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Not Feeling the Bern

By Margaret Kimberley | Black Agenda Report | April 20, 2016

“Only Bernie Sanders can break the power of capitalism in the U.S.” So read a bizarre headline in an online edition of the Guardian. It is just one example of the drivel, magical thinking, misplaced concerns and out and out lies produced by liberal love for Bernie Sanders.

How would Bernie Sanders, or any other presidential candidate, break the power of capitalism? The answer is simple. He can’t. It is difficult to imagine capitalists quaking in their boots because a liberal darling was in the oval office. Then again Sanders has never made a claim to want anything of the kind so the headline is doubly foolish.

The Sanders fans do not let any opportunity pass to make much ado about very little. Sanders’ much vaunted trip to the Vatican was nothing but a public relations gimmick carried out by Jeffrey Sachs, one of his foreign policy advisers. Sachs was at the center of every neo-liberal heist which took place in the last twenty years.  He coined the term “shock therapy” which means privatization of publicly owned assets, elimination of price controls, withdrawal of state subsidies, job cuts and a litany of measures which create suffering for millions of people. People in Russia, Poland and Bolivia all endured the Sachs punishment.

So while Sachs wangled an invite for Sanders to attend a Vatican academic conference, the episode was used by the starry eyed to further their trip down the rabbit hole. Well paid pseudo-progressive Democratic functionaries like David Sirota waxed poetic about something that didn’t amount to much. Sirota tweeted a photo of Sanders at the Vatican with Bolivian president Evo Morales. “In scope of history, this image is epic: US Jewish POTUS candidate at Vatican with indigenous Latin American leader.” There is nothing epic about a senator meeting a foreign head of state nor is it miraculous that a Jewish and indigenous American man sat next to each other. This nonsense substitutes for politics and serious thought. But then again liberals aren’t very serious about politics or thought.

The Sanders phenomenon is a repeat of the Obama 2008 marketing extravaganza. Sanders is the flavor of the month for people who are disenchanted with the front runner, Hillary Clinton. Her presence creates mass revulsion and first Obama and now Sanders moved up in voter preference when given an opportunity to make a case before the public.

But there is something particularly disconcerting about the Sanders phenomenon. Like Obama he allows liberals to be proud of uttering mealy-mouthed words instead of acting to make the change they say they want. In a recent debate in New York City Sanders famously declared that “we have to treat the Palestinians with respect and dignity.” He added that Israel has a “right to exist” and said only that the Israel massacre in Gaza was “a disproportionate response.”

His words regarding the Palestinians are rarely heard from the mouth of an American politician, certainly not a presidential candidate. However, kudos showered on Sanders give the impression that Palestinians weren’t worthy of respect and dignity until he said they were. The reaction from Sanders acolytes is in fact an indictment of U.S. foreign policy and Americans acquiescence to decades of pro-Israel propaganda. He doesn’t challenge the Zionist project, in fact he constantly mentions that he once lived in Israel and has family there.

The Palestinians get nothing but pats on the head from Bernie Sanders. They need an end to occupation and a right to return to the land and the homes stolen from them. The Sanders paternalistic feint may impress liberals looking for a politician to love but it does nothing to address a grave injustice.

The injustices that Democrats don’t want to fight were much closer to home on primary voting day in New York. Voting in New York state is very restrictive, with long periods needed to change party affiliations or to request absentee ballots. The board of elections is an ineffective patronage mill that doesn’t serve voters’ needs.

The state has one of the lowest rates of voter participation because of these obstacles but no one cared very much until masses of white people were prevented from voting for their new idol. New York has always had closed primaries and no one can vote without a party affiliation. Open primaries allow for mischief such as against left candidates like Cynthia McKinney. The former congresswoman lost her last election in 2006 because Republicans were allowed to vote for her opponent.

A good case can be made for restricting primaries to party members. Suddenly that defensible position is cast aside because people who aren’t politically involved didn’t pay attention and then couldn’t get their way.

The Sanders people are conspicuous in their absence from other disenfranchisement issues. Convicted felons can’t cast a ballot at all but that is less interesting than tales of Bernie supporters who found out they can’t vote. If they want a revolution they can start by helping others get the right to vote too.

There is a long slog ahead until the Democratic party convention in July. Hillary Clinton will continue to repulse and Bernie Sanders will claim the Pope or a king or a queen wanted to meet him. The Sanders people need to do as Black Agenda Report advised and plan for his eventual exit. Despite all the nonsensical hype, they still don’t have their Plan B.

Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Economic Crash Is Inevitable

By Adnan Al-Daini | Dissident Voice | August 19, 2013

The economic crash of 2008 left people in their millions across the globe bewildered and shocked by the catastrophe and devastation inflicted on their lives: the hopelessness of the unemployed young facing a bleak uncertain future, pensioners struggling to survive on pensions that have lost their value, the employed poor accepting a cut in their working hours and wages to avoid losing their jobs, the very poor, the sick and disabled trying to survive the cuts to the welfare safety net. People find it difficult to comprehend how a few powerful bankers could cause so much damage and misery to the lives of countless millions.

In a previous article (Dissident Voice), two years ago, I wrote:

How did it come to this? What sort of a system have we created that gives so much power to these people? How is it that these people, who are entrusted with the money made by working people, end up gobbling up the money for which people have laboured so hard? How were they ever allowed to have such a stranglehold on the lives of millions? Where were the people we elected to look after us when such a distorted, corrupted form of capitalism was being developed? Were they so incompetent, or have they become part of an oligarchy that enriches them as well as the gamblers of the market?

So what has happened since then; have the masters of the universe who caused the crash changed their ways? Are they contrite for the misery they have caused? Have our politicians taken the necessary action to prevent another crash happening, or at least if it happens, ensure that it doesn’t threaten the entire economies of nations?

The Independent (April 2013), quotes Jeffrey Sachs, the well-known Columbia University economist as saying:

I meet a lot of these people on Wall Street on a regular basis right now…I am going to put it very bluntly: I regard the moral environment as pathological. And I am talking about the human interactions … I’ve not seen anything like this, not felt it so palpably…. They have no responsibility to pay taxes; they have no responsibility to their clients; they have no responsibility to people, to counterparties in transactions.… We have a corrupt politics to the core, I am afraid to say, and … both parties are up to their neck in this. This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans.

It is clear that the “moneymen” have not changed their behaviour; their arrogance is undiminished, with no recognition of their responsibility to society.  The politicians, it seems, are unwilling or unable to take action to protect society from the next crash, which will surely happen if the necessary rules, laws, and regulations are not in place. Every attempt at reform is vigorously resisted with the argument that it interferes with the sanctity of the free market.

What is a free market? Is it something that can be objectively defined?  Professor Ha-Joon Chang of Cambridge University argues this point thus:

The free market does not exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them…There is no scientifically defined boundary for a free market. If there is nothing sacred about any particular market boundaries that happen to exist, an attempt to change them is as legitimate as the attempt to defend them. Indeed, the history of capitalism has been a constant struggle over the boundaries of the market.

He cites the legislation in 1819 to regulate child labour in Britain as an example. This was a law prohibiting the employment of children under nine in cotton mills, which were considered particularly hazardous to workers’ health. This caused a huge controversy with opponents seeing it as ”destroying the very foundations of the free market.” No one, I hope, in the industrialised rich nations today, is suggesting that we should bring back child labour as part of liberalising our labour laws.

Our government, using hundreds of billions of pounds of our taxes, rescued the banks from collapse. Have they got the guts to do what is required to save us from the next collapse? I am not holding my breath.

Dr Adnan Al-Daini (PhD Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East.

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , | Comments Off on Another Economic Crash Is Inevitable

Jeffrey Sachs’ Grab for the World Bank

By LAURA FLANDERS | CounterPunch | March 20, 2012

There may be worse candidates for the presidency of the World Bank than Jeffrey Sachs (Larry Summers, also a candidate, comes to mind,) but Sachs is well worth raising an alarm about. He combines a new fangled profile as a progressive with policies that amount to full steam ahead for global growth. And he’s running as the candidate of “change”  clearly hoping no one looks too closely at his record as an economic hit-man.

In the US (if not in much of the rest of the world and certainly not CounterPunch) Sachs’s closeness with the singer/crusader Bono bestows a liberal glow. He directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, advises the UN and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and he’s winning endorsements from among others, Congressman John Conyers and economist Mark Weisbrot.  He’ll attract predictable opposition from the Right who bristle at any mention of foreign aid, but although his media pals like to forget it now, Sachs was once evangelist number one for exactly the heavy-handed “fly-in-fly-out” development tactics that have made the world financial institutions so passionately hated.

Last week, John Cavanaugh of the Institute for Policy Studies and American University development professor Robin Broad laid out a raft of concerns to which Sachs responded thus: “I would be the first-ever development practitioner and anti-poverty professional to be World Bank President, just what is needed given the bank’s mission of a “world free of poverty.”

