008 financial crisis, which caused the budget to worsen and austerity to take center stage.

Moyers: Why?

Johnson: I don’t know. I think it’s the lobby and the political contributions. A lot of money flows from the big banks into the House Financial Services Committee, for example, and more broadly. But when I talk to community bankers — and I want to emphasize this — they are absolutely on the same side.

Moyers: And by community bankers, you mean?

Johnson: The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA).

Moyers: But these are not the big banks, right?

Johnson: No, they’re small town banks. They lend to the real economy. The ICBA represents 6,500 community banks. They don’t do derivatives trading and other kinds of crazy stuff. But they got hammered in the financial crisis and they’ve struggled in the recession and in the low-interest rate environment. They really fear and are very articulate against the “too big to fail” crowd.

Moyers: The first target right now in Congress is the Volcker rule, and the Republicans, and some Democrats who are joining in, or at least are compliant, they say they’re only making technical corrections to the Volcker rule. Do you believe them?

Johnson: Absolutely not. That’s just a smokescreen. We should remind everyone that the first thing they wanted they already got, the repeal of Section 716, which pushed derivatives away from the insured bank part of their financial empires. They got that in December.

Moyers: They tacked it onto the omnibus spending bill, and Obama and Jamie Dimon lobbied for Congress to vote for it.

Johnson: Yes, but only one of those gentlemen, President Obama, had to sign the legislation that made it go through. Previously, the White House had pushed back and said, “No, we’re not doing Dodd-Frank repeal through this sneaky spending bill business.” But in December, they dropped that. So now the lobbyists are exploring all possible ways they can take this forward, including “technical fixes” to Dodd-Frank that are not technical fixes. They are undermining the substance, reducing the effectiveness and putting more pressure on the regulators not to do their jobs. It’s back to business as usual, pre-2008.

Moyers: As you indicate, their strategy is to pin these provisions on bigger bills that the president doesn’t dare veto. So they get an unpopular result in an undemocratic way. What does that tell you?

Johnson: I think it tells you that democracy is basically broken. But on a slightly more optimistic note, I would say that when and if the White House fights, it can win. For example, the White House has steadfastly refused to allow amendments to the Affordable Care Act to be snuck through on spending bills, and they will hold the line on that, and the Republicans know that the White House will fight them publicly every inch of the way. Ultimately they’ll win that debate because they’ll say, “Look, you want to shut down the government to make these crazy changes to a program that’s working, the Affordable Care Act?” Republicans are not going to win that. But Dodd-Frank is different because on Dodd-Frank, the administration signaled in December that the store is open and they’re willing to give things away, or sell them relatively cheaply. They’ve created a very target-rich environment for the Republicans and for the lobby.

Moyers: I know you’re not an insider in the White House, but you’re read widely in Washington. What’s your understanding of why the president in effect said the shop is open?

Johnson: I think that he’s been poorly advised on this for a long time. I think that the people around him have a very generous view of these big Wall Street players and think somehow that the country — and the economy — needs the “too big to fail” crowd, with their fundamentally anti-social behavior. I think they’re wrong. There’s a Wall Street view of the world — and I’m paraphrasing Elizabeth Warren here — which has taken over and dominated the Treasury for a long time. That remains a problem and that remains a real weakness of this administration.

Moyers: What’s the Main Street view of the world that collides with this?

Johnson: The Main Street view is exactly the community banking view of the world, which is we have families and businesses. They need credit, they need financing, and we serve as an intermediate between savings and responsible borrowers. It has some risks, but they’re manageable, and we’ve had a system for a long time that generated growth and created opportunities for most Americans without blowing up in our faces. But we gave that up in the 1990s and we’re still living with the consequences. Why anyone would want to go back to the crazy casino dominating the real economy is beyond me and it’s beyond my community banker friends.

Moyers: We should remind our younger readers that in the 1990s, Democrats were wholly complicit in what you just described as changing the rules, regulations and the laws to benefit Wall Street. So you’ve got both parties against Main Street in effect, don’t you?

Johnson: Since the 1990s there’s been a bipartisan consensus. The Clinton Treasury, Alan Greenspan, a Republican at the Federal Reserve, and both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress agreed that deregulation of finance was fine and allowing big finance to become even bigger was a good idea. So the question now is: Who has backed away from that and who is willing to acknowledge that was a mistake? The answer is some Democrats — not enough — and very, very few Republicans. But still, some Republicans do and I think they should get credit for that.

Moyers: I’ve read that depositors and taxpayers could be liable for trillions of dollars in oil derivative losses as a result of falling oil prices and the repeal of 716 of the Dodd-Frank provision that passed in December. Could we be liable?

