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Has Fukushima Radiation Already Killed 14,000 Americans? Will It Kill A Million Japanese?

January 28, 2012

The authors of a study recently published in a peer-reviewed journal assemble evidence suggesting that Fukushima radiation has already killed 14,000 Americans.  Details of their work are reported on Washington’s Blog (December 24, 2011) (copied below), and of course, in the study itself.

But when I recently tried to locate the study using the authors’ names and a few other key words, I discovered that the study has been roundly criticized by a variety of sources.  If you’re interested in those criticisms, you can find them readily enough; just plug “Sherman Mangano Fukushima” into your search engine and let ‘er rip.

My purpose here though is to draw attention again to the fact that the failure of the US, Canadian and other governments to gather and share data continues to make it impossible to have an open scientific debate about what is happening, even as our exposure to radiation from Fukushima continues.  For some of the details of this problem, sources of documentation, and some suggestions for giving yourself and others the limited protection you can, see my blog entries of May and March 2011.  Some of the highlights:

First, there is no safe dose of radiation.  That is absolutely clear.  The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that the preponderance of scientific evidence shows even very low doses of radiation pose a risk of cancer or other health problems and it is unlikely that a threshold exists below which exposure can be viewed as harmless.  According to Richard R. Monson, chairman of the review panel and a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, “The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionized radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial.”

Comforting statements about the safety of low radiation are not even accurate for adults.  Small increases in risk per individual have immense consequences in the aggregate.  When low risk is accepted for billions of people, there will be millions of victims.  And our culture is entirely too casual about exposing us to radiation in various forms.  For example, common, low-dose dental x-rays more than double the rate of thyroid cancer.  Those exposed to repeated dental x-rays have an even higher risk of thyroid cancer.  http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/2011/03/.

Besides failing to gather the data that would permit a full-scale scientific analysis, governments downplay the risks of radiation in the very criteria by which they purpose to assess such risk.  As Washington’s Blog notes, “radiation safety standards are set based on the assumption that everyone exposed is a healthy man in his 20s – and that radioactive particles ingested into the body cause no more damage than radiation hitting the outside of the body.

“However – in the real world – radiation affects small children much more than full-grown adults. And small particles of radiation – called ‘internal emitters’ – which get inside the body are much more dangerous than general exposures to radiation.”  Washington’s Blog, December 24, 2011.

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson says that the Japanese will suffer one million cancer deaths from Fukushima, and that we’ll see a statistically meaningful increase in cancer on the West Coast of America and Canada from Fukushima. Gundersen says that – after Japan – the most radioactive areas are the Cascades and Portland.

And in another recent development, French researchers have confirmed that childhood leukemia rates “are shockingly elevated among children living near nuclear power reactors.”  John Laforge, http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/26/childhood-leukemia-spikes-near-nuclear-power-plants/ (January 26, 2012).

Washington’s Blog has done a fine job of discussing the reasons the number of deaths we’ve already experienced from the Fukushima disaster is controversial, and one of the ways in which our exposure is continuing.  So to make its findings more conveniently accessible, I copy below the December 24, 2011 and August 14, 2011 entries from Washington’s Blog (http://www.washingtonsblog.com/author/washingtonsblog):

Study: Fukushima Radiation Has Already Killed 14,000 Americans

Posted on December 24, 2011 by WashingtonsBlog

Already 14,000 U.S. Deaths From Fukushima ?

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Journal of Health Services alleges that 14,000 people have already died in the United States due to Fukushima.

Specifically, the authors of the study claim:

An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, according to a major new article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services. This is the first peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal documenting the health hazards of Fukushima.

[The authors] note that their estimate of 14,000 excess U.S. deaths in the 14 weeks after the Fukushima meltdowns is comparable to the 16,500 excess deaths in the 17 weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. The rise in reported deaths after Fukushima was largest among U.S. infants under age one. The 2010-2011 increase for infant deaths in the spring was 1.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 8.37 percent in the preceding 14 weeks.

The authors seem – at first glance – to have pretty solid credentials. Janette Sherman, M.D. worked for the Atomic Energy Commission (forerunner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) at the University of California in Berkeley, and for the U.S. Navy Radiation Defense Laboratory in San Francisco. She served on the EPA’s advisory board for 6 years, and has been an advisor to the National Cancer Institute on breast cancer. Dr. Sherman specializes in internal medicine and toxicology with an emphasis on chemicals and nuclear radiation.

Joseph J. Mangano is a public health administrator and researcher who has studied the connection between low-dose radiation exposure and subsequent risk of diseases such as cancer and damage to newborns. He has published numerous articles and letters in medical and other journals in addition to books, including Low Level Radiation and Immune System Disorders: An Atomic Era Legacy.

Sherman also claims that a study in British Columbia of infants under 1 year of age allegedly corroborates the increased deaths due to Fukushima:

But a Scientific American blog post and Med Page Today slam the study as being voodoo science. However, Scientific American does admit:

Certainly radiation from Fukushima is dangerous, and could very well lead to negative health effects—even across the Pacific.

What Do Other Experts Say?

Pediatrician Helen Caldicott said recently:

May I say that North America has received quite a large fallout itself.

***

We’re going to see an incredible increase in cancer, leukemia, and — down the time track — genetic disease. Not just in Japan but in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly North America.

Caldicott also wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed:

Children are innately sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation, fetuses even more so. Like Chernobyl, the accident at Fukushima is of global proportions. Unusual levels of radiation have been discovered in British Columbia, along the West Coast and East Coast of the United States and in Europe, and heavy contamination has been found in oceanic waters.

Nuclear engineer Gunderson says that the Japanese will suffer one million cancer deaths from Fukushima, and that we’ll see a statistically meaningful increase in cancer on the West Coast of America and Canada from Fukushima. Gundersen says that – after Japan – the most radioactive areas are the Cascades and Portland.

There is certainly evidence that West Coast residents – especially in Seattle, Portland and other areas near the Cascades – have been hit with some radiation. And there is certainly evidence that radioactive contamination has spread in the United States, and will continue to spread for some time to come.

Why Is The Science So Hotly Debated?

Why is there so much dispute about the number of deaths which Fukushima could cause on the West Coast?

Because radiation safety standards are set based on the assumption that everyone exposed is a healthy man in his 20s – and that radioactive particles ingested into the body cause no more damage than radiation hitting the outside of the body.

However – in the real world – radiation affects small children much more than full-grown adults. And small particles of radiation – called “internal emitters” – which get inside the body are much more dangerous than general exposures to radiation. See this and this.

In addition, American and Canadian authorities have virtually stopped monitoring airborn radiation, and are not testing fish for radiation. (Indeed, the EPA reacted to Fukushima by raising “acceptable” radiation levels.)

So – as in Japan – radiation is usually discovered by citizens and the handful of research scientists with funding to check, and not the government. See this, this, this, this, this and this.

The Japanese government’s entire strategy from day one has been to cover up the severity of the Fukushima accident. This has likely led to unnecessary, additional deaths.

Indeed, the core problem is that all of the world’s nuclear agencies are wholly captured by the nuclear industry … as are virtually all of the supposedly independent health agencies.

So the failure of the American, Canadian and other governments to test for and share results is making it difficult to hold an open scientific debate about what is happening.

Nuclear Expert: Radioactive Rain-Outs Will Continue For a Year – Even In Western U.S. and Canada – Because Japanese Are Burning Radioactive Materials

Posted on August 14, 2011 by WashingtonsBlog

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says in a new interview that the Japanese are burning radioactive materials. The radioactivity originated from Fukushima, but various prefectures are burