Europe’s Debt Crisis Deepens

by Richard D. Wolff
Over the weekend, Fitch — the major rating company that, with its fellow majors, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, dominate the business of assessing the riskiness of debt instruments — took a highly publicized step.  It downgraded the credit-worthiness of the sovereign debts of many European countries.  What a spectacle!  These rating companies were distinguished by their laughably inaccurate (to be extremely polite) assessments of the risks associated with asset-backed securities.  Those assessments contributed to the economic crisis we are living through.  Now the world is supposed to hang on — rather than laugh at — their credit reports.
Europe’s debts — and social tensions swirling around them — are clearly problems.  Governments collapsing in Greece, Italy, and Spain show that, among other signs of the obvious.  The rating companies’ downgrades of European debt are rather like downgrading the likelihood of good weather while the rest of us are already rushing to close the windows against pouring rain.
Still worse are the usual media reports and discussions of the Fitch action.  They are once again full of eerie references to steps European governments must take “to satisfy the markets.”  This strange metaphorical abstraction — “the markets” — is portrayed as some sort of Frankenstein monster threatening to eat Europe’s children unless the parents support government austerity programs.  Those austerity programs are, of course, already making those parents and their children suffer.
Let’s take a momentary step back from what is an ideological — or better said, propagandistic — usage of the term.  “The markets” is a conceptual device that serves to hide and disguise those particular corporations that stand behind and work those markets to pursue their interests.  The politicians’ and mass media’s language makes it seem as if self-interested pursuit by those corporations were the machine-like operations of some unalterable, fixed institution.  We need to remember that markets, like all other institutions, are human inventions filled with a mix of positive and negative aspects and open to change.  After all, the mixed effects of markets have made them objects of deep suspicion and skepticism at least since Plato and Aristotle profoundly criticized markets as enemies of community thousands of years ago.
The chief creditors of European governments today are banks, insurance companies, large corporations, pension funds, some other (mostly non-European) governments, and wealthy individuals.  When politicians and media speak of the need for European governments to “satisfy the markets,” what they mean is to satisfy those creditors.  The chief influences among those creditors are the major banks that represent and/or advise all or most of the rest of them.  The major European banks were and are the chief recipients of the costly bailouts by those European governments since 2008.  Indeed, those bailouts sharply increased the indebtedness of European governments because the latter paid for those bailouts by borrowing.
The bailouts worked in Europe much as they did in the US.  Banks had speculated badly in asset-backed securities and their associated derivatives leading up to late 2008.  When borrowers (e.g., mortgagors in the US) increasingly defaulted on the loans comprising those asset-backed securities, the values of the latter collapsed.  Banks stopped trusting one another to repay loans between them — central to the global credit system — because all banks knew that they all held huge amounts of asset-backed securities whose values had collapsed.  Each major bank feared that others — like itself – might have to default on its debts.
Bank transactions with one another stopped and thereby produced a credit “freeze” or “crunch.”  In modern capitalist economies, businesses, governments, and consumers have all become more credit-dependent than ever.  Such a freeze or crunch therefore threatened wholesale economic non-functioning (collapse).

The solution was for governments to intervene massively to unfreeze the credit system.  They did this on multiple fronts simultaneously, so serious was the crisis.  First, governments lent freely to the major banks that could not borrow from each other.  Second, governments guaranteed various sorts of loans and debts so banks that had feared to lend would resume lending.  Thirdly, governments borrowed massively so private lenders — especially banks — would have a safe and profitable outlet for their loanable funds.  In these ways, as agent of the people, European governments unfroze and rebooted a collapsed private credit system at enormous public expense.  They thereby enabled the survival and continued profitability of the banks and their major clients.
Over the last year or so, those banks and their clients — freed by government bailouts from worrying about loans to one another — have begun to worry about their loans to European governments.  They fear one thing: aroused and angry publics.  People in the streets may not permit their governments to impose “austerity.”  The people may not accept government cuts in basic public employment and services to save money and to pay off creditors that were bailed out at public expense just a short while ago.
So the creditors are now pressing governments to ensure the safety of the national debt (to themselves).  The Fitch downgrade is part of that pressure.  The references to “satisfying the markets” simply disguise the whole outrageous process.  The crisis drama deepens: creditors’ pressure on governments increases austerity policies that increase mass opposition that frightens creditors who increase their pressure on governments. . . .
The contradictions driving this vicious cycle agitate all of European society and the global economy interlinked with Europe.  European governments fear the creditors and fear their rising domestic oppositions to austerity.  They express irritation against Fitch and the other rating companies for making their dilemma worse.  They have no solution, bend toward “satisfying the markets,” and thus pursue austerity in fits, starts, and retreats.  Like animals frozen in the headlights of oncoming disaster, the players in this absurd European drama issue redundant credit reports (Fitch), hold endless and fruitless conferences and summits (Sarkozy, Merkel, et al.), and twitch with anxiety as general strikes proliferate and governments teeter and fall.  Meanwhile, phantoms like “the markets” haunt the media analyses and politicians’ statements, serving mostly to fragment and obscure what is happening.