Johnson: I don’t want to sound like a doom-monger, but I think the basic answer is we have no clue. These very large banks — they’re big trading houses really, taking speculative positions on a daily and hourly basis and betting the whole shop sometimes — we don’t know what their exposure is to movements in oil prices. They’re very opaque; they do not have good disclosure. I think even the regulators don’t fully understand the exposure of these banks to complex derivatives. That’s something we saw with what happened with housing prices and the derivatives based on that in 2008. I suspect something like that could happen with oil and with other commodity prices. There is a big exposure and any financial disaster can have a massive effect on the real economy. That’s where you get the trillion-dollar losses in GDP and incomes and millions of jobs lost. I’m worried about that. I’m worried about lots of things around finance…

Moyers: What else worries you?

Johnson: Europe. I don’t think it’s good to sound panic-stricken at every turn of events, but we have not done a good job of insulating ourselves from the risks that are going to be generated by the European banking system as we move forward, and we have to see the world much more in those defensive terms than we did in previous decades.

Moyers: Who’s standing up for the public?

Johnson: A few people, and I think they’re the heroes. Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts is the most prominent, but there’s also Sharrod Brown from Ohio, Jeff Merkley from Oregon and David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana. The Independent Community Bankers of America, they deserve a lot more by way of kudos from the public. Perhaps they’re not as high-profile as some lobby groups but they’re absolutely speaking truth to authority on these issues. There’s a list and it’s a list of sensible people. It’s a longer list than it was in the 1990s when very few people stood against the consensus for deregulation. But it’s a group that’s not yet powerful enough and we’ll see — I think the big issue, really, is the presidential election — which way do the Democrats decide to go on this issue and which way do the Republicans go, although I think that’s a bit more predictable. And then who wins in the big competition for narratives and ideas in 2016.

Moyers: But if that’s the case, it leaves the public vulnerable because Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s when Glass-Steagall was repealed, and George W. Bush was president in aughts of this century when the economy collapsed. Democrats passed Dodd-Frank, but it’s now being weakened. The election doesn’t seem to decide how Wall Street is treated in Washington. Wall Street always seems to have the upper hand.

Johnson: That is true and has been true in the past. President Obama campaigned on the promise of changing things and not so much has changed on this dimension. I think, though, that it depends on who’s running, what that person believes and what they are really going to do when they get in. So whether Elizabeth Warren runs is one question. If Hillary Clinton is the lead candidate and wins the nomination, who are her advisers? Who does she listen to? Does she go back with Robert Rubin, who was treasury secretary in the 1990s, who is still, as far as we know, largely persuaded that big is beautiful in finance? Or does she go with some different advisers and perhaps a perspective that’s closer to that of Elizabeth Warren? I think the Democratic primary is, right now, the real primary.

Moyers: How so?

Johnson: I think this is when the battle for ideas is being fought. I think the arguments about the substance on the Democratic side are absolutely now, and by the time you reach the formal nominating process, it’s going to be a bit late. So ask me again in three months or in six months, and I think we’ll have a clearer answer for whether 2016 could be decisive or whether it will be, as you just suggested, potentially business as usual irrespective of who wins.

Moyers: Does Elizabeth Warren have an obligation to run in order to get her argument into the warp and woof of the Democratic race, just as the tea party folks ran and got their arguments embraced by the Republican Party? Doesn’t she have an obligation to get into the debate, into the campaign and try to champion, give people an option to the establishment candidates?

Johnson: I think she is in that conversation. She does have an ability to mobilize people and an ability to bring pressure and I think, although it’s not for me to say whether or not she has an obligation. But I think she believes and is passionate about wanting to really move the needle and change the world on these important dimensions. It’s up to her to decide how best to do that, and I for one am not going to second guess her on that. I’m going to be supportive every inch of the way, because honestly, we have nobody else. We have a few other people who are great, but Elizabeth Warren is by far our best hope for meaningful change on any of these dimensions.

Moyers: In the meantime, what can people who are concerned — Main Street people, people who do see what you see, what we see — what can people do to be more effective against the big bankers who are controlling our Congress today?

Johnson: Express your views. Write your congressman, email them and make phone calls. There’s a Progressive Change Coalition project called The Big Ideas Project. You can find ways through that organization to tell them and others what your views are in terms of the priorities for the country. You’ve got to speak out and you’ve got to find ways to be polite, be articulate, be forceful and be persuasive.

This post was previously published on BillMoyers.com.