In Europe’s post-Soviet “transition” years, Sachs’s professional poverty expertise was mostly in increasing it. Russia, following Sachs’s callous “shock therapy” prescription, sold off state companies, suspended public subsidies and drove employment and life expectancy into the ground, with brutal long-term consequences, exacting the most savage costs in terms of death and suffering since the Second World War and the results of the Sachs experiment in Poland, Estonia and Slovenia weren’t much better.  While a handful of global gamblers got rich off the disaster, former World Bank economist David Ellerman, said of Sachs “Only the mixture of American triumphalism and the academic arrogance of neoclassical economics could produce such a lethal dose of gall.”  If Sachs could double suicide rates in Russia as a cocky young Harvard advisor, it’s hard to imagine what he could do to the world as World Bank President.

In recent years, Sachs has taken a few turns. He embraces debt forgiveness (some) and has some nasty things to say about world military spending in his book “The End of Poverty.” But the business of “poverty reduction” is a complex one. The World Bank’s calculations have been incisively discussed here by Adam Parsons. Suffice to say, there’s extreme poverty and there’s just getting by. In the same way when it comes to development, there’s total exclusion from the world economy — and there’s becoming a cog in it. Sachs’s vision of a “world free of poverty” has more cogs in more wheels, but it’s the same deadly machine driving the planet to the same nasty brink.

To cite one example. in his 2007 Reith lecture series “Bursting at the Seams” Sachs pushes new agricultural technology and commercial fertilizers to increase yields in low-life expectancy countries. “Africa can and must have a Green Revolution as India initiated nearly forty years ago.” He celebrates increased yields and dismisses concerns about environmental damage and rising debt, claiming that “Older techniques for replenishing soil nutrients, such as the rotation of farm lands, allowing the replenishment of nutrients on land left to fallow for 10 or 20 years, are no longer feasible.”  To top things off, there’s a dose of “population control” in Sachs’s mix.  “The evidence is overwhelming that it’s possible and necessary to have a rapid demographic transition on a voluntary basis to greatly reduce fertility rates in poor countries,” said Sachs.

Old arguments linking high population with high poverty are back in vogue in the context of contemporary planet-panic, but really, they miss the point. While growing population in poor countries has its environmental impacts, high-level consumption lifestyles in rich countries are much more of an immediate threat. Listen to the small scale farmers of countries like Mali and Burkina Faso who gathered at the World Social Forum in Kenya a few years back and they report that traditional farming techniques like fortifying soil with manure and mixing the crops grown on the same piece of land are rehabilitating degraded farms and farmers, both. Lying fallow for a generation doesn’t come up.

It’s here that one sees the “old” Sachs in the new. To return to Ellerman– the analysts of “shock therapy” have long gotten it wrong, he writes in an essay, Lessons from Eastern Europe’s Voucher Privatization. In the post-Soviet states, the crucial distinction wasn’t so much between the fast-shockers and the incrementalists, rather, Ellerman points out, “Reform-mongers, in their strategies and even more so in their rhetoric, could be divided into those who take an ideological, fundamental, and root-and-branch approach versus those who take an incremental, piecemeal, home-grown, and adaptive approach.”  From what he says now about global agribusiness and it seems that not much has changed in Sachs’s approach to the adaptive, home-grown initiative — even as the sane world is increasingly convinced that those are the only strategies with any chance of heading

The fact that he’s campaigning for the World Bank job as the candidate of the new regime makes all this particularly hard to take. Since Paul Wolfowitz resigned under a cloud in 2007, new rules at the World Bank are finally permitting countries other than the US and Europe to determine who heads the world’s financial institutions (since world war two it’s been the World Bank for the US, and a European at the IMF). Europe nominated Christine Lagarde for IMF president last year. She won over other candidates. For the World Bank post, the U.S. has quietly floated names like Susan Rice, John Kerry and Larry Summers to replace Robert Zoellick when he steps down June 30. Predicting he won’t be the US’s official pick, Sachs has gotten seven countries to endorse him, including Haiti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia and east Timor.

By March 23, we’ll know how all this plays out. Meanwhile, according to the open-source website, WorldBankPresident.org which is tracking these developments, a slate of countries with new financial capacity to compete with the US are taking steps to form a World Bank alternative. Quite possibly, at a meeting in India later this month, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa may set up their own development bank with the goal, they say, ”to escape the dollar and the euro hegemonies and, if Chinese plans go well, making the yuan a global currency.” We’ll see what Sachs has to say about that adaptive initiative.

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura.

March 20, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Jeffrey Sachs’ Grab for the World Bank