Archive for June, 2009

Meet the Retreads

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on June 26, 2009 by CjH

Obama’s Used Green Team

By Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch

Of all of Barack Obama’s airy platitudes about change none were more vaporous than his platitudes about , the environment and within that category Obama has had little at all to say about matters concerning public lands and endangered species. He is, it seems, letting his bureaucratic appointments do his talking for him.  So now, five months into his administration, Obama’s policy on natural resources is beginning to take shape. It is a disturbingly familiar shape, almost sinister.

It all started with the man in the hat, Ken Salazar, Obama’s odd pick to head the Department of Interior. Odd because Salazar was largely detested in his own state, Colorado, by environmentalists for his repellent coziness with oil barons, the big ranchers and the water hogs. Odd because Salazar was close friends with the disgraced Alberto Gonzalez, the torturer’s consigliere. Odd because Salazar backed many of the Bush administration’s most rapacious assaults on the environment and environmental laws. Odder still because Salazar, in his new position as guardian of endangered species, had as a senator repeatedly advocated the weakening of the Endangered Species Act.

Salazar never hid his noxious positions behind a green mantle. Obama certainly knew what he was buying. And the president could have made a much different and refreshing choice by picking Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat, a Hispanic, a westerner and a true environmentalist who had helped to expose the cauldron of corruption inside the Bush Interior Department. Yes, Obama could have picked a western environmentalist; instead he tapped a prototypical western politician with deep ties to the water, oil, timber, ranching and mining industries. So the choice was deliberate and it presaged the deflating policies that are now beginning to stream out of his office, from siding with Sarah Palin against the polar bear to greenlighting dozens of Bush-era mountaintop removal mining operations across Appalachia. (As CounterPunch pointed out last fall, Obama and Palin have long since established symbiotic harmony on God’s Pipeline, the proposed $30 billion natural gas pipeline that, if constructed, will slice across the tundra and boreal forests from Prudhoe Bay through Canada to Chicago.)

Salazar wasted no time in turning the Interior Department office into a hive of his homeboys. This group of lawyers and former colleagues have already earned the nickname the Colorado Mafia, Version Three. It’s Version Three because Colorado Mafia Version One belonged to James Watt and his Loot-the-West zealots from the Mountain States Legal Fund. The Version Two update came in the form of Gale Norton and her own band of fanatics, some of whom remain embedded in the Department’s HQ, just down the hall from Salazar’s office.

Beyond a perverse obsession with Stetson hats, Salazar and Watt share some eerie resemblances. For starters, they look alike. There’s a certain fleshy smugness to their facial features. Who knows if Salazar shares Watt’s apocalyptic eschatology (Why save nature, Watt once quipped, when the end of the world is nigh.), but both men are arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway types. Watt’s insolent demeanor put him to the right even of his patron Ronald Reagan and ultimately proved his downfall. Salazar may well meet the same fate—if Obama, knock-on-wood, doesn’t nominate him for the next Supreme Court vacancy first. Most troubling, however, is the fact that both Watt and Salazar hold similar views on the purpose of the public estate, treating the national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands not as ecosystems but as living warehouses for the manufacture of stuff: lumber, paper, wedding rings, meat, energy.

With this stark profile in mind, it probably comes as no big shock that the man Salazar nominated to head the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with protecting native wildlife and enforcing the Endangered Species Act, has viewed those responsibilities with indifference if not hostility. For the past twelve years, Sam Hamilton, whose nomination to head the agency is now pending before congress, has run the Southeast Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service, a swath of the country that has the dubious distinction of driving more species of wildlife to the brink of extinction than any other.

From Florida to Louisiana, the encroaching threats on native wildlife are manifest and relentless: chemical pollution, oil drilling, coastal development, clearcutting, wetland destruction and a political animus toward environmental laws (and environmentalists). And Sam Hamilton was not one to stand up against this grim state of affairs.

A detailed examination of Hamilton’s tenure by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveals his bleak record. During the period from 2004 through 2006, Hamilton’s office performed 5,974 consultations on development projects (clearcuts, oil wells, golf courses, roads, housing developments and the like) in endangered species habitat. But Hamilton gave the green light to all of these projects, except one. By contrast, during the same period the Rocky Mountain Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service officially consulted on 586 planned projects and issued 100 objections or so-called jeopardy opinions. Hamilton has by far the weakest record of any of his colleagues on endangered species protection.

There’s plenty of evidence to show that Hamilton routinely placed political considerations ahead of enforcing the wildlife protection laws. For example, in the agency’s Vero Beach, Florida office Fish and Wildlife Service biologists wrote a joint letter in 2005 complaining that their supervisors had ordered them not to object to any project in endangered species habitat—no matter how ruinous.

Take the case of the highly endangered Florida panther. One of Hamilton’s top lieutenants in Florida has been quoted as telling his subordinates that the big cat was a “zoo species” doomed to extinction and that to halt any developments projects in the panther’s habitat would be a waste of time and political capital.

“Under Sam Hamilton, the Endangered Species Act has become a dead letter,” says PEER’s Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the White House announcement on Hamilton touted his “innovative conservation” work. “Apparently, the word ‘no’ is not part of ‘innovative’ in Mr. Hamilton’s lexicon. To end the cycle of Endangered Species Act lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs a director who is willing to follow the law and actually implement the Act. Hamilton’s record suggests that he will extend the policies of Bush era rather than bring needed change.”

Now this man has the fate of the jaguar, grizzly and northern spotted owl in his compromised hands. Feel the chill?

Over at the Agriculture Department Obama made a similarly cynical pick when he chose former Iowa governor Tom Vilsak to head the agency that oversees the national forests. Vilsak resides to the right of Salazar and not just in the sitting arrangement at Cabinet meetings. He is a post-Harken Iowa Democrat, which means he’s essentially a Republican who believes in evolution six days a week. (He leaves such Midwestern heresies at the door on Sundays.) Think Earl Butz—minus the racist sense of humor (as far as we know).

Vilsak is a creature of industrial agriculture, a brusque advocate for the corporate titans that have laid waste the farmbelt: Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. As administrations come and go, these companies only tighten their stranglehold, poisoning the prairies, spreading their clones and frankencrops, sucking up the Oglalla aquifer, scalping topsoil and driving the small farmers under. It could have been different. Obama might have opted for change by selecting Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, food historian Michael Pollan or Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. Instead he opted for the old guard, a man with a test tube in one hand and Stihl chainsaw in the other.

Through a quirk of bureaucratic categorization, the Department of Agriculture is also in charge of the national forests. At 190 million acres, the national forests constitute the largest block of public lands and serve as the principal reservoir of biotic diversity and wilderness on the continent. They have also been under a near constant state of siege since the Reagan era: from clearcuts, mining operations, ORV morons, ski resorts and cattle and sheep grazing.

Since 1910, when public outrage erupted after President William Taft fired Gifford Pinchot for speaking out against the corrupt policies of Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger, the chief of the Forest Service had been treated as a civil service employee and, much like the director of the FBI and CIA, was considered immune from changes in presidential administrations.  This all changed when Bill Clinton imperiously dismissed Dale Robertson as chief in 1994 and replaced him with Jack Ward Thomas, the former wildlife biologist who drafted Clinton’s plan to resume logging in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Thomas’ tenure at the agency proved disastrous for the environment. In eight years of Clinton time, the Forest Service cut six times as much timber as the agency did under the Reagan and Bush I administrations combined. The pace of logging set by Thomas continued unabated during the Bush the Younger’s administration.

So now Vilsak has given the boot to Gail Kimbell, Bush’s compliant chief, and replaced her with a 32-year veteran of the agency named Tom Tidwell. Those were 32 of the darkest years in the Forest Service’s long history, years darkened by a perpetual blizzard of sawdust. You will search Google in vain for any evidence that during the forest-banging years of the Bush administration, when Tidwell served as Regional Forester for the Northern Rockies, this man ever once stood up to Kimbell or her puppetmaster Mark Rey, who went from being the timber industry’s top lobbyist to Bush’s Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of the national forests. (Point of interest: Rey, once known as the Skeletor of the Timber Industry for the hundreds of thousands of acres of clearcuts on his rapsheet, has now been retained as a fixer by WildLaw, an environmental law firm in Alabama — retained without ever having issued a single mea culpa for his career as a top rank ecocider. You just can’t make this stuff up, anymore.) No, Tidwell was no whistleblower. He was, in fact, a facilitator of forest destruction, eagerly implementing the Kimbell-Rey agenda to push clearcuts, mines, oil wells and roads into the heart of the big wild of Montana and Idaho.

Despite this dismal resumé, Tidwell’s appointment received near unanimous plaudits, from timber companies, ORV user groups, mining firms and, yes, the Wilderness Society. Here’s the assessment of Cliff Roady director the Montana Forest Products Association, a timber industry lobby outfit: “His appointment keeps things on a fairly steady course. He reported to Gail Kimbell, and they worked together really well. He’s somebody we’d look forward to working with.”