The Suicide of Capitalism

January 20, 2015
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/19/2015 at 14:39:32

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“Suicide” means, literally, killing oneself. Most often, suicide is voluntary. However, by definition, it can be involuntary as well, as in accidentally killing oneself while cleaning a loaded handgun (which apparently people do from time-to-time). Capitalism, the world’s dominant socio-economic system, is in the process of killing itself. Like the cleaner of a loaded hand-gun, capitalism thinks that there is absolutely nothing to worry about, that whatever its doing will result in no harmful outcomes, and that anyone who tells it not to do such a thing is a hoaxer of the worst order. Inadvertently killing oneself with a loaded handgun is bad enough. What capitalism is doing of course is far worse. Not only will it kill itself as a system, but it will likely take our species along with many others right along with it.

Most readers of these pages are familiar with the mountain of data dealing with global warming/climate change and its increasingly negative projected outcomes. As the cited article by Justin Gillis says: “Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.”

From flickr.com/photos/22882274@N04/8506303672/: Superstorm Sandy damage in Seaside Heights New Jersey.  The roller coaster that the Earth is on right now is much bigger.
Superstorm Sandy damage in Seaside Heights New Jersey. The roller coaster that the Earth is on right now is much bigger.
(image by Anthony Quintano)

Currently, 2100 has been cited as the “tipping point” year, if no major policy changes in terms of carbon (to say nothing of methane) emissions are undertaken. However, a recent projection by the organization Green Physicists moves the “tipping point” year up to 2050. By then they estimate that: atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will have risen to twice the pre-industrial level; the global average surface temperature of our planet will have increased 2.5 degrees Centigrade [the current projected “tipping point” for irreversible catastrophe is 2.6 Deg. C.]; the temperature rise in the Arctic has been about twice that of the global mean, so that the permafrost has been melting rapidly, with the release of enormous quantities of methane (which adds to the global warming effect of CO2); the Greenland ice sheet will be virtually gone, with a likely resulting sea level rise of more (39″); and so on and so forth.

As Naomi Klein has recently documented very well, capitalism is the ultimate cause of global warming/climate change. But why refer to the projected outcome as “suicide?” Karl Marx described capitalism as sowing the seeds of its own destruction. By this he meant that capitalism, dependent upon masses of workers to produce the surplus value upon which capitalist growth depends, will necessarily produce class-consciousness among the workers. They then will eventually organize themselves to seize the means of production and turn its power to the benefit of all. But that’s not suicide. That is revolutionary disappearance, at the hands of the working classes. What is happening now is rather different.

Capitalism depends upon the exploitation of natural resources at the highest possible level. And we are, of course, not talking just about fossil fuels. There is a limited amount of natural resources to be found on and in the Earth. While the burning of fossil fuel is itself creating global warming/climate change, not talked about so much is the unending conversion of the limited supply of natural resources by capitalism, with no thought to conservation, recycling and what will happen when the sources, from iron ore to copper, to say nothing of the fossil fuels themselves, run out. But capitalism can exist only if the rampant, uncontrolled use of natural resources continues unabated, for that is within the very nature of the system. But when the natural resources go, so will capitalism and by that time it will be too late to replace it with anything else. And that is what I mean by “the suicide of capitalism.”

By its very nature, operating to the greatest degree possible with no thought to anything other than the accumulation of profit, capitalism is leading to this possible outcome. When the critical resources are gone, or at least the supply is reduced to such an extent that their cost makes making profit from their exploitation increasingly difficult, capitalism will die, even without workers’ revolution. Indeed, by its very nature of focusing exclusively on profit-making, it will eventually kill itself, as well as taking many humans and many other species along with it. According to a recent report in Nature, 41 percent of amphibians, 26 percent of mammals and 13% of birds are threatened with extinction, if nothing is done about global warming (and do notice the source of that story. Yes, the Catholic Church is changing, before our very eyes.) But the point here is that even without global warming, with no controls on the utilization of natural resources other than fossil fuels, capitalism is essentially killing itself.

And so, what is to be done? There is of course hope. While it may be too late to slow carbon emissions down enough to prevent reaching the “tipping point,” as some scientists (quoted above) think, it may very well be possible to develop a series of environmentally safe methods for capturing carbon and methane, shielding the earth from the increasing heat levels, and so on and so forth. It is definitely possible to institute economic planning on a massive scale to conserve and re-use natural resources that will otherwise run out. But that will require the replacement of capitalism with some form of socialism.