Richard D. Wolff is Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and also a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York.   He is the author of New Departures in Marxian Theory (Routledge, 2006) among many other publications.  Check out Richard D. Wolff’s documentary film on the current economic crisis, Capitalism Hits the Fan, atwww.capitalismhitsthefan.com.  Visit Wolff’s Web site at www.rdwolff.com, and order a copy of his new book Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do about It.  His weekly radio program, “Economic Update,” broadcasts on WBAI, 99.5 FM in New York City every Saturday at noon for an hour; it can also be heard live and in podcast archive on wbai.org.

Capitalism is the Enemy of Democracy

Originally published at Truthout.org

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment for #OWS to date is that the occupiers have managed to poke a hole in the legitimacy of neoliberal capitalism and its central claim that unregulated markets provide opportunity and freedom.   They have accomplish this feat in a surprising way, with their persistent presence, and with home made signs, signs that say things like, “If I had a lobbyist, I wouldn’t need this sign.” Occupy Wall St. has poked this hole by having the audacity simply to gather in public, in bold defiance of the police and to demonstrate, by their solidarity and cooperation, that a different world is possible.

 

Phil Rockstroh puts it this way: “the walls of the neoliberal prison are cracking…We are no longer isolated, enclosed in our alienation, imprisoned by a concretized sense of powerlessness; daylight is beginning to pierce the darkness of our desolate cells.”

At the core of this neoliberal ideology is a simple assertion – economic exchanges promote freedom because they are voluntary, and thus they only occur if both parties believe they will benefit.  Unregulated market exchanges thus allow individuals to engage with others in complex social arrangements without coercion, without impinging on individual liberty.  Government is needed, but only to define and enforce property rights, and to create and regulate the currency individuals need to undertake market exchanges.

 

Liberals, who argue for expanding government in order to regulate or oversee individual exchange, necessarily interrupt these free and voluntary agreements and therefore undermine individual liberty.  This view of markets underlies Reagan’s famous dictum: “Government is not the solution to the problem; Government is the problem.”  In this extreme libertarian view, capitalism is the champion of democracy, the champion of freedom.

 

The flaw in this neoliberal reasoning is not hard to see.  Ownership of wealth obviously confers power; it gives some individuals an upper hand in the ‘voluntary’ exchanges they make with others.  Lacking the means otherwise to support ourselves, most of us must hire out our ability to do work in exchange for wages.  We might do quite well if we are educated and talented, lucky or white, but even so, we ultimately produce more value than we are paid – that is, after all, the reason we are hired.  Wealth ownership thus gives an upper hand to employers in these voluntary exchanges.  The extra value we create flows steadily into the hands of wealth holders, and we don’t have a say over what it is used for.

 

This upper hand in these so-called voluntary exchanges provides an ongoing and increasing source of wealth accumulation that is self-reinforcing.  Money begets money.  That is after all what capital is, money advanced for the purpose of making more money.   Excluding people from having a say over what happens to the wealth we create is the first, and the most fundamental, way that any capitalist system undermines democracy.  We are fundamentally disenfranchised in the places we work.  Wealth owners control the levers of investment and thus the “needs” of capital trump those of workers when it comes to making decisions about what gets produced, how and for whom.

 

Beyond this, neoliberal capitalism goes further – it uses the value you and I create to enforce a virtual dictatorship-by-wealth in the political sphere.   The most obvious manifestation of this dictatorship-by-wealth is the unlimited corporate financing of our elected representatives.  But this financing is only the tip of the iceberg.  Not only must candidates pander to corporate interests to successfully raise the funds needed to run for office, once they are in office they are plied and courted with unrelenting advances designed to ensure that they do not do lose their focus and begin to think about something other that promoting a favorable business climate.