And here, singing harmony, are the tweets of Bob Eckey, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society, which some seasoned observers of environmental politics consider to be yet another timber industry lobby group: “Tidwell understands the American public’s vision for a national forest has been changing.”

During his tenure in Montana, Tidwell specialized in the art of coercive collaboration, a social manipulation technique that involves getting environmental groups to endorse destructive projects they would normally litigate to stop. Yet, when copiously lubricated with the magic words “collaboration” or “climate change” most environmentalists can be enticed to swallow even the most ghastly of clearcuts in the most ecologically sensitive sites, such as in grizzly habitat on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier Park or in the fast-dwindling ponderosa pine forests of eastern Oregon.

One of Tidwell’s highest priorities will, it seems, be turn the national forests into industrial biomass farms, all in the name of green energy. Under this destructive scheme, forests, young and old alike, will be clearcut, not for lumber, but as fuel to be burned in biomass power generators. Already officials in the big timber states of Oregon and Washington are crowing that they will soon be able to become the “Saudi Arabia” of biomass production. Did they run this past Smokey the Bear?

Of course, Smokey, that global icon of wildfire suppression, and Tidwell will, no doubt, find common ground on another ecological dubious project: thinning and post-fire salvage logging. We’ve reached the point where old-fashioned timber sales are a thing of the past. Now every logging operation will an ecological justification — specious though they all certainly turn out to be.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of the few green outfits to consistently stand up against Democratic Party-sponsored depredations on the environment, sued Tidwell at least 20 times during his time as regional forester in Missoula. There’s no record of Tidwell being sued even once by Boise-Cascade, Plum Creek Timber or the Noranda Gold Mining Company.

Yet by and large, the mainstream environmental movement has muzzled itself while the Obama administration stocks the Interior Department with corporate lawyers, extraction-minded bureaucrats and Clinton-era retreads. This strategy of a self-imposed gag order will only serve to enable Salazar and Vilsak to pursue even more rapacious schemes without any fear of accountability.

The pattern of political conditioning has been honed to perfection. Every few weeks the Obama administration will drop a few meaningless crumbs–such as the reinstitution of the Clinton Roadless Area rule—toward the enviro establishment, which will greedily gobble them up one after the other until, like Hansel and Gretel with groupthink, they find themselves hopelessly lost in a vast maze of Obama-sanctioned clearcuts. After that, they won’t even get a crumb.

On the environment, the transition between Bush and Obama has been disturbingly smooth when it should have been decisively abrupt.

Where will the administration meet its first roadblock? Who will erect it?

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Obama’s (Latest) Surrender to Wall Street

Posted in Political Economy on June 23, 2009 by CjH

By Michael Hudson, CounterPunch

In reaching across the aisle for Republican support – and no doubt future campaign contributions from the financial sector Pres. Obama is morphing into Joe Lieberman. There also is a touch of Boris Yeltsin in his sponsorship of a financial “reform” ominously similar to what advisor Larry Summers backed in Russia – relinquishing government power to a banking elite. The Financial Regulatory Reform proposal promotes Wall Street’s “product,” debt creation, at the expense of the economy at large, and lets financial chieftains continue to self-regulate the debt industry – and to keep scot-free all their gains from the past decade’s worth of fraudulent lending.

Confronting the wreckage of a debt crisis worse than any since the Great Depression, Mr. Obama has achieved what no Republican could have: rescuing the Bush Administration’s pro-creditor policies that fostered the Bubble Economy in the first place. “Most of the financial sector lobby community is happy with what has emerged,” the Financial Times summarized. A spokesman for the Financial Services Forum, a major Wall Street lobbying organization, called the proposals “careful and balanced.”1/ With such endorsements, victims of predatory lending have good reason to worry. The Obama plan is just the opposite from reforming the financial system along lines that progressive Democrats and other critics have urged.

The plan’s six most fatal flaws are apparent in its preamble, which lays out a false diagnosis of the financial problem in a way that whitewashes Wall Street (in contrast to Mr. Obama’s nice televised populist speech giving verbal criticism to “culture of irresponsibility”). A false diagnosis must lead to wrong-headed cures – rarely by accident. There invariably is a financial beneficiary who gains from blind spots in a legal “reform” package.

1. Regulatory capture. Preparing the ground for future Alan Greenspan “free market” ideologues

The most serious problem is “regulatory capture”: control of the public regulatory process by the special interests being regulated. Mr. Obama’s speech introducing his reform was forthright in acknowledging that “some companies shop for the regulator of their choice … That is why, as part of these reforms, we will dismantle the Office of Thrift Supervision [OTS] and close loopholes that have allowed important institutions to cherry-pick among banking rules. We will offer only one federal banking charter, regulated by a strengthened federal supervisor.” It was the OTS, after all, that AIG and Washington Mutual chose as their regulator, as did GE Capital. The most incompetent, most ideologically opposed to serious regulation, its idea of a “free market” in practice was one free for fraud-ridden subprime lenders to do whatever they wanted.

One could go down the list of non-enforcement agencies – the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) not responding to warnings about Bernie Madoff, and the most deregulatory agency of them all: the Federal Reserve under Bubblemeister Alan Greenspan. Traditionally, the Fed has acted as lobby for the commercial banking system and indeed for Wall Street as a whole. (Its shares are owned by the commercial bank members of its system.) The Fed’s refusal to intervene to stop the subprime mortgage bubble, fraudulent lending and other elements of the Greenspan Chairmanship does not give much faith that it will take actions that will interfere with Wall Street’s money-making at the expense of the rest of the economy. Even today, the Fed is stonewalling Congress by refusing to release details on its $2 trillion “cash for trash” giveaway to favored Wall Street institutions.

It is supposed to be the Treasury’s role to represent the public interest. Unfortunately, appointing Treasury Secretaries from the ranks of Wall Street management – or giving Wall Street veto power over the nominee – undermines this mission. Elsewhere in what is supposed to be the regulatory system of public-private checks and balances, the simple tactic of underfunding the criminal justice system, the FBI, state and local prosecutors – or actively blocking them, as George Bush did – leaves the economy without adequate protection against financial fraud and predatory credit. Putting the Congressional financial committee heads up for sale to the highest campaign contributors caps the process of transforming economic democracy into oligarchy.

Meaningful regulation should start with the premise that the right of banks to create credit out of thin air (actually, out of strokes on a computer keyboard, as long as bankers can find borrowers to sign IOUs) is a public utility. Mr. Obama and his Treasury do not agree. They treat credit creation as a private Wall Street monopoly, to be regulated more in name than in practice. The result is a Thatcherite giveaway to the banking sector – and as Tim Geithner noted, Wall Street institutions of all stripes, from brokerage houses to automobile lenders and retail stores are now declaring themselves “banks” in order to get government handouts to anyone who is a creditor (but nothing for their debtors). This is part of the New Class War that the Bush-Obama administration has sponsored to polarize the economy between creditors and debtors.

The politically astute way to deregulate a public utility – especially in the wake of a financial crisis that has much of the population up in arms – is to shed crocodile tears over Wall Street’s “culture of irresponsibility,” as Mr. Obama did on Wednesday, and then claim that you are “centralizing” regulation to make it stronger rather than weaker. If you are going to block future bank regulation, of course you promise that your act will provide greater public oversight. Mr. Obama has tapped the Federal Reserve for this role. But this is precisely what exacerbated the Greenspan Bubble.

The deregulation-by-centralization ploy peaked when Pres. George W. Bush used it to nullify attempts by state attorney generals to prosecute Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual, Citibank and other financial crooks as criminal enterprises for making fraudulent subprime mortgage loans. The ruse Mr. Bush used to block their lawsuits was an obscure small-print rule from the 1864 National Bank Act giving Washington the power to overrule local states in bringing criminal charges. The motivation for this Civil War law was clear enough: Local governments and their courts tended to be venal and corrupt. Washington asserted its oversight so as to prosecute “wildcat banking” in an era when bankers issued their own bank notes, many of which were worth much less than their face value when their holders tried to spend them.

Pres. Bush turned this law on its head, blocking eleven state AGs from prosecuting financial fraud. Taking matters out of their hands, he assigned the complaints to the Washington national bank regulator – who refused to prosecute, claiming that fraud was all part of America’s wonderful free market. This has cost the U.S. economy over a trillion dollars so far. Washington has preferred to let the banks make their fraudulent loans, and then pay them in full (along with the financial companies they’ve victimized, but not the personal debtors of course) for their bad loans that defaulted, so as to “save the system.”

Mr. Obama’s reform does not propose repealing or qualifying this clause of the National Bank Act so as to permit any prosecutor to prosecute (but not to allow prosecutions of financial fraud to be blocked). Placing regulatory power in the Fed has the potential to annull any serious fraud prosecution. This is the Robert Rubin and Larry Summers-style free market – free for criminalized finance to proceed unchecked. And if Mr. Summers is to become the next Fed Chairman … well, you can guess where this will lead on the regulation/deregulatory spectrum between creditors and debtors!