What form that system might take and how we will get there are matters for further consideration. But given historical experience and an analysis of how capitalism has dealt with the socialist experiments that have come along so far (see, e.g., The 75 Years War Against the Soviet Union), we will not get there spontaneously, we will not get there without the formation of a series of leading parties, around the world. If that series of events does not occur, then indeed capitalism will commit involuntary suicide with disastrous results for ours and many other species. It will indeed vault us into a full-blown “Sixth Extinction.”

 

http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books on health policy, health and wellness, and sports and regular exercise. In (more…)

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Noam Chomsky: Current Economic System Is ‘Pure Savagery’

January 7, 2015
 http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/highlight/grand-jury-documents-in-the-eric-garner-case-could-go-public/54ac56eb02a7601f12000445

 

Why the Right Keeps Winning and the Liberals and Progressives Keep Losing

November 11, 2014
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/10/2014 at 20:25:20

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Why does the Right keep winning in American politics, sometimes through electoral victories, sometimes by having the Democrats and others on the Left adopt what were traditionally right-wing policies and perspectives? Sure, I know that progressives won some important local battles in 2014: A few towns in California, Texas, and Ohio banned fracking. A few towns in Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, and Illinois supported ballot measures to overturn Citizens United. Richmond, California, stood up to Chevron, and Berkeley stood up to “Big Soda.”

But the overall direction of the country for the past forty years has given increasing strength to right-wing politicians in the Republican Party and opportunists in the Democratic Party who effectively do much of the same work that these right-wingers would do when they win political power. So why has this been happening? And why do so many people end up voting to elect politicians who are committed to enacting policies that hurt the economic well-being of a significant section (not the majority, but many) of the people who voted for them?

I asked this question first to thousands of people whom my research team and I encountered when I was Principal Investigator for an NIMH-sponsored study about how to deal with stress at work and stress in family life. At the time Ronald Reagan was president and he had won in part by winning many votes of middle-income working people.

The answer given by the media then, and often proffered today as well by the Democrats is, “It’s the economy, stupid.” They didn’t give that explanation up when Reaganomics produced heavy economic losses for working people who continued to vote Republican, and they didn’t give that explanation up when the Clinton/Gore years produced a booming economy and yet Gore lost (OK, he won but for the Supreme Court, but that was only made possible because of how close the vote was–and why would it have been so close if “the economy” is the determining issue?)

Nor am I convinced when recent statisticians show that those with the least income give ten votes to Democrats to every eight they give to Republicans, thus supposedly showing that people always vote their economic interests. The issue remains: those whose economic interests are not served by a politics that caters to the wealthy (those eight who vote Republican when the Republicans over and over again try to dismantle economic programs that might help them) continue to support those politicians, and that gives the Right the electoral edge it would never have on the grounds of its policies (most people who vote for them, according to recent polls, don’t agree with their specific policy positions).

What my research team discovered was the following:

1. Most Americans work in an economy that teaches them the common sense of global capitalism: “Everyone is out for themselves and will seek to advance their own interests without regard to your well-being, so the only rational path is for you to seek to advance your own interests in the same way. Those who have more money and power than you have are just better at seeking their own self-interest, because this is a meritocratic society in which you end up where you deserve to end up, so stop whining about the differences in wealth and power, because if you deserved more you would have more.”

2. Now here is the central contradiction: most people hate this kind of reality. They believe that it is in stark contrast to the values they would like to live by but simultaneously they also believe that the logic of capitalist society is the only possible reality, and that they would be fools not to try to live by it in every part of their lives. This message is reinforced in our workplaces and also by almost every sitcom and television news story available. But most people hate that this is the case. They often will tell you, “Everyone is selfish and materialistic, so I’d be a fool to be the one person who is caring for others in a world where everyone is just out for themselves.” Unconsciously, many people adopt the values of the marketplace, and these values have a corrosive impact on their own friendships, relationships, and family life.

3. So when many Americans encounter a different reality in right-wing churches that have specialized in creating supportive communities, they feel much more addressed there than they’ve ever felt in progressive movements that focus on economic entitlements or political rights and sometimes disintegrate due to internal tensions over dynamics of relative privilege and unproductive feelings of guilt. Only rarely do these liberal or progressive movements actually manifest a loving community that seems to care specifically about the people who come to their public talks or gatherings–the experience is more about hearing a good speech than about encountering people who want to know who you are and what you need–precisely what happens in most right-wing churches.

Is it really a surprise that people who so rarely encounter this kind of caring among the people with whom they work or the people whom they see angling for power or sexual conquest in the movies and TV would feel more seen and recognized for having some value in the Right than in much of the Left? Sadly, the cost of belonging to those right-wing churches is this: that they demean or put-down those deemed to be “Other”–those who are not part of their community. These “others” (including feminists, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and increasingly all liberals) are blamed for the ethos of selfishness and breakdown of loving relationships and families. This is ironic because in fact the breakdown of loving relationships is largely a product of the increasing internalization of the utilitarian or instrumental way people have come to view each other, a product of bringing home into personal life, friendships, and marriages the very values that the Right esteems and champions in the competitive economy.