 

Even deeper in the subsoil of this treasonous takeover of our democracy is the ownership and influence over the main vehicle of public discourse, the news media.  The manufacture of consent is accomplished by narrowing the acceptable range of debate to the question of how best to support economic growth (read profits) and American imperialism (read war).   Where do the millions, or billions, that candidates raise end up?  Primarily this money ends up in the coffers of the corporate media – campaign advertising is the single most important source of revenue for the corporate media.

 

So it is an odd fact of American life, that capitalism is equated with democracy while at the same time acting as democracy’s most corrosive force.  But think about it, if capitalism really supported democracy, if it really welcomed open, honest, wide-ranging debate about the values and practices of corporations and their elected representatives, why would they be sending their police in with bats and pepper spray to prevent the free open exchange of ideas?  Why would they not be handing out microphones, providing open access to the airwaves, organizing televised debates?  If capitalism really were the champion of democracy, the Occupiers and their many allies would be celebrated.  Instead we are disdained.

 

The corporate elites fear and resist any questioning of their core beliefs because their ideas do not hold up to scrutiny and reasoned debate.  That’s how we all know – capitalism is the enemy of democracy.

 

But is there any alternative?  It is tempting to think that if we can only regulate capitalism effectively, we can harness its virtues and contain its vices.  In fact, there is some evidence to support this view.  The 99% were much better served in the post-war era in the United States and they continue to benefit from efforts to reign in capitalism’s excesses in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.  But these efforts to regulate are under constant attack, and a return to regulations is ultimately a brief inconvenience to the corporate elites.

 

As Richard Wolff and others have noted, as long as the value you and I create is credited to the owners of capital, these owners have both the means and, given their distorted values, the incentive to undermine and neutralize any effective regulation and oversight we attempt to impose.  Capital will continue to corrode democracy, as certainly as oxygen corrodes iron, as long as a few hold sway over investment and jobs and are committed to using the wealth that we generate to undermine the will of the people.  In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or you can have democracy; you cannot have both.”

 

Fortunately, a proven alternative to corporate capitalism already exists.  For over fifty years it has provided a practical example of how we can extend democracy to the workplace as a means of preserving democracy in our political lives.  The basic idea of this experiment is to address the root of the problem, to uncover the means by which capitalism undermines democracy, and to provide new institutional rules governing how we organize our economic lives.

 

Over fifty years ago, the Mondragon Cooperatives in northern Spain developed their poverty-stricken regional economy by developing worker-owned and managed cooperatives.  Co-ops place the ownership of wealth and the decisions concerning how wealth is invested in the hands of the people who produce the wealth.   These institutions recognize that the wealth generated by an enterprise is the result of the collective efforts of all, and that those most affected by the decisions of the enterprise, workers and community members, ought to have the principle say in what happens to the wealth, how it is distributed and the purposes to which it is put.

 

Many people argue that co-ops are impractical but this simple democratic principle rests at the heart of this highly successful, internationally competitive, stable and flourishing regional economy.  It is an economy based on democratic management, worker ownership and democratic oversight and it faces its own challenges, yes, but has certainly proven the lie that there is no alternative to corporate capitalism.  It shows that people, acting together, can use democratic principles to imbue their economic lives and their political lives with agency and meaning.

 

And this effort is spreading to America’s heartland.  The Evergreen cooperatives in Cleveland have successfully applied the principles of the Mondragon experiment to develop a successful urban development project.   As Gar Alperovitz argues, the linking of large anchor institutions with worker-owned enterprises offers a practical economic development strategy that is politically feasible in the context of our current economic crisis.

 

Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that working people can do without their corporate bosses.  Quite a bit of time and energy has been spent trying to convince us that the idea that workers can manage themselves is preposterous.

Occupy Wall St. has provided the opening for us to consider, debate and discuss what has previously been off the table.  Economic democracy is not only possible, it is essential if we are to realize that peculiar American Dream of a government of, by and for the people.

So let’s not overlook the significance of what Occupy Wall St. is doing.  We need to step through the hole they have opened in the shiny façade of our glad-handled, Madison Avenue, faux democracy and take up the challenge of creating the real thing, right here and now, in this unlikely place we call America, as a means of reclaiming our own dignity, our own liberty and a livable world for those who come next.