2. Failure to give meaningful teeth to fraud reduction

Sound regulations against fraud are on the books, many of them from the New Deal. But as the Bubble Economy saw levels of financial fraud unprecedented since the 1920s, officials who wanted to prevent abuses found their departments un-funded. Mr. Obama’s proposal fails to address this problem. “There are … millions of Americans who signed contracts they did not always understand offered by lenders who did not always tell the truth,” he acknowledged in introducing his plan on June 17. Mr. Obama promised “enforcement will be the rule, not the exception.” But where is the funding for the FBI’s criminal fraud division? Where is effective consumer protection from insurance companies that don’t pay, from crooked contractors and mortgage companies using property appraisers, lawyers and collection agencies, or from stockbrokers packaging junk mortgages into junk securities? They’ve been given a fortune in recent years – and can keep it to set themselves up to make yet a new killing. It looks as if as little will be done to financial fraud as will be done to the Guantanamo torturers and the high-ups who condoned their actions.

Much attention has been given to the Consumer Financial Products Agency, whose role has been defined largely by Elizabeth Warren of the Harvard Law School. Its main aim is to enforce truth-in-lending laws on credit-card companies and mortgage lenders. (Weren’t these laws already on the books?) This is progress, but surely much more is needed. One way to make credit-card rates more economic would be for the government to provide its own rival service. After all, credit cards have become a major form of payment today. Isn’t electronic payment really a public utility? The difference is that unlike electric and gas utilities or railroads, there is no regulation to keep fees in line with economically necessary basic costs to the card issuer. It is fine to hear that one finally will be able to read clearly how much one is being exploited. But why not stop the exploitation in the first place?

Republicans may simply try to make the Consumer Financial Products Agency only “advisory,” without real regulatory power. So even if Congress doesn’t kill the proposal, Mr. Obama doesn’t have to worry too much about offending his number-one donor constituency. Serious regulation over Wall Street will have about as much effect as the corporate “social responsibility” desk to which companies assign employees on their way out. At the Senate hearings on June 18, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey asked Mr. Geithner “whether the council that would watch over the financial regulators has any power to do anything other than make recommendations. Mr. Geithner [said] they may not have gotten the balance exactly right, but he didn’t want the council to have the authority to unilaterally force changes on the regulators it oversees.”

To really protect consumers, why not counter extortionate credit-card practices by re-introducing anti-usury laws? They were evaded initially by companies incorporating themselves in states with “race to the bottom” laws. If Washington can override state prosecutors to prevent punishment of financial fraud, why can’t it override such ploys by the usury industry? Here’s where centralized federal law really should count for something.

3. Failure to reverse the shift to pro-creditor bankruptcy laws

The Obama plan allows Wall Street to keep on selling its product – debt, growing at exponential rates – as if finance were an “industry” like manufacturing. (In this spirit the Dow Jones Industrial Average now contains the leading financial-sector firms, although it dropped Citicorp when its shares dropped below the $1 cutoff point.) The reality is that tax favoritism for finance and debt leveraging is largely responsible for de-industrializing the economy. More and more income is being diverted away from buying goods and services in order to pay lenders on debts run up in the past. What is needed to free economies from such debt is repeal of the pro-creditor reversal that Congress passed in 2005 in response to lobbying by the credit card and banking industry. Making it harder for personal debtors to go bankrupt, this law blocked courts from rolling back debt to the population’s ability to pay.

Obama’s plan fails to rectify matters. It treats the financial “services” issue in isolation from the economy’s debt problem and general economic welfare. FDIC head Sheila Bair has proposed limiting mortgage interest to 32 per cent of the debtor’s family income. The alternative is for home foreclosures to continue, expropriating many recent buyers and also owners who have borrowed against their homes to pay off their higher-interest credit-card debt or simply to maintainliving standards that their paychecks no longer cover.

Ever since colonial times, New York State has had the Fraudulent Conveyance Law on its books. This wise legislation states that if a bank makes a loan to a borrower without knowing how the debtor can reasonably meet the terms of the loans out of normal income, the loan is deemed fraudulent and therefore null and void.

4. Failure to re-introduce Glass Steagall or otherwise limit lenders “too big to fail”

In presenting his program, Mr. Obama misrepresented a major cause of the Bubble Economy. It all seemed to be caused by the impersonal force of technology “A regulatory regime,” he claimed, “basically crafted in the wake of a 20th century economic crisis – the Great Depression – was overwhelmed by the speed, scope, and sophistication of a 21st century global economy.”  Not exactly. The capstone of FDR’s New Deal was the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from investment banking. This blocked the financial conflict of interest between serving retail bank customers and investment-bank profiteering.

One consequence of Glass-Steagall was to make the merger between Citibank and Travelers Insurance illegal. To save Citibank officials from suffering the consequences of breaking the law – and in the process, to open the doors to the conglomerate movement that brought down the economy – President Clinton took the advice of Messrs. Summers and Greenspan and signed into law the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999. Banks were permitted to buy insurance companies’ real estate and stock brokers and law firms to package junk mortgages into junked collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), cover them with junk-insurance policies written by A.I.G. and other companies taking fees for promising to pay money they did not have, and get bailed out with trillions of dollars of “taxpayer” money in the form of the Federal Reserve and Treasury’s “cash for trash” swaps.

5. Failure to deter credit default swaps and other “casino capitalist” gambles

On Mr. Summers’ watch under the Clintons, the word “reform” came to mean what it meant in Russia, where he had a free hand in the 1990s: a giveaway of public assets to financial insiders. In the United States this involved stripping away the true reforms put in place from the Progressive Era to the New Deal. Among the excuses being cited is the need to free “innovation.” But financial innovation is not like that of manufacturing. Instead of raising productivity to produce more with less labor (and hence at falling prices), financial innovation aims at extracting more from debtors and from money-management clients and funds. Under free competition, for example, modern electronic technology enables banks to clear checks in a single day. But “financial engineering” has gone hand in hand with political engineering, permitting the banking monopoly to adhere to old pony express schedules – and keeping depositors’ money as “float,” that is, as an interest-free loan.

The main achievement of financial engineering has been to create mathematically opaque derivatives. As no less a speculator than George Soros has noted: “Financial engineers claimed they were reducing risks through geographic diversification: in fact they were increasing them by creating an agency problem. The agents were more interested in maximizing fee income than in protecting the interests of bondholders. … Custom-made derivatives only serve to improve the profit margin of the financial engineers designing them.” The only cure is to ban credit default swaps outright. But they have become Wall Street’s leading profit center. Mr. Obama’s reform does not interfere with that cash cow.

As for the “technology” of credit evaluation, modern web searching should enable any creditor or hapless buyer of packaged bank mortgages to check the estimated price of any home or building on-line – or any credit reporting score on individuals, for that matter. Banks have no interest in doing this when it interferes with their rip-offs. “We’ve seen a system that allowed lenders to profit by providing loans to borrowers who would never repay,” Mr. Obama explained, “because the lender offloaded the loan, and the consequences, to someone else.” Much of today’s institutionalized financial irresponsibility indeed stems from the fact that banks today no longer hold the mortgages they originated. Instead, they “offloadi” their loans and  give bonuses to officers based on their loan volume without any consideration for loan quality or reality. It used to be called fraud, and be prosecuted.

Mr. Obama proposes that originators of  loans keep a token 5 per cent on their own books. Critics point out that this hardly will deter junk-mortgage practices, and suggest that the required proportion at least be doubled, along with blocking off-balance-sheet vehicles, especially in tax-avoidance zero-oversight offshore banking centers. In view of the almost universal condemnation of this practice, Mr. Obama’s delicate steps suggest that the plan was formulated with a view of “How little do we have to yield to popular and Congressional anger at the trillions of bailout dollars we have given to financial crooks?”

6. Failure to reform the tax system that has distorted the financial system to promote predatory extractive debt, not productive industrial credit

The “product” that the banking “industry” sells is debt – loans which, under today’s financial circumstances and tax favoritism for Wall Street, are extended in a way whose main effect is to inflate asset prices, not fund tangible capital formation. Rising prices for housing and commercial property, stocks and bonds, are taken as justification for yet more lending, backed by collateral being bid up in price. By loading the economy down with debt, this seeming “wealth creation” becomes a vicious circle, increasing the economy’s financial carrying charge.

Mr. Obama’s “reform” plan seeks to sustain this dynamic, not reverse it. The plan does not acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between fiscal and financial policy. Cutting property taxes leaves more real estate rent, monopoly rent and asset-price gains “free” to be pledged to the banks for yet larger loans – pledged to pay more interest on the rising debt taken on to buy assets being inflated by the credit bubble.