4. The Democrats, and most of the Left, have little understanding of this dynamic and rarely position themselves as the voice challenging the values of the marketplace or the instrumental way of thinking that is the produce of the materialism and selfishness of the competitive marketplace. So even when facing huge political setbacks, as in the 2014 midterm elections, you will hear the smartest of liberals and progressives acknowledging that what is needed is some kind of unifying worldview that the Democrats have failed to articulate in the six years that they have occupied the White House and had the majority in the House of Representatives. They imagine that if they can put forward a pro-working class economic program, that will be sufficient to change the dynamics of American politics.

They are right that they need a coherent vision, but it can’t solely be an economic populism. What people need to hear is an account of the way the suffering they experience in their personal lives, the breakdown of families, the loneliness and inability to trust other people, the sense of being surrounded by selfish and materialistic people, and the self-blaming they experience when their own relationships feel less fulfilling than they had hoped for are all a product of the triumph of the way people have internalized the values of the capitalist marketplace. This suffering can only be overcome when the capitalist system itself is replaced by one based on love, caring, kindness, generosity and a New Bottom Line that no longer judges corporations, government policies, or social institutions as “efficient,” “productive” or “rational” solely by the extent to which they maximize money or power. Instead, liberals and progressives need to be advocating a New Bottom Line that focuses on how much any given institution or economic or social policy or practice tends to maximize our capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, environmentally responsible, and capable of transcending a narrow utilitarian attitude toward other human beings and capable of responding to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and beauty of all that is.

Progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party need to develop a Spiritual Covenant that can apply this New Bottom Line to every aspect of our society–our economy, our corporations, our educational system, our legal system. In short, a progressive worldview that deeply rejects the way most of our institutions today teach people the values of “looking out for number one” and maximizing one’s own material well being without regard to the consequences for others or for the environment. Armed with an alternative worldview, progressives would have a chance of helping working people stop blaming themselves for their situation, stop blaming some other, and see that it is the whole system that needs a fundamental makeover.

But many liberals and progressives are religiophobic and thus believe that talk of love and caring is mere psycho-babble. As a result they cede to the Right the values issues rather than providing an alternative set of values in which love and generosity and caring for the Earth would take center place. We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have developed a model of what it would look like to put values such as love and caring into political practice. Doing so would include implementing a Global Marshall Plan and passing an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The latter amendment would require that all state and federal elections be financed solely through public funding–all other monies would be totally banned. The amendment would also require any corporation with an income above $50 million/year that is operating or selling its services or products within the U.S. to get a new corporate charter once every five years. Such charters would only be granted to those that could prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a panel of ordinary citizens who would also hear the testimony of people around the world who have been impacted by the policies, behavior, and advertising of those corporations. We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have also begun professional task forces to envision what each profession would look like if they were in fact governed by The New Bottom Line. Read more at spiritualprogressives.org.

The environmental movement had the possibility of helping people make this transition in consciousness had it focused more on helping people see that the planet is not just an economic “resource,” but a living being that nurtures and sustains life and which appropriately would engender awe, wonder, and radical amazement, and hence celebration of the universe of which it is a part. But in order to be “realistic,” most major environmental organizations, and even most of the local anti-fracking and local-oriented environmental initiatives have avoided this spiritual dimension, instead framing their issues in narrow self-interest terms that are then countered by the supporters of fracking, pipelines, and other environmentally destructive approaches by pointing out that these approaches can generate jobs and revenues. Stick to framing things on narrow and short-term material self-interest terms, and the corporate apologists have a plausible if misleading argument. It’s only when you address the environment in terms of the New Bottom Line that you can provide a way to reach people who otherwise get attracted to the arguments of the Right.

What the Left keeps on missing is that people have a set of spiritual needs–for a life of meaning and purpose that transcends the logic of the competitive marketplace and its ethos of materialism and selfishness, for communities that address those needs, and for loving friends and families that are best sustained when they share some higher vision than self-interest. The reason that the gay and lesbian struggle for marriage equality went from seeming impossibly utopian to winning in a majority of states in a very short while was that the proponents of that struggle switched their rhetoric from “we demand our equal rights” to “we are loving people who want our love to flourish and be supported in this society.” That same kind of switch toward higher values and purpose, and touching into our shared desire for loving and caring world, could make the Left a winner again, instead of a consistent loser.