 

 

Let’s get the Government off our Backs

The government interferes with free enterprise by creating red tape, wasting hard-earned tax- payer money and undermining market incentives.  The solution is to shrink government.  Fortunately we have managed to elect a number of representatives to Congress to ensure that we get the government off our backs.  It is important to support their efforts in order to achieve maximum prosperity.  Here are three reasons to support their efforts and what you can do to help.

 

First, we must keep in mind that there are two ways to make money.  One is by building new and better products that meet real social needs and generate much needed work for citizens.  The other is by taking advantage of people by developing financial instruments that generate wealth through speculation and the drain resources and eliminate jobs in the those parts of our economy that are productive.  Lately the latter types of investments have been much more profitable.  Eliminating government oversight makes it much easier to develop fraudulent financial instruments and to generate the fast money associated with speculative investment.

 

Second, all production generates waste and stresses the environment.  Profits are enhanced when the social costs of production are borne by others and the private gains are concentrated in the hands of a few.  Government oversight of the environmental impact of business makes it much more difficult to avoid paying the social costs associated with production.  By shrinking the EPA and by gutting State and local environmental regulations, we can more easily pass off the environmental cost of production while enhancing the corporate bottom line.

 

Third.  We all know competition is bad for business.  When we compete for markets we inevitably drive prices down, bid up wages and are forced to innovate to create better products.  All of this activity reduces profits.  Our bottom line is enhanced when we can erect obstacles to prevent competitors from entering markets.   Fortunately, once monopoly conditions are created, our monopolies create profits, profits that enable us to establish effective barriers to entry in industry, permitting us to gouge consumers and use the obscene profits to underwrite public relations, “think” tanks and journalists that celebrate the invisible hand of the market.  Governments are the main means by which monopolies are undermined and so government efforts to destroy monopoly need to be nipped in the bud.

 

What can you do to support our efforts?  Just keep buying the line that we are doing this for your benefit.  Keep voting for congress people we are financing – representatives that will help us to disassemble and disable government oversight of business.  After all, our interests are your interests, are they not?  Let’s all work together to get the government off of our backs.

Let’s Occupy Together

I’m not sure why the media are having such trouble figuring out the demands of Occupy Wall St.  Recently, a seven-year-old girl, Celia Cooley, went down to Zuccotti Park and, posing as a reporter, she asked people why they were there (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x12iOQYY0w8).  What they said was quite consistent and quite reasonable and quite comprehensible to this young girl.  They said: We want our democracy back.

Anyone who is confused about what the protesters want has probably been listening to too much corporate news.  Corporate news stations present themselves as trustworthy and unbiased, but they are owned by large multinational corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse, and these are the folks that are benefitting from the policies that the protesters decry.

These news outlets don’t want the message of Occupy Wall St. to be heard.  They don’t want the protesters portrayed as ordinary Americans who have been bilked of their savings and booted out of the middle class and who are justifiably demanding that things change. If you’ve been watching corporate news and you are confused, the first thing to do is to broaden your sources of information.  Go to the non-commercial news sites on the Internet and listen to the chorus of ordinary Americans who are saying very clearly what’s wrong and who are making sensible suggestions about how to go about fixing it.

Here is some of what you will learn.

The economic crisis did not start because suddenly poor people started taking out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford to pay for.  It didn’t start because of some corporate bad apples. Think about it.  The job of a lender is to determine if a person is credit worthy.  The reason loans were given to people who couldn’t afford them was simply that banks no longer had an incentive to find out if people were credit worthy.  Why?  Because banks were permitted to sell the mortgages to other companies for a profit, rather than waiting to collect on the loan.  The big banks pushed loans on people because they were making profit, hand over fist, from selling these loans to investors.

Why were the investors buying bad mortgages? Because they were permitted to bundle them together with other loans to look like safe investments.  Why did these investments look safe, because the folks in the rating agencies, who were supposed to rate these investments, were not sufficiently regulated and worked in cahoots with the big banks.

The problem, in short, was not individual behavior; the problem was that the system was jury-rigged.  Corporate lobbyists took over Congress and rewrote the banking laws in their favor.  As long as home prices went up, banks made a killing.  When the music stopped, instead of taking their consequences, big banks got their insiders at the Fed and the Treasury Department in D.C. to bail them out.  Then they got their friends their in corporate media affiliates to point their fingers at the borrowers ( the ones who are now homeless) and at big government (for wasting taxpayer money).  Meanwhile, Wall St. banks go on their merry way, paying out bonus, rewarding failure, avoiding the consequences of their actions, and continuing to use our Congress as their personal playground.