The resulting financial “enterprise” is different from industrial innovation. It consists largely of capturing congressional tax legislators so as to write small-print tax “loopholes” and more glaring tax breaks that shift the fiscal burden onto productive labor and industry. That is the essence of today’s “pay to play” democracy. Financializing the economy in this way has gone hand in hand with de-industrialization.

The most regressive tax is FICA wage withholding for Social Security and Medicare. Only wages below about $102,000 are subject to this tax, not higher incomes. And Wall Street speculators only pay a low “capital gains” rate on their trading. By shifting the tax burden onto the “real” economy, this tax shift polarizes income and wealth at the top of the economic pyramid while increasing the cost of living (taxes are a cost, after all). This squeezes family budgets and shrinks spending on goods and services. And as a result of tax subsidy for debt leveraging, industrial cash flow is diverted to pay interest and dividends rather than being reinvested in new means of production and being liable for income taxes.

More bank lending – that is, more debt – is the heart of today’s economic problem, not the solution. Finance capitalism is undercutting industrial capitalism, replacing the production of goods and services with predatory extraction of rent and interest via economic “tollbooths,” from parking meters in Chicago to roads in New Jersey. States and localities are facing fiscal shortfalls obliging them to sell off their roads, parking meters and public enterprises to buyers who erect expensive tollbooths and extract yet more income from the shrinking “real” economy. The economy is heading toward debt peonage as it polarizes between wealthy patrons and a work force reduced to patron-client dependency relationships.

Do we need a new beginning for meaningful financial restructuring?

America’s financial problem thus requires deeper solutions than have been discussed to date. Paul Krugman has complained in his New York Times column  about two obvious gaps in the Obama plan. “To live up to its own analysis, the Obama administration needs to come down harder on the rating agencies and, even more important, get much more specific about reforming the way bankers are paid.” The securities ratings agencies certainly have an inherent conflict of interest in being paid by their clients to give reviews – usually a rave AAA rating – for junk securities. But beneath this problem lie much deeper ones, so it is understandable that when Mr. Geithner was asked about better regulation of the ratings agencies in his Senate testimony on Thursday, he said that this would have to wait for another day. As Mr. Obama explained: “we are proposing a set of reforms to require regulators to look not only at the safety and soundness of individual institutions, but also – for the first time – at the stability of the system as a whole.”

But this is just what is not being done. The plan is silent when it comes to the reported 25 per cent of U.S. real estate sunk into a state of negative equity and 1/8 already in arrears heading for foreclosure as the mortgage debt attached to it exceeds its (falling) market price. Commercial real estate looks like the next big sector to topple. Debt service meanwhile is crowding out consumer spending on goods and services, shrinking the domestic market and aggravating unemployment.

The economy needs an FDR but has got the opposite. Mr. Obama promised change, but is defending the status quo. Will his historical role be to have made a doomed attempt to sustain growth in America’s debt overhead? Eroding Progressive Era checks on financial dynamics has been the political and economic trend for the past thirty years. It is advisor Summers’ idea of “reform” which he and his neoliberal cohorts imposed on Russia in the mid-1990s, endowing a kleptocracy and imposing poverty on the population at large, stripping away industrial capital.

Mr. Obama’s financial “reform” aims at sustaining casino capitalism by rolling back a century’s worth of progressive tax and financial legislation. After his speech the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose on Thursday, mainly because most “industrials” are now financial companies, reflecting the degree to which financial engineering has replaced industrial engineering.

The banks will complain about the Obama plan (really the Paulson Plan) to centralize financial regulation in a strengthened Federal Reserve. But of course that’s just where they want to end up, under a compliant Chairman (Mr. Summers himself?) appointed with Wall Street’s advice and consent. “Born and bred in

Finding a Stubborn Hope to Live in a Dead Culture

Posted in Music, Arts, Culture, Subversion on June 16, 2009 by CjH

Let Us Find Our Prophetic Voices

By Robert Jensen, ZSpace

Part I: Facing failure

When we seek the truth, we try to make sense of a chaotic world. We struggle to achieve what clarity is possible. When we look honestly, we face the cruelty of that truth. But the crucible, the most important test of our capacity to face the truth, comes in the steps we take at that point. What if the human species has failed, finally? Can we move forward, even when we recognize we may face insurmountable obstacles? Can we work for justice and sustainability within a dead culture?

For many years I said in public talks that we live in a “dying culture,” but I have abandoned that phrase. The dominant culture in the United States—hyper-nationalist ethnocentrism and a predatory corporate capitalism shaped by patriarchy and white supremacy, playing out within a broader human assault on the planetary ecosystem—is not dying. It is already dead. Of course the United States government and United States-based corporations continue to wield incredible power at home and around the world, and it may seem odd to refer to a society that can impose its will on so much of the world as a dead culture. Sick, maybe even dying, certainly in the last throes of imperial power—but dead? Yes, and the distinction in phrasing makes a difference.

It is time for us to stop trying to revive our dead culture, to stop believing that the nation-state and capitalism—born in, and still infected by, patriarchy and white supremacy—can be the basis for a just and sustainable future. It is time to go to a deeper level and think about the major changes coming, most likely sooner than later.

Even with the economic and military setbacks of recent years, many in the United States hold on tightly to a delusional triumphalism—a belief that the United States is the ultimate fulfillment of human promise, that shining city upon the hill, a beacon to the world. The commitment and faith we need must give us strength to recognize we live in a dead culture and to speak this harsh truth. Beyond that, it must allow us, first, to be decent to one another despite our knowledge that being heartless will be rewarded. Second, it must embolden us to confront systems that will be intensely resistant to change and will reward those who refuse to acknowledge the urgent need for change. Third, it must empower us to maintain these personal and political commitments with no guarantee that we can transcend and survive this dead culture.

The ultimate test of our strength is whether we can recognize not only that we live in a dead culture but also that there may be no way out. It’s true that throughout history cultures have died, empires have fallen, societies have been replaced by challengers. Through all that, the world survived. But consider the unprecedented destructive capacity of the United States military, the entrenched pathology embedded in our psyches through capitalism, the ecological damage already done, and the further damage likely to occur during a collapse—it’s no longer clear that by the time the United States empire collapses, the world will survive in anything like the form we know it. And as this future unfolds, we will have to cope with the delusions (both of grandeur and victimization) that power and affluence tend to produce in elites and the general public, which will undermine the clear thinking that will be so desperately needed.

The ultimate test of our strength is whether we would be able to persevere in the quest for sustainability and justice even if we had good reasons to believe that both projects would ultimately fail. We can’t know for sure, but can we live with that possibility? Can we ponder that and yet still commit ourselves to loving action toward others and the non-human world?

Said differently: What if our species is an evolutionary dead end? What if those adaptations that produced our incredible evolutionary success—our ability to understand certain aspects of how the world works and manipulate that world to our short-term advantage—are the very qualities that guarantee we will destroy ourselves and possibly the world? What if that which has allowed us to dominate will be that which in the end destroys us? What if humanity’s story is a dramatic tragedy in the classical sense, a tale in which the seeds of the protagonist’s destruction are to be found within, and the play is the unfolding of the inevitable fall?

No one can know for sure, of course. But what if? Do we have the strength to ponder that? In a let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-to-work culture, what if we were to roll up our sleeves forever and still not be able to get the job done? Most people would say we demonstrate our strength when we tackle such jobs with a can-do attitude. A demonstration of greater strength—maybe the greatest strength we can imagine—is to take on those jobs with an understanding not only that failure is possible but that it may be likely. This goes against the grain in a culture that assumes that success is inevitable. Lewis Killian described this outlook in the context of his own discipline, when looking at white supremacy in the 1960s:

The sociologist, no matter how gloomy his predictions, is inclined to end his discourse with recommendations for avoiding catastrophe. There are times, however, when his task becomes that of describing the situation as it appears without the consolation of a desirable alternative. There is no requirement in social science that the prognosis must always be favorable; there may be social ills for which there is no cure.

Nor is there a requirement in theology or politics that the prognosis always be favorable. There may be not only specific social ills for which there is no cure—it may be that we humans are just smart enough to get into trouble on all fronts but never quite smart enough to get ourselves out. What if the tragedy of human intelligence is that we are bound to create complex problems for which there are no simple solutions?

Serious scientists are speaking of these questions. James Lovelock, a Fellow of the Royal Society whose work led to the detection of the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere, is most famous for his “Gaia hypothesis” that understands both the living and non-living parts of the earth as a complex system that can be thought of as a single organism. He suggests that we face these stark realities immediately:

The great party of the twentieth century is coming to an end, and unless we now start preparing our survival kit we will soon be just another species eking out an existence in the few remaining habitable regions. … We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia.

If we are truly strong we must face these questions. Strength is exhibited not by manufacturing a sense of hope that ignores reality but by facing up, while not succumbing, to a situation that may be hopeless. It doesn’t mean hope is unavailable to us, but that we have to find honestly what Albert Camus called a “stubborn hope”:

Tomorrow the world may burst into fragments. In that threat hanging over our heads there is a lesson of truth. As we face such a future, hierarchies, titles, honors are reduced to what they are in reality: a passing puff of smoke. And the only certainty left to us is that of naked suffering, common to all, intermingling its roots with those of a stubborn hope.