5. Nothing alienates middle-income working people more than the usual reason progressives and liberals give for why they are losing elections or failing to gain more support for their programs: namely, that Americans are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or just plain dumb. Most Americans may not know the details of the programs put forward by political movements or parties, by they know when they are being demeaned, and that is precisely what gives the Right the ability to describe the Left as “elitist,” thereby obscuring the way right-wing politics serves the real elites of wealth and power.

And then radio and TV right-wingers effectively mobilize the anger and frustration people feel at living in a society where love and caring are so hard to come by–against the Left! This is the ultimate irony: the capitalist marketplace generates a huge amount of anger, but with its meritocratic fantasy it convinces people that it is their own failings that are to blame for why their lives don’t feel more fulfilling. So that anger is internalized and manifests in alcoholism, drug abuse, violence in families, high rates of divorce, road rage, and support for militaristic ventures around the world.

The Right mobilizes this anger–and directs it against liberals and progressives. And that actually feels great for many people, because it relieves their self-blaming and allows them to express their frustrations (though sadly at the wrong targets). Only a movement that understands all these dynamics, and can help people understand that their anger is appropriate but that it is wrongly directed can progressives hope to win against the Right.

But instead of addressing that anger against the political and economic system, the Democrats are often seen as champions of the exiting system (and not mistakenly when President Obama seems more interested in serving the interests of the 1 percent than in challenging the distortions of the banks and the investment companies and the powerful corporations. All the worse that after the 2014 election, Obama is once again talking about finding common ground with the Republicans–that has guided his policies for the past six years. Democrats keep on thinking that if they look more like the Right, they’ll win more credibility. All they win is the disdain of the majority.

6. As if all this weren’t bad enough, the Obama presidency has put the final blow to liberals and progressives by eliciting hope in a different kind of world, then capitulating to the special interests. People who allowed themselves to hope in 2008 may need decades of recovery time till they can again believe in any political path–or we need psycho-spiritual progressive therapists who can help us build an alternative both insides and outside the Democratic Party. We need to speak honestly about this disillusionment and help people feel less humiliated that they believed in Obama’s rhetoric of hope. And we need to show that many people who at first seem impossibly right-wing actually want a world of love and caring too, and have never heard liberals and progressives speak that kind of language.

7. The first step in recovery is to create large public gatherings at which liberals and progressives can mourn our losses, acknowledge the many mistakes we’ve made in the past decades, and then develop a strategy for how most effectively to challenge the assumptions of the capitalist marketplace that are shared by too many who otherwise think of themselves as progressives. Without this kind of a recovery process, we are likely to end up with more and deeper despair in 2016 and beyond.

Our Network of Spiritual Progressives is taking a step in this direction by trying to reach out to people in every ethnicity, race, and faith or atheist community, and inviting you to the University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California, on December 14 for a one-day gathering (starting after church to respect those who go to pray on Sunday mornings) to discuss these issues and to start developing a winning strategy for healing and transforming our world. We will post more info atspiritualprogressives.org starting next week (November 20).

If you live in another state and want to attend something like this, then work to assemble a large group of people. If you do so, we will come to your part of the country to shape a discussion of this sort for the people you know. We need hundreds of such meetings to help reorient the liberal and progressive forces, not discounting all that they are doing, but only seeking to help them integrate into that work a shared worldview (the New Bottom Line) and a psycho-spiritual sensitivity that will make them far more effective.

We’re happy to also publicize other gatherings sponsored in any place in the United States where people are willing to see how badly we need a fundamental rethinking of the assumptions that have led liberals and progressives to become so unsuccessful in capturing the imagination and loyalty of the American people.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine http://www.tikkun.org, chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives http://www.spiritualprogressives.org, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley and (more…)

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine http://www.tikkun.org, chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives http://www.spiritualprogressives.org, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley and (more…)

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Ebola’s grim original secret: How capitalism and obscene military spending got us here

October 22, 2014

WEDNESDAY, OCT 22, 2014 07:30 AM CDT

It’s time to look at America’s perverted sense of death, health and prevention — and how we’re spending our money
ROBERT HENNELLY
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TOPICS: EBOLA, CAPITALISM, FREE MARKET, MILITARY, VIRUS, MEDIA CRITICISM, LIBERIA, PUBLIC HEALTH, FEDERAL BUDGET, HEALTH, DEATH, POLITICS NEWS

Ebola’s grim original secret: How capitalism and obscene military spending got us here
(Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
This week stateside, the edge may be off the Ebola story for the U.S. news media, as those people in Dallas who were close to the late Thomas Eric Duncan emerge from their 21-day quarantine. The Obama administration has appointed an Ebola czar and the military is pulling together a kind of infectious disease SWAT team that can helicopter in the next time a “world-class” American hospital fumbles an Ebola case.