That’s just wrong.  That’s why folks are on the streets.

If you are in the Tea Party, you probably believe many of the same things that Occupy Wall St. supporters believe.  People should play by the rules.  People should be punished when they do something wrong.  If you reward people for cheating, they are likely to continue to misbehave.  Like supporters of OWS, you probably believe that our government should be accountable to us, we the people, and that the government should not collude with powerful elites to deprive people of the right to a livelihood, or to kick them out of their homes.  You probably believe that government shouldn’t write laws that favor powerful interests in order to raise enough money to get re-elected.

I support Occupy Wall St.  You and I may have our differences, but I think we share a commitment to restoring the integrity of this democracy.  I think we can agree that when a government no longer is responsive to the desires of the citizens, that it is the responsibility of citizens to act together.  The government itself is not the problem; the problem is that the government has been taken over by wealthy elites who do not have our interests at heart.  It is time for us to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, Republican and Democrat, on the streets of this great country and take our democracy back.

Turn off the corporate news, talk to your fellow Americans, one by one, until you decide for yourself whether what I am saying is true.  That’s what Celia is doing.  There is no other test in a democracy but that of the ability of ideas to stand the test of evidence and reason.  The values that our forbearers fought and died for are at stake.  Nothing less.

THE PR MAN EXPLAINS

thanks to Kurt Tucholsky

 

 

Good evening, gentlemen, how are you?

I’m the PR man from Kokostech.

 

Kokostech has no harmful side-effects,

Since it has no effects at all.

 

We are only manufacturing it in order

To cover the high advertising costs,

 

And we advertise it in order

To be able to manufacture it.

 

In this way we symbolize what lies

Closest to our hearts – capital.

 

*

 

Questions? Capital? Gross accumulation,

Money begets money, ask your banker.

 

Lacking that we couldn’t be Kokostech.

No effects at all?  Of course not,

 

Because it we had effects, we’d have causes,

And nobody wants causes, right?  That’s

 

Logic.  Causes are dangerous, cause

Effects, side-, inside-, outside-, ugly.

 

We want beauty, henceforth Kokostech,

That miracle of manufacture plus

 

Advertising, all up the spout, friends,

Trusting trusses, our only support.

 

Karl Patten

 

Comment:  When writing “thanks” to Kurt Tucholsky, I am very direct.  I was reading a book on the Weimar Republic, which dealt primarily with the arts, and I came across a prose passage, lacking a context, from Kurt Tucholsky.  It was a parody of advertising and said that whatever “has no harmful side-effects since it has no effects at all.”  Immediately, I knew there was a satirical poem there and set off writing this poem.  The first half went very well, but when I read it to my Spilling Ink colleagues they quickly saw that I had failed to follow it up in the second half.  I listened to their criticisms carefully and went home and rewrote, thoroughly, that second half.  At least according to them I succeeded, and you now have the completed poem.

 

I had to give a voice to Tucholsky’s prose and invented a PR man speaking to a group of shareholders about his product, for which I invented Kokostech.  Ko- is a favored bit of sound for products of all kinds, and I liked it for this one, whatever it is, I don’t know, although it suggests to me something to pull off a pharmacy shelf and ingest for better health.

 

Tucholsky was a satirical poet, and, I believe, suffered and died under the Nazis.  He is little-known in this country, unfortunately.

Beltway Fantasies – Part 1

Corporate control of the media undermines democracy by displacing reasoned consideration of opposing points of view to the margins of public discourse.  In place of considered arguments, the corporate media simply repeats and amplifies the fallacious and self-serving fantasies of the corporate elites and their representatives in Washington.  As a result we base our economic and social policies on Beltway fantasies that succeed in garnering (bare) majority support but that bear almost no relation to reality or good sense.  These fantasies promote the short-term corporate bottom line at our considerable expense, threaten the viability of our ecosystem and make a mockery of the ideals of democracy for which our fore-bearers organized, fought and often died.  This article, written by the members of the Spilling Ink writers’ collective, is the first in a series of articles written to throw some needed cold water on beltway fantasies.  Comments or suggestions are welcome at http://www.SpillingInk.net.