Part II: We Are All Prophets Now

It may be that people always want to believe they live at the most important time in history, that their moment is the decisive moment. But even factoring in this tendency toward a collective sense of self-importance, it is difficult to ignore that the multiple crises we face today—economic, political, cultural, and, most crucially, ecological—have the potential to make impossible ongoing life on the scale we know it today. Even though predictions about the specifics of the trajectory are beyond our capabilities, we can know—if we choose to know—that we must solve problems for which there are no apparent solutions and face “questions that go beyond the available answers,” to borrow Wes Jackson’s phrase.  These threats have been building for the past 10,000 years, intensifying in the past two centuries to levels that only the foolhardy would ignore. The bills for the two most destructive revolutions in human history—the agricultural and industrial revolutions—are coming due, sooner than we think.

Never before in this world have we had such a need for strong, principled, charismatic leadership. In the United States, where such leadership is most desperately needed at this crucial moment, the old guard in politics has failed and the younger politicians taking power offer no indication they are up to the task. We can look around the national scene—whether in politics, business, religion, or intellectual life—and see that no one measures up.

Thank goodness for that.

It would be seductive, as we stand at the edge of these cascading crises, to look for leaders. But where would they lead us? How would they answer the unanswerable questions and solve the unsolvable problems? Better to recognize that we are at a moment when leaders cannot help us, because we need to go deeper than leadership can take us. Perhaps there are no honestly inspiring figures on the scene—and by honest, I mean those willing to tell the truth about the nature of the systems in which we live—because those kind of authentic leaders know that we are heading into new territory for which old models of movements and politics are insufficient. Rather than trying to claim a place at the front of the parade, they are struggling to understand the direction we should be moving, just like the rest of us.

When traditional political and/or theological leadership fails, it’s tempting to want to turn to a prophet. But that too would be a mistake. This is a moment that cries out not for a prophet but for prophets. It is time to recognize that we all must strive to be prophets now. It is time for each of us to take responsibility for speaking in the prophetic voice.

I don’t mean this in the shallow sense of the term prophecy, claiming to be able to see the future. The complexity of these crises makes any claim to predict the details of what lies ahead absurd. All we can say is that, absent a radical change in our relationship to each other and the non-human world, we’re in for a rough ride in the coming decades. Though the consequences of that ride are likely to be more overwhelming than anything humans have faced, certainly people at other crucial historical moments have faced crises without clear paths or knowledge of the outcome. A twenty-five-year-old Karl Marx wrote about this in 1843:

The internal difficulties seem to be almost greater than the external obstacles. For although no doubt exists on the question of “Whence,” all the greater confusion prevails on the question of “Whither.” Not only has a state of general anarchy set in among the reformers, but everyone will have to admit to himself that he has no exact idea what the future ought to be. On the other hand, it is precisely the advantage of the new trend that we do not dogmatically anticipate the world, but only want to find the new world through criticism of the old one. Hitherto philosophers have had the solution of all riddles lying in their writing-desks, and the stupid, exoteric world had only to open its mouth for the roast pigeons of absolute knowledge to fly into it.

We should understand the prophetic as the calling out of injustice, the willingness not only to confront the abuses of the powerful but to acknowledge our own complicity. To speak prophetically requires us first to see honestly—both how our world is structured by illegitimate authority that causes suffering beyond the telling, and how we who live in the privileged parts of the world are implicated in that suffering. In that same letter, Marx went on to discuss the need for this kind of “ruthless criticism”:

But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

To speak prophetically is to refuse to shrink from what we discover about the injustice of the world. It is to name the wars of empire as unjust; to name an economic system that leaves half the world in abject poverty as unjust; to name the dominance of men, of heterosexuals, of white people as unjust. And it is to name the human destruction of the planet as our most profound failure. At the same time, to speak prophetically is to refuse to shrink from our own place in these systems. We must confront the powers that be, and ourselves.

In the Christian and Jewish traditions, the Old Testament offers us many models—Amos and Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah—men who rejected the pursuit of wealth or power and argued for the centrality of kindness and justice. The prophets condemned corrupt leaders but also called out all those privileged people in society who had turned from the demands of justice, which the faith makes central to human life. In his analysis of these prophets, the scholar and activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel concluded:

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual’s crime discloses society’s corruption. In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every man, crime would be infrequent rather than common.

Part III: The Costs of Speaking Prophetically

It may be crazy to accept a dead culture quietly, but in fact most of the people in the United States do just that, which means that speaking prophetically is unlikely to make one popular. While everyone honors the prophets of the past, speaking in the prophetic voice in the present typically is not warmly received by all one’s peers. A review of the prophets of the Old Testament offers some guidance on this, not because we take these texts as “true” but because they offer insights into enduring human struggles. One need not be religious in any sense of the term to profit from such insights.

First, remember that the prophets did not see themselves as having special status, but rather were ordinary people. When the king’s priest confronted Amos for naming the injustice of his day, Amazi’ah called Amos a “seer” and commanded him to pack his bags and head to Judah and “never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos rejected the label:

[14] Then Amos answered Amazi’ah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,
[15] and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
[Amos 7:10-15]

Nor did the prophets seek out their calling. Jeremiah told God he did not know how to speak, claiming he was only a youth. God didn’t buy the excuse:

[7] But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak.
[8] Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
[9] Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
[10] See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
[Jer. 1:7-10]

Nor was it typically much fun to fill the role of a prophet. On this, Jeremiah was blunt:

[9] Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me, all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and because of his holy words.
[Jer. 23:9]

And, finally, the Old Testament reminds us that to speak prophetically involves more than just articulating abstract principles, which typically are relatively easy to proclaim. For example, these inspiring words from Micah are quoted often:

[8] He has showed you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
[Mic. 6:8]

That is an eloquent way to summarize our core obligations, but at that level of generality, it is a statement that virtually all would endorse. Cite that verse and everyone will nod approvingly. But remember that Micah also was calling out the injustice around him and foretelling the inevitable consequences, never softening what he knew to be the truth:

[12] Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
[13] Therefore I have begun to smite you, making you desolate because of your sins.
[14] You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be hunger in your inward parts; you shall put away, but not save, and what you save I will give to the sword.
[15] You shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
[Mic. 6:12-15]

And:

[2] The godly man has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among men; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts his brother with a net.
[3] Their hands are upon what is evil, to do it diligently; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together.
[4] The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of their watchmen, of their punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand.
[Mic. 7:2-4]

Before we can speak convincingly with such passion, we must achieve clarity in our own hearts, minds, and souls. To speak truthfully to others requires that we have first examined our own lives. When we call out the shortcomings of others, they typically ask us—and rightfully so—whether we have asked the same questions of ourselves. When we have asked and answered for ourselves, then we can find the courage to speak in that prophetic voice, knowing that we have confronted those questions and are willing to struggle with our own failures.

Our task is not to shine the light on others, but to shine the light from ourselves onto that which is wrong in the world. When we have been honest with ourselves, that light gains intensity and focus as it gathers within us. If we have turned away from a ruthless criticism of ourselves, that light will never reach the world and will illuminate nothing but our own limitations and fears.

For those who prefer a more secular term for this, perhaps we can replace “prophetic” with “authentic.” We seek to speak the truth we have come to know in our authentic voice.

Authenticity is a tricky concept. It is a state or quality we often invoke, though we are not always clear about its meaning. The best definition of authenticity I’ve ever heard comes from one of the truly prophetic voices I have heard in my lifetime, my friend Abe Osheroff, who engaged joyfully in radical political activity until his death at the age of ninety-two.  Starting as a teenager in Depression-era New York helping evicted tenants, Abe was involved in progressive politics at every level—from fighting in the late 1930s for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War to community work in the civil rights movement in the United States, from neighborhood organizing against developers at home to the seemingly endless struggle to end United States wars around the world. Abe told me that in such political work, it is crucial to strive for authenticity, which he described simply and elegantly:

Authenticity comes when your thoughts, your words, and your deeds have some relation to each other. It comes when there’s a real organic relationship between the way you think, the way you talk, and the way you act. You have to fight for authenticity all the time in this world, and if you don’t fight for it you will get derailed. But when you have it, when you feel that surge of recognition—that I’m saying exactly what I’m thinking, and I’m ready to do something about it—well, that’s an intellectual and emotional orgasm that makes sex look like nothing.

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive

Posted in Political Economy on June 13, 2009 by CjH

Tom Leanord, Telegraph

Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic “shrink to survive” proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.

“The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we’re all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” said Mr Kildee. “Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”

Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective programme at the University of California, Berkeley, said there was “both a cultural and political taboo” about admitting decline in America.

“Places like Flint have hit rock bottom. They’re at the point where it’s better to start knocking a lot of buildings down,” she said.