Glad that’s resolved.

What a human tragedy it will be if we fail to grasp what are the existing pre-conditions that set the stage for this unprecedented global outbreak of Ebola.

Missing from the wall-to-wall coverage of the global Ebola crisis is a root-cause analysis that shows how unfettered free market global capitalism and our obscene spending on the military both play a part in creating the environment for this latest outbreak and the ones that are sure to follow.

Annually the world spends more than $1.7 trillion on the military. According to the Wall Street Journal the world spends a whopping $27 billion on the world’s public health. Keep that obscene imbalance in your mind the next time you see pictures of Liberians bleeding out in the street.

No missile killed them, but our greed and global death-oriented spending priorities have left fingerprints on all these bodies.

Here in the U.S. we spend close to $700 billion on the military annually, roughly 20 percent of the federal budget, equivalent to just under $2,500 per capita. Contrast that with our foreign aid for things like public health where we part with just $19 billon, or .6 percent of the federal budget, just $61 per capita. Twenty other nations actually give a higher percentage of their gross national product in non-military aid to nations in need than we do.

Our military spending squeezes out so much that needs to be done both at home and abroad. And there are lost opportunity costs of not doing what needs to be done, like seeing to it that places like West Africa, the epicenter of the latest Ebola outbreak, have a basic public health infrastructure.

This latest global pandemic shows just how yesterday our “homeland security” threat–based security matrix is. In the jet age of hop-and-a-skip Ebola, it feels fatally provincial. Ultimately, our essential homeland is planet Earth.

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As President Obama does his best to shift back and forth from commander in chief of the war on terror to global public health advocate, he is going to find maintaining the public’s trust, both here and abroad, essential but difficult. For quite a while now the U.S. brand has been tied to its myopic prosecution of the the war on terror, even if it killed innocent civilians and put the global public health at risk.

How else does one explain the CIA’s fraudulent use of a public health vaccination program in Pakistan to harvest DNA from households they suspected of harboring Osama bin Laden? As a direct consequence of the CIA’s subterfuge bin Laden supporters targeted several public health workers administering polio vaccination for assassination.

Although that particular CIA strategy did not help the U.S. achieve its ultimate goal, there was major blowback. The U.N. had to shut down its polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, one of only a handful of countries in the world at the time where wild polio transmission still happens. So severe were the potential consequences that in January of 2013 deans of the 12 leading American schools of public health wrote President Obama directly, taking the CIA to task. “This disguising of an intelligence gathering effort as a humanitarian public health service has resulted in serious collateral consequences that affect the public health community,” read a press release put out along with the letter.

A week later Lisa Monaco, the White House’s top counter-terror and homeland security expert, wrote back pledging the CIA would not repeat the ruse.

But the damage may have been done, especially in the parts of the world where U.S.-based pharma multinationals’ vaccination products have long been viewed as suspect and with the same skepticism expressed by vaccination opponents stateside. By in the spring of this year the World Health Organization was reporting a resurgence of polio centered in the Middle East and Africa that “constitutes an extraordinary event and a public health risk to other States for which a coordinated international response is essential,” WHO warned the world. “If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the most serious vaccine preventable diseases.”

For global context, keep in mind that in 1979 polio had been eradicated in the United States, but experts say maintaining that status requires high vaccination rates here and an aggressive program around the world. In an increasingly mobile world, the Centers for Disease Control warns that without a coordinated international effort “scenarios for polio being introduced into the United States are easy to imagine.”

No doubt this reality creates a dynamic tension between public health and commerce that is so present in the current “fly–no fly” Ebola debate. We have a media-induced near religious belief that only through unfettered global free trade and travel can a brighter tomorrow dawn. We think we have conquered the natural world but it can still kick us in the ass with fatal results. We have failed to grasp even the basic consequences of the mobility many of us take for granted. We are blind to the social and ecological costs exacted on the people of Africa by transnationals in the hot pursuit of everything from bauxite to crude oil.

Despite our 21st century genius we lose jet airliners and killer epidemics can percolate for several months in remote places like West Africa, impoverished by an extraction industry like the mining of bauxite used to make the aluminum we need for the planes we fly and the latest high-tech gadgets we depend on to stay connected. Our pressing question all too often is, Can we get an upgrade?