Fantasy #1:  Regulation is bad – it burdens business, kills jobs, and hurts the economy. (Chris Schell)

Non-existent, poorly designed, weakly administered, under funded and intentionally ignored regulations have killed more jobs, bankrupted more businesses and done more damage to the economy than any over-regulation has ever done.  And that’s just the business and financial regulations.  Most Superfund sites (scenes of environmental destruction) were caused by regulation lapses of one kind or another.  The gulf oil spill – lack of regulation.  And the number of lives saved by regulation of cars, highways, medicines, hospitals, nursing homes, food supply, workplace safety?   Countless.  Someone is always willing to make money by endangering other peoples lives and homes.

Lack of financial regulation, deregulation, or unenforced regulation (through greed or ideological blindness) has been at the root of nearly every major economic disaster of my lifetime.  The Savings and Loan scandal, the buying and dismantling of businesses to raid workers pension funds, the recent housing and financial collapse all resulted in what can only be termed obscene wealth being reaped by bankers, Wall Street financiers and corporate CEOs.  All of these scandals resulted in devastation for working Americans.  This is true class warfare.   Alan Greenspan could have stopped this last collapse but he believed in the free market.  He believed regulation was not needed because Wall Street would not be so blind and greedy to risk economic destruction for short-term greed.  He really nailed that one didn’t he?

Today microsecond trading which makes huge profits for a few while adding value to absolutely nothing could easily be taxed or regulated out of existence but the SEC does nothing.  Today grain and oil prices spike without regard to supply because the Bush administration removed limits on the futures commodity market.  These limits could easily be replaced but Republican appointees on the Federal Trade Commission do not believe it is necessary.  People around the world are starving because of our ideological blindness, including in the Middle East, contributing to the current turmoil there.

Deregulation has consequences.

Fantasy #2. All tax cuts are good all the time. (David Kristjanson-Gural)

This belief follows from the following claims:

i)               that government run services are inefficient and should be replaced by privately run services which are efficient;

ii)             that providing money and assistance to people in need causes them harm because it undermines their initiative and causes them to become more dependent;

iii)            that tax cuts provide an incentive to businesses to increase production and create jobs;

iv)            that wealth and income distribution results from fairly rewarding individual effort so redistributing income through taxation is unjustified.

In fact:

i)               Many government run services are highly efficient and many privately run services are inefficient.  Monopolies, in particular, maximize profits by restricting supply and charging high prices and they lack competitive incentives to innovate.   Adam Smith advocated the regulation or elimination of monopolies because they impose “an absurd tax” in the form of monopoly prices.  Most mature industries – drugs, agriculture, insurance, banking to name a few – are dominated by monopoly.

ii)             Providing money and assistance to people in need most often allows them to regain self-reliance and contribute to their families and communities.  Incidents of welfare fraud or recidivism are very low.  Crime and health costs are higher when we fail to provide assistance to people in need.

iii)            Tax cuts are not associated with greater business investment.  Business investment is governed primarily by the expected future rate of return, which depends highly on the business cycle and consumer confidence.  Cutting taxes simply allows corporations and wealthy individuals to free ride on the social investments taxpayers finance including education, infrastructure, and research and development without which corporations would be less profitable.

iv)            Wealth and income distribution is not the result of individual effort and innovation but largely results from ownership and control of productive or financial assets.  These assets “produce wealth” only because they allow owners to lay claim to the value created by the workers they employ.  Furthermore, social investments in education, research and development, common property in the form of raw materials, the legal and political system – all publicly financed – form a collective basis for the privately acquired wealth.  Taxing income and wealth is a means of ensuring individuals pay their fair share of the social investment.

The belief that cutting taxes is good rests on self-serving beliefs concerning fairness and the role of government.  Many working class people, whose pay has been squeezed by private corporations for 30 years, have been hoodwinked into believing these false claims because taxes are one thing they can affect.  Instead of focusing on cutting taxes, it is time to focus on raising wages, breaking up monopolies and calling into question the legitimacy of corporate profits.

Fantasy #3.  Government should be run like a business.  (Joe Detelj)

This bit of corporate propaganda is actually based on a false equivalency.

A business is chartered for the express purpose of generating profits for the owners. A business offers products and charges what the market will bear in order to maximize these profits.  Any activity that generates revenue, no matter the social costs, is an institutional imperative.

Governments impose taxes in order to generate revenue for investments in infrastructure, human capital and public safety.  Governments are elected to promote the general welfare and are to function with the consent of the governed.  This arrangement was designed to provide a system of checks and balances.