Flint, sixty miles north of Detroit, was the original home of General Motors. The car giant once employed 79,000 local people but that figure has shrunk to around 8,000.

Unemployment is now approaching 20 per cent and the total population has almost halved to 110,000.

The exodus – particularly of young people – coupled with the consequent collapse in property prices, has left street after street in sections of the city almost entirely abandoned.

In the city centre, the once grand Durant Hotel – named after William Durant, GM’s founder – is a symbol of the city’s decline, said Mr Kildee. The large building has been empty since 1973, roughly when Flint’s decline began.

Regarded as a model city in the motor industry’s boom years, Flint may once again be emulated, though for very different reasons.

But Mr Kildee, who has lived there nearly all his life, said he had first to overcome a deeply ingrained American cultural mindset that “big is good” and that cities should sprawl – Flint covers 34 square miles.

He said: “The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they’re shrinking, they’re failing.”

But some Flint dustcarts are collecting just one rubbish bag a week, roads are decaying, police are very understaffed and there were simply too few people to pay for services, he said.

If the city didn’t downsize it will eventually go bankrupt, he added.

Flint’s recovery efforts have been helped by a new state law passed a few years ago which allowed local governments to buy up empty properties very cheaply.

They could then knock them down or sell them on to owners who will occupy them. The city wants to specialise in health and education services, both areas which cannot easily be relocated abroad.

The local authority has restored the city’s attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas.

Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same.

Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there.

Choosing which areas to knock down will be delicate but many of them were already obvious, he said.

The city is buying up houses in more affluent areas to offer people in neighbourhoods it wants to demolish. Nobody will be forced to move, said Mr Kildee.

“Much of the land will be given back to nature. People will enjoy living near a forest or meadow,” he said.

Mr Kildee acknowledged that some fellow Americans considered his solution “defeatist” but he insisted it was “no more defeatist than pruning an overgrown tree so it can bear fruit again”.

Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on June 11, 2009 by CjH

By Jeffrey M. Smith, SeedsofDeception.com

On May 19th, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.”[1] They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM’s position paper stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. They conclude, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation,” as defined by recognized scientific criteria. “The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.”

More and more doctors are already prescribing GM-free diets. Dr. Amy Dean, a Michigan internal medicine specialist, and board member of AAEM says, “I strongly recommend patients eat strictly non-genetically modified foods.” Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles says “I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it.”

Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, President of AAEM, says, “Physicians are probably seeing the effects in their patients, but need to know how to ask the right questions.” World renowned biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava goes one step further. After reviewing more than 600 scientific journals, he concludes that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a major contributor to the sharply deteriorating health of Americans.

Pregnant women and babies at great risk

Among the population, biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute warns that “children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems” related to GM foods. He says without adequate studies, the children become “the experimental animals.”[2]

The experience of actual GM-fed experimental animals is scary. When GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died within three weeks—compared to a 10% death rate among the control group fed natural soy.[3] The GM-fed babies were also smaller, and later had problems getting pregnant.[4]

When male rats were fed GM soy, their testicles actually changed color—from the normal pink to dark blue.[5] Mice fed GM soy had altered young sperm.[6] Even the embryos of GM fed parent mice had significant changes in their DNA.[7] Mice fed GM corn in an Austrian government study had fewer babies, which were also smaller than normal.[8]

Reproductive problems also plague livestock. Investigations in the state of Haryana, India revealed that most buffalo that ate GM cottonseed had complications such as premature deliveries, abortions, infertility, and prolapsed uteruses. Many calves died. In the US, about two dozen farmers reported thousands of pigs became sterile after consuming certain GM corn varieties. Some had false pregnancies; others gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became infertile when fed the same corn.[9]

In the US population, the incidence of low birth weight babies, infertility, and infant mortality are all escalating.

Food designed to produce toxin

GM corn and cotton are engineered to produce their own built-in pesticide in every cell. When bugs bite the plant, the poison splits open their stomach and kills them. Biotech companies claim that the pesticide, called Bt—produced from soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis—has a history of safe use, since organic farmers and others use Bt bacteria spray for natural insect control. Genetic engineers insert Bt genes into corn and cotton, so the plants do the killing.

The Bt-toxin produced in GM plants, however, is thousands of times more concentrated than natural Bt spray, is designed to be more toxic,[10] has properties of an allergen, and unlike the spray, cannot be washed off the plant. Moreover, studies confirm that even the less toxic natural bacterial spray is harmful. When dispersed by plane to kill gypsy moths in the Pacific Northwest, about 500 people reported allergy or flu-like symptoms. Some had to go to the emergency room.[11], [12] The exact same symptoms are now being reported by farm workers throughout India, from handling Bt cotton.[13] In 2008, based on medical records, the Sunday India reported, “Victims of itching have increased massively this year . . . related to BT cotton farming.”[14]

GMOs provoke immune reactions

AAEM states, “Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation,” including increase in cytokines, which are “associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation”—all on the rise in the US.

According to GM food safety expert Dr. Arpad Pusztai, changes in the immune status of GM animals are “a consistent feature of all the studies.”[15] Even Monsanto’s own research showed significant immune system changes in rats fed Bt corn.[16] A November 2008 by the Italian government also found that mice have an immune reaction to Bt corn.[17]

GM soy and corn each contain two new proteins with allergenic properties,[18] GM soy has up to seven times more trypsin inhibitor—a known soy allergen,[19] and skin prick tests show some people react to GM, but not to non-GM soy.[20] Soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%. Perhaps the US epidemic of food allergies and asthma is a casualty of genetic manipulation.

Animals dying in large numbers

In India, animals graze on cotton plants after harvest. But when shepherds let sheep graze on Bt cotton plants, thousands died. Post mortems showed severe irritation and black patches in both intestines and liver (as well as enlarged bile ducts). Investigators said preliminary evidence “strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin. . . . most probably Bt-toxin.”[21] In a small follow-up feeding study by the Deccan Development Society, all sheep fed Bt cotton plants died within 30 days; those that grazed on natural cotton plants remained healthy.

In a small village in Andhra Pradesh, buffalo grazed on cotton plants for eight years without incident. On January 3rd, 2008, the buffalo grazed on Bt cotton plants for the first time. All 13 were sick the next day; all died within 3 days.[22] Bt corn was also implicated in the deaths of cows in Germany, and horses, water buffaloes, and chickens in The Philippines.[23]

In lab studies, twice the number of chickens fed Liberty Link corn died; 7 of 20 rats fed a GM tomato developed bleeding stomachs; another 7 of 40 died within two weeks.[24] Monsanto’s own study showed evidence of poisoning in major organs of rats fed Bt corn, according to top French toxicologist G. E. Seralini.[25]

Worst finding of all—GMOs remain inside of us

The only published human feeding study revealed what may be the most dangerous problem from GM foods. The gene inserted into GM soy transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function.[26] This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. Put more plainly, eating a corn chip produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives.

When evidence of gene transfer is reported at medical conferences around the US, doctors often respond by citing the huge increase of gastrointestinal problems among their patients over the last decade. GM foods might be colonizing the gut flora of North Americans.

Warnings by government scientists ignored and denied

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had warned about all these problems even in the early 1990s. According to documents released from a lawsuit, the scientific consensus at the agency was that GM foods were inherently dangerous, and might create hard-to-detect allergies, poisons, gene transfer to gut bacteria, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged their superiors to require rigorous long-term tests.[27] But the White House had ordered the agency to promote biotechnology and the FDA responded by recruiting Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, to head up the formation of GMO policy. That policy, which is in effect today, denies knowledge of scientists’ concerns and declares that no safety studies on GMOs are required. It is up to Monsanto and the other biotech companies to determine if their foods are safe. Mr. Taylor later became Monsanto’s vice president.

Dangerously few studies, untraceable diseases

AAEM states, “GM foods have not been properly tested” and “pose a serious health risk.” Not a single human clinical trial on GMOs has been published. A 2007 review of published scientific literature on the “potential toxic effects/health risks of GM plants” revealed “that experimental data are very scarce.” The author concludes his review by asking, “Where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe, as assumed by the biotechnology companies?”[28]

Famed Canadian geneticist David Suzuki answers, “The experiments simply haven’t been done and we now have become the guinea pigs.” He adds, “Anyone that says, ‘Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,’ I say is either unbelievably stupid or deliberately lying.”[29]

Dr. Schubert points out, “If there are problems, we will probably never know because the cause will not be traceable and many diseases take a very long time to develop.” If GMOs happen to cause immediate and acute symptoms with a unique signature, perhaps then we might have a chance to trace the cause.

This is precisely what happened during a US epidemic in the late 1980s. The disease was fast acting, deadly, and caused a unique measurable change in the blood—but it still took more than four years to identify that an epidemic was even occurring. By then it had killed about 100 Americans and caused 5,000-10,000 people to fall sick or become permanently disabled. It was caused by a genetically engineered brand of a food supplement called L-tryptophan.