Suffice to say most Americans have no idea where this virulent Ebola strain has come from or how many people it has already killed. Media figures vary. Laurie Garrett, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, told the PBS News Hour this week that for the first time officials at the World Health Organization had conceded the “bad news” that they had no real data from Liberia. Garrett says she estimates the actual Ebola death toll is between 15,000 and 16,000 deaths.

There is expert consensus that the Ebola tide has to be turned where it originated. We can’t just hermetically seal our borders.

According to the World Health Organization, “ground zero” for the outbreak was “in the remote Guinean village of Meliandou” where the borders of the West African nations Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone all meet. The first fatality, according to WHO, was a 2-year-old boy who died two days after he became sick around Christmastime of last year.

Within a matter of weeks his 3-year-old sister, mother and grandmother all had succumbed to what was still at that point a mysterious disease to the local doctors who were unfamiliar with Ebola because it had previously been only associated with countries in Central Africa. In one of the most medically underserved places in the world, local doctors were all too familiar with the regular outbreaks of infectious diseases like cholera and malaria but were baffled by what they were facing.

“Following the young boy’s death, the mysterious disease continued to smolder undetected, causing several chains of deadly transmission,” according to WHO’s account. “Who could have ever guessed that such a notorious disease, previously confined to Central Africa and Gabon, would crop up in another distant part of the continent?”

It was not until March of this year that WHO officially posted the Ebola outbreak advisory. For months there was lots of public health hand-wringing. Experts were lured into complacency when local outbreaks seemed to wane, only to resurge with a vengeance, decimating a part of the world that, despite its great natural resource wealth, lacks basic public health infrastructure.

For Africa in the age of unfettered global capitalism, the leverage is still with transnational corporations that can easily exploit the corruption and political instability that grips so much of the continent. “With 24 percent of the world’s infectious disease burden, Africa has only 3 percent of the world’s health professionals, with massive shortages of physicians, nurses, technicians, health administrators and planners,” writes Jennifer Cooke, author of “Public Health in Africa.”

Any effort at coming to understand Ebola has to be pursued holistically. As reported earlier this month in the Digital Journal, there are expert estimates that West Africa has lost as much as 90 percent of its virgin forest lands to human activities including farming and mining. Scientists believe there is a corollary between deforestation and the increasing frequency and severity of Ebola outbreaks.

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, transmitted from animals to people. As the population grows and human settlement expands into the shrinking tropical forests, the local population, which survives off bush meat, is increasingly exposed to the disease present in species like fruit bats and chimpanzees. Such was the conclusion reached in the 2012 report “Ebola Virus Outbreaks in Africa and Present” published in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Medicine.

At the same time a never-ending cycle of political violence in the region makes it impossible to achieve the stability needed to establish and maintain the public health infrastructure necessary for a traumatized and often at risk population. All too often African leaders decide it’s more critical to spend money to buttress their military for their own self-preservation, as opposed to investing in the public health of their constituents. Add into the mix a terrorist group like Boko Haram and you have a civil society constantly under duress.

Historically, for Americans and Europeans, Africa was a place to get slaves, free labor. In modern times it is a place from which we extract diamonds, gold, bauxite, oil, whatever, at the lowest possible price, so as to make the most profit. It is just business. If you can add to your mass consumer market in the process, that’s fine too. But, overwhelmingly, the majority of Africans are left out of the global free trade wealth-creating machine that is fueled by Africa’s natural resources.

As for the U.S., with the fall of the Soviet Union and after Sept. 11, we have increasingly asserted ourselves with drone attacks and strategic military raids in Africa aimed at disrupting terrorist networks.

Despite all the rhetoric about being interconnected it is hard to get the developed world to really have skin in the game over the long term. Yes, President George W. Bush’s focused efforts to spend billions to fight HIV-AIDS in Africa was a bipartisan success that made a difference for millions.

Yet last year the Washington Post reported that President Obama actually became the first president since Reagan to back off the U.S. commitment to fighting HIV-AIDS, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from the program.

What this Ebola outbreak has to drive home is the reality that U.S. aid to support public health in Africa is not a selfless act of charity but one of self -preservation. Over the decades of African relief ads on late-night TV we may have become inured to the image of starving and disease-stricken children. That’s not to say the world has not made progress. Consider that in 1990 the World Health Organization reported that around the world 12.6 million children under age 5 died. That’s almost two Holocausts a year.

By 2012 that was down to 6.6 million dead children and about half of them were from sub-Saharan Africa. But as we have seen with the death of the 2-year-old in Guinea last Christmas, the loss of just one can have repercussions felt around the world.

MORE ROBERT HENNELLY.


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