Inadequate revenue is a prescription for bankruptcy for both entities.  The irony of the false equivalency is that were it to be implemented, taxes would be levied on the governments most lucrative market, our wealthiest citizens and businesses and increased substantially.  We would have ideological consistency – government run like a business – but I imagine, public policy that would drive the advocates of business-government equivalency insane with rage.

Fantasy #4: The Tea Party and the Founding Fathers have similar beliefs. (Chris Schell)

Most of the Founders were personally tolerant of others’ religious beliefs. A few were atheists; several were Deists, cafeteria Christians in today’s negative terminology. Most believed in religious tolerance because they had seen the result of religious hatred.   The Founding Fathers were freethinkers, scientists and lawyers – the educated elite of their day. They were at the forefront of scientific discovery and invention and of legal and political thought. Elite, educated, thoughtful, progressive, devoted to knowledge, tolerant.  They were also willing to negotiate and compromise for the sake of political progress. Does this sound like the Tea Party?

Naturally the Founders did not always live up to their ideals. They tolerated racism and bigotry for political success or financial advantage.  They thought land ownership was a requirement for political participation and that wealth should provide a path to political power. They particularly were interested in the rights of white males.  Some – but not all – of these belief dovetail nicely with those of the Tea Party.

But even if you disagree with these judgments, do you really think that Washington, Hamilton, Paine, Adams, Jefferson or Franklin would have any respect for Glen Beck?

Fantasy #5: Republicans Support our Troops. (Charles Sackrey)

Starting in 2003, George W. Bush and the Republicans used a witches’ brew of fraudulent evidence to justify sending over 1,000,000 military personnel to war in Iraq.  Of these, 4,440 died, and 30,000 were wounded.  About one third of the survivors have suffered mental illnesses since their return.  These facts alone dispel the myth that the Republicans support our troops: they sent them to war and to their fate on false pretenses.  (It always needs mentioning that, along with U.S. military losses, at least 125,000 Iraqis have so far died and 2.5 million have been displaced.)

Once the U.S. troops came home, the Republicans’ assault on some of them continued.  In 2005 Salon.com, and in 2007 the Washington Post, brought national attention to complaints from war-wounded patients at D.C.’s Walter Reed Army Hospital about treatment there.  The complaints were about understaffing, and about rats, roaches, black mold, cheap mattresses, and a lack of heat and hot water in some rooms. Investigations led to the sacking of the hospital’s head and to its overhaul.  Thus, during much of the Iraq War, the hospital was in a steady decline.

More recent examples are easy to come by.  In their war on spending, Congressional Republicans are now trying to eliminate $75 million from the budget of the Veterans Administration to be allocated to housing vouchers for at least some of the 76,000 veterans who are now homeless. And, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, a Tea Party fan from Minnesota, has proposed lopping $4.5 billion from the overall VA’s budget.

While they try to limit housing vouchers for Iraq veterans, the Republicans are working just as hard to retain the Bush tax cuts which each year provide about $40 billion of extra income to the nation’s richest 1%.

What do the veterans think?  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) recently evaluated the Congress on the basis of support for the interests of U.S. war veterans. These grades were awarded strictly on performance rather than on party affiliation.

Here are the results:

The IAVA gave out 154 D and F grades. 142 of those went to Republicans and 12 to Democrats — meaning that 92 percent of the D and F grades went to members of the GOP.

Of the 94 congressmen that received A or A+ grades, 91 are Democrats and three are Republicans.

Fantasy #6: Cold Winters in the Eastern USA prove Global Warming is a myth. – Karl Patten

Snowstorms or colder weather do not prove much about global warming.  These events are simply weather experienced in a specific location at a specific time.  Climate, however, refers to the prevailing weather conditions – such as average temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity, and atmospheric pressure – observed over decades.

Climate data show that global warming is already having profound effects on precipitation patterns, intensifying rain or snowfall in places accustomed to such precipitation while decreasing precipitation in areas or times of the year that typically receive little.  These impacts are likely to become even more pronounced in the decades ahead if heat-trapping emissions continue unabated.  (See Union of Concerned Scientists – www.ucsusa.org/blueprint)

Fantasy #7:  Evolution is just a theory.  (Joe Detelj)

Actually this is true.  Evolution shares elegant company with the theory of gravity, electro magnetism, relativity and photosynthesis.  Just to name a few.