If other GM foods are contributing to the rise of autism, obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer, heart disease, allergies, reproductive problems, or any other common health problem now plaguing Americans, we may never know. In fact, since animals fed GMOs had such a wide variety of problems, susceptible people may react to GM food with multiple symptoms. It is therefore telling that in the first nine years after the large scale introduction of GM crops in 1996, the incidence of people with three or more chronic diseases nearly doubled, from 7% to 13%.[30]

To help identify if GMOs are causing harm, the AAEM asks their “members, the medical community, and the independent scientific community to gather case studies potentially related to GM food consumption and health effects, begin epidemiological research to investigate the role of GM foods on human health, and conduct safe methods of determining the effect of GM foods on human health.”

Citizens need not wait for the results before taking the doctors advice to avoid GM foods. People can stay away from anything with soy or corn derivatives, cottonseed and canola oil, and sugar from GM sugar beets—unless it says organic or “non-GMO.” There is a pocket Non-GMO Shopping Guide, co-produced by the Institute for Responsible Technology and the Center for Food Safety, which is available as a download, as well as in natural food stores and in many doctors’ offices.

If even a small percentage of people choose non-GMO brands, the food industry will likely respond as they did in Europe—by removing all GM ingredients. Thus, AAEM’s non-GMO prescription may be a watershed for the US food supply.

The Wages of Hubris and Vengeance

Posted in Global Order, Life in the Holy Land on June 8, 2009 by CjH

The Future of Israel and the Decline of the American Empire

By Arno J. Mayer

Israel is in the grip of a kind of collective schizophrenia. Not only its governors but the majority of its Jewish population have delusions of both grandeur and persecution, making for a distortion of reality and inconsistent behavior. Israeli Jews see and represent themselves as a chosen people and part of a superior Western civilization. They consider themselves more cerebral, reasonable, moral, and dynamic than Arabs and Muslims generally, and Palestinians in particular. At the same time they feel themselves to be the ultimate incarnation of the Jewish people’s unique suffering through the ages, still subject to constant insecurity and defenselessness in the face of ever-threatening extreme and unmerited punishment.

Such a psyche leads to hubris and vengefulness, the latter a response to the perpetual Jewish torment said to have culminated, as if by a directive purpose, in the Holocaust. Remembering the Shoah is Israel’s Eleventh Commandment and central to the nation’s civil religion and Weltanschauung. Family, school, synagogue, and official culture propagate its prescriptive narrative, decontextualized and surfeited with ethnocentrism. The re-memorizing of victimization is ritualized on Yom Ha Shoah and institutionalized by Yad Vashem.

Israel uses the Holocaust to conjure the specter of a timeless existential peril, in turn used to justify its warfare state and unbending diplomacy. Forever posing as the impossibly vulnerable Biblical David braving the Islamic Goliath, Israel insists all its cross-border wars and punitive operations are strictly defensive, preventive, or preemptive. Yet its leaders, many of them retired senior officers of the armed forces and intelligence services, attribute the exploits of the military to the advanced weapons, exemplary strategists, and uniquely principled citizen soldiers of the country’s formidable “Defense Forces,” one of the world’s mightiest fighting machines.

This self-congratulation passes over the powerlessness of the enemy “other” while it vastly exaggerates Israel’s innate strength to the point of impairing judgment and action. Without the enormous and practically unconditional financial, military, and diplomatic support of the United States and European Union, Israel would be an unexceptional small Middle Eastern nation-state, not an anomalous regional superpower. Even with this truly uncommon foreign backing (not to mention that of the global diaspora), the Jewish state scores only pyrrhic victories, judging by its failure to significantly enhance its strategic and political position in the Greater Middle East—except for the time gained to further consolidate and expand its fiercely contested “facts on the ground” in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan.

Although its leaders avoid saying so in public, Israel does not want peace, or a permanent comprehensive settlement, except on its own terms. They do not dare spell these out publicly, as they presume the enemy’s unconditional surrender, even enduring submission. Instead the Palestinians continue to be blamed for a chronic state of war that entails Israel’s continuing self-endangerment and militarization. This policy’s underlying strategic premise is the need to prevent any significant change in the West Asian balance of power.

But there is possibly another less delusional reason for their spurning accommodation and negotiation: because of their history of exile and want of political self-rule, Jews and their sages may well be insufficiently mindful of the theory and practice of sovereign statecraft. Admittedly, after 1945 the leaders of many of the new states of the post-colonial worlds were equally benighted. Unlike most of them, however, Israel’s political class and thinkers prize their deep connection with the West, including its philosophic and intellectual heritage, to the point of putting admission to the European Union ahead of rapprochement with the Arab/Muslim world. Yet they seem not to be conversant with the fundamental ideas of the likes of Machiavelli and Clausewitz. Respectively theorists of politics and war, both emphatically propound moderation over unrestraint. Machiavelli puts virtù at the center of his formula for the use of power and force. He does not, however, construe it as a moral principle—as virtue—but as a prescript for prudence, flexibility, and a sense of sober limits in power politics.

Clausewitz theorizes limited war for well-defined and negotiable objectives, the disposition for compromise varying in inverse ratio to the victor’s aims and demands. He cautions above all against “absolute” war in which intellect, reason, and judgment are cast aside. Although he and Machiavelli take account of the interpenetration of domestic and international politics, both conceive them as two distinct spheres. In Israel, domestic politics prevails, with little concern for the reason of international politics.

These insights are particularly relevant for small states. But blinded by their successful defiance of limits and laws, the leaders of Israel take their country of seven million people (over 20 percent of them non-Jewish, mostly Arabs) to be a great power by dint of its outsized armed forces and arms industry. They deceive themselves by assuming the Western world’s support for its military hypertrophy is irreversible. Perverting virtù they launch nearly absolute military expeditions against the radical Palestinian resistance. They also envisage striking resurgent Iran with the most modern American-made and -financed aircraft operated by American-certified Israeli pilots. Nor does Tel Aviv hesitate to send military, technical, and covert “intelligence” missions, as well as weapons, to scores of nations in the Middle East, ex-Soviet sphere, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, not infrequently in concert with Washington.

State terror is all but integral to the latest weapons and tactics with which Israel’s forces engage the Palestinian resistance fighters. Of course the latter also resort to terror, the hallmark of asymmetrical warfare. But it is Israel that sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind. A vicious, endless cycle of vengeance, driven by the clashes of Israel’s overconfident, sophisticated, and regular military forces with crude and irregular paramilitary forces, further intensifies the distrust between Israelis and Palestinians, including Israeli Arabs, most of them Muslim. Though intended to break the will of the armed militias by inflicting unbearable pain on the host society, as in Lebanon and Gaza, the collateral damage of Israel’s campaigns of “shock and awe” only serve to fire the avenging fury of the powerless.

Since Israel’s foundation, the failure to pursue Arab-Jewish understanding and cooperation has been Zionism’s “great sin of omission” (Judah Magnes). At every major turn since 1947-48 Israel has had the upper hand in the conflict with the Palestinians, its ascendancy at once military, diplomatic, and economic. This prepotency became especially pronounced after the Six Day War of 1967. Consider the annexations and settlements; occupation and martial law; settler pogroms and expropriations; border crossings and checkpoints; walls and segregated roads. No less mortifying for the Palestinians has been the disproportionately large number of civilians killed and injured, and the roughly 10,000 languishing in Israeli prisons.

Despite the recent ingloriousness of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Israel’s ruling and governing class continues to stand imperious. Yet evidence that the country’s military is increasingly ill-adapted to fight today’s decentralized irregular warfare mounts, while its foreign policy is increasingly incoherent and hostage to the hidebound partisan politics of competing intransigence. Geopolitically unsteady, its relation to Washington is battered by the same heavy winds now buffeting the center and periphery of the American empire.

Even so, emboldened by cutting-edge conventional and unconventional weapons, the governors of Israel, contemptuous of the minuscule and comatose left opposition in the Knesset and the country at large, vow to hold on to most of the archipelago of settlements and all of Jerusalem. They pay lip service to the two-state solution, but all they are prepared to concede to the Palestinians is a cramped pseudo-state with minimal sovereignty, with Gaza severed from the West Bank. If pressed they might agree to a 30-mile tunnel under sovereign Israeli land to establish an artificial contiguity between fragmented West Bank and fenced-in Gaza Strip. Yet they mean to control all land and maritime borders as well as the airspace and electromagnetic frequencies.

Meanwhile Israel continues to play on the internecine divisions of the Palestinian nation and the discords in the Arab-Muslim world. Its leaders dread nothing more than a reconciliation of the two principal Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah; a Palestinian unity government; and an entente cordiale of the Arab states whose peace proposal, initiated by Saudi Arabia in 2002, they consider fraught with doom. The latest spirit of darkness is non-Arab Shi’ite Iran. Should Tehran’s political power and ideological sway strike fear into the so-called moderate Arab states, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, these might all rally around the treacherous Arab peace overture. Such a turn would most likely drive Iran to step up its support of radical political Islam throughout the Greater Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas throughout Palestine, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Israel responds only with the usual truculence, it will continue to navigate dangerously between the ever more insecure and disoriented anciens régimes of the Arab/Muslim world and an intensifying political unrest whose impulses are both secular and religious.

While the country is fixated on national security—Iran being decried as the latest, and imminent, existential threat—elsewhere Israel is widely perceived to be rapidly eroding what remains of its singular moral capital and international prestige. There are more and more calls for boycotts, embargoes, divestments, sanctions, and prosecutions, while the media are finally giving more space and time to analytic and critical voices. To dismiss or denounce this growing censure of Israel’s policies as an expression of resurgent age-old anti-Semitism—allegedly encouraged and legitimated by the ravings of self-hating Jews—is not to see the forest for the trees. The same holds for Israel’s leaders’ disposition to stigmatize major foreign adversary leaders—Nasser, Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad—as Hitler redivivus.

But the old reflexes remain, and the prospect of a nuclear and Islamist Iran said to be bent on regional hegemony keeps them quick. With a population of 70 million and some 15 percent of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves, Iran is, indeed, a state to reckon with: it has a long history, a strong national consciousness, and a swelling educated middle class. Its two-stage, solid-fueled missiles are capable of carrying conventional and nonconventional warheads a distance of between 930 and 1,200 miles.

Instead of joining those who seek diplomatic ways to refigure the balance of regional power, Israel advocates an all-out economic embargo of Iran backed by the threat of air strikes. The hardliners’ aim: to trigger a regime change by way of a color revolution covertly fomented by the U.S. and Israel. They warn that Tel Aviv will make good on this threat of aerial assaults on Iran’s nuclear sites to delay or prevent it from developing the ultimate weapon. Even respected politicians and public intellectuals swear that in extremis Israel will strike without approval from Washington, confident the U.S. will have no alternative but to provide military and diplomatic cover, all the more so now that Israel can use America’s five military bases in the Holy Land as blackmail.

In March 2009, Barack Obama and Shimon Peres saluted the Iranian people and government on the occasion of Noruz, the start of the Persian new year. Obama stressed the “common humanity that binds us together” and insisted it was in the interest of both countries that “Iran should take its rightful place in the community of nations.” Peres struck a radically different note. He urged Iranians to reclaim their “worthy place among the nations of the enlightened world” as he laid out the conditions in their country: “There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and general discontent. You cannot feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant.” Iran’s children suffer only because “a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path.” Rather than heed President Ahmadinejad, who in 2006 questioned the Holocaust, the citizenry should “topple these leaders…who do not serve the people.” Besides, while “they are destroying their [own] people, they won’t destroy us.”

The accusations are rich. Even now the independence of the Israeli judiciary is compromised, secularism is losing ground, xenophobia is rampant, and, still and always, the Palestinian minority is reduced to second-class citizenship. In brandishing the Iranian threat, Israel’s faction-ridden but consensual political class merely perpetuates its rule by fear, which, according to Montesquieu, sows the seeds of despotism.

Israelis must ask themselves whether there is a point beyond which the Zionist quest becomes self-defeatingly perilous, corrupting, and degrading. Although the Judeocide marks the nadir of the history of the Jewish people, it is not its defining moment and experience. The mythologized millennial exile of the Jewish people was anything but an unrelenting dark age: there was a vital Jewish life before the Shoah, and it resumed full force after 1945, in both Israel and the diaspora. It is neither to profane the Holocaust nor to desecrate the memory of its 5 to 6 million victims to recall their membership in a vast confederation of over 70 million killed during World War Two, some 45 million of them civilians. It is simply to point up that the Jewish catastrophe was inextricably tied into the most murderous and cruel war in the history of humanity, a war uniquely ferocious because of its crusading furies, and not because of a divine narrative about the Jews.

The Greater Middle East is a seething cauldron of domestic and international conflicts. All the nations of this perennially contested geopolitical space will have to adjust to the emergence of a multipolar world system and the attendant waning of the American empire. This great and accelerating change in international politics coincides with the breakneck globalization of economics, finance, and science, which subverts national economies while simultaneously fostering a new mercantilism whose terms are set by a new concert of Great Powers.

Israel’s leaders are at a crossroads: either they stick to their guns and are forced into a reconfigured geopolitical reality they cannot outwit or overmaster, or they decide of their own accord to temper their hubris and rein in their propensity to vengeance. What should they choose at a moment when Israeli society is facing a decline in Jewish immigration, a rise in Jewish and Israeli emigration, and an upturn in draft dodging  (to say nothing of how this disenchantment may be affecting the steep rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the diaspora)?

To begin, Israel’s governors and public intellectuals should rethink the fundamental premises, objectives, and strategies of the policies followed since 1948. They might do well to recall one of Theodor Herzl’s earliest ideas: in exchange for a Jewish commonwealth serving as “an outpost of civilization against barbarism” in Palestine, which was considered a link in Europe’s “rampart against Asia,” the Great Powers would guarantee its existence “as a neutral state.” To be sure, even for most Israeli Jews the crass orientalism of this vision is out of season. But the notion of a neutral state ought not to be dismissed lightly. The present garrison state is not about to become, as Herzl envisioned, “a light unto the nations”—let alone the diaspora.

Next, they might admit to themselves that small nations do not have the prerogative to speak loudly and carry a big stick, and that they keep tempting fate by stubbornly staying Israel’s nuclear course. This defiance cannot help but increase the perils of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and Central Asia from which Israel will not be immune. Betting a tiny country’s security and survival on a momentary regional head start in state-of-the-art warheads, aircraft, missiles, unmanned drones, cluster bombs, and cyber weapons is, again, delusional. Inevitably Iran and other states will challenge its imperiousness, in the process exposing the entire region to the unthinkable doctrine of mutually assured destruction premised on both attacker and defender having a fail-safe deterrent in the form of a second-strike nuclear or chemical-biological capability. Although Tehran may still lack an effective missile air defense system, it has test-fired high-speed missiles whose range puts it within striking distance of Israel. But Iran has two additional trumps: a foothold near the northern entrance to the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the world’s single most vital energy chokepoint; and a critical geopolitical proximity to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Rather than lead the regional nuclear and biological charge, Israel should issue a call for a nuclear-free Middle East along with the announcement of a significant reduction of its own outsized atomic arsenal and armaments industry, which are both counterproductive and provocative. Tangible and symbolic, such a military cutback could be paired with a signal that Israel is prepared to seriously discuss the Palestinian refugee issue. This might take the form of expressing remorse and assuming partial moral responsibility for the exodus of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49 and of mounting an international effort to make amends in the form of reparations in line with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (Article 11).

In the aftermath of the bloody and destructive invasion a donors’ conference raised some $4.5 billion for the relief and reconstruction of Gaza. While the bulk of the aid was pledged by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, the U. S. committed $900 million for the Palestinian Authority and $300 million for relief in Gaza. What if these monies had been raised earlier? Had they gone to reparations, deployed as a confidence-building measure, the region might have been spared the politically toxic and humanly lethal Lebanon and Gaza incursions.

Overtures of this nature, seconded by other nations, might be preliminary steps to Israel’s at long last specifying base lines for a negotiated agreement on security, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, holy places, and water resources. Such a turnaround and agenda would spell the renunciation of the secular and religious diehards’ inveterate reach for the Jordan River and reliance on the strategy of the Iron Wall. To seek a conciliation and accommodation with the restive Palestinian political class, edgy Arab regimes, and turbulent Islamic world is to forsake the Joshua-like martial and closed Zionism of Weizmann, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Begin, Netanyahu, and Barak. It would call for and make possible a recovery of the repressed Isaiah-like humanist and open Zionism of Ahad Haam, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Ernst Simon, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz for either two demilitarized states or a single bi-national state for two peoples with open borders, the separation of state and religion, universal civil and social rights, and ecumenically informed cultural reciprocity.

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at dusk for political actors as well as philosophers. Israel’s leaders, reflecting more critically on Herzl’s belief in the need for an imperial patron, must grasp the implications of the incipient decline of the American empire for Israel’s future. Paradoxically the waning of Washington’s hegemony in the Greater Middle East is likely to chasten Israel’s pride and give enlightened and cosmopolitan Zionism a new if difficult lease on life. But insofar as the U.S. fights its decline tooth and nail, Israel’s power elite is also more likely to remain implacable, at all risks and hazards for their own country and the diaspora.

Did You Know?

Posted in Political Economy on June 3, 2009 by CjH

“The powers of financial capitalism had  a far-reaching plan, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole…This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences…The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s cenral banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank…sought to dominate it’s government by its ability to control treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economy activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world.” –From Carroll Qugiley’s 1966 book Tragedy and Hope