Corporations Are Killing Us

submitted by Joe Detelj

I am of the firm conviction that proper and sufficient health care is a citizen’s absolute right in a civilized society. The notion that every man, woman, and child should provide the means or else be denied access to what is essentially life is as primitive as human sacrifice. Life in the twenty-first century, or more precisely, in the ten thousandth year of settled civilization, is not possible without the collective responsibility, cooperation, and contribution of the society at large. Consider that every physician, nurse, and medical technician was born into a household, constructed by others, provided with clean water and sanitation. The children were protected in a home with safe streets and public utilities. The vast majority attended public schools, instructed by teachers with an identical foundation. At every point they were nurtured and protected, directly or indirectly by an institution funded or subsidized with taxes supplied by various levels of government. And ultimately, all the useful knowledge and experience accumulated within their profession was supplied by the contributions of untold numbers of our predecessors over the past one hundred or so centuries.

The arguments offered in opposition to universal health care are essentially a defense of a corporate world-view that is a phantasm. The corporation, an idea, a mental construct, a Frankenstein monster out of control on a rampage through the countryside, devoid of any human compassion, designed with the singular purpose of gorging ever vaster sums of money with no capacity for satisfaction has been relegated as the instrument for decision making for this most vital of human requirement. The defense is couched in terms of libertarian rhetoric and individual sovereignty by modern sophists in corporate employment. We are assured this is the best of all possible worlds.

This flat earth mentality does not correspond to the reality of the physical realm. Self-sufficiency is not of this world. A human being alone and adrift from society has no meaning, has no relationships, has no way to come into being or to pass on any trace of his being. Physicists, since Albert Einstein recognize relativity as the order of the universe. The relationship of event A to event B determines the material reality we experience. This is not an extraneous thought. When we drill down to the smallest particles of matter, we find the essential organizing principle of relativity to govern. An electron can vary in size and weight but exists in time and space as an event relative to another event termed a proton thus forming the atom. Atoms join to form elements and on and on until, in greater complexity, we find ourselves literally integral to and very much in communion with the universe, a communion more profound than what is commonly understood.

That noted, as fundamental as health care is to life, liberty, and happiness, and as grounded as it is in our physical connection to each other, it ultimately diverts our attention from focusing on the more basic issue which is the present state of our collective health. It is appropriate to ask with some sense of urgency why our need for medical intervention is growing at alarming rates.  Why are we getting sicker as a community and not healthier? The rising trend is shocking when we examine childhood diabetes, immune deficiencies, allergies, cancer, obesity, and the entire range of degenerative diseases. The CDC has projected shorter life spans for this generation relative to their parents, reversing the positive trend that we had previously enjoyed. That portion of our lives when we are the most productive – “the picture of health” and vitality – appears to be contracting for many. As each year passes life support in the form of drugs, surgeries, implants, and properly prescribed mood altering stimulants are the fabric that binds us over until ultimately we are set aside in isolated confinement left to fade away in a nursing home.

Exploring the margins of the available literature, one can find some reasonable explanation for this situation that finds fault rooted in our industrial food system. Again, the same corporate structure that dominates the health industry, dominates the food industry. The pastoral image of the family farmer tending the back forty is a memory for most and Madison Avenue trickery for all. The close alignment of the food and health industries has perpetuated a self-serving endless loop that enhances GDP to the detriment of the general welfare. Profits rise for the undertakers of these institutions and we the less fortunate receive the garbage, toxins, poisoned air, water and soil to assimilate, consume, and mitigate to the best of our abilities. A reckless abandon is at the core of industrial agriculture with its emphasis on factory farms, concentrated animal facilities, massive pesticide and herbicide use, genetic engineering, and a monopolized, vertically integrated distribution network.

There is a wealth of independent data to support the contention that wholesome, nutrient rich, toxin free food is essential to good health. Healthy soils tended by mindful farmers produce healthy food – food that in turn produces healthy eaters. A fundamentally different view of the state of things in sync with the harmony expressed in physical and natural law is the ultimate solution that will allow remediation for the intolerable situation we find ourselves in at this time. We have at our disposal all the tools we need to commence a journey toward a healthier and sustainable climate in which we can express our potential to the fullest. The symptoms of insufficient health care, a malnourished population, and a polluted environment are the fantastic imposition of social structures whose foundation is set on medieval folk-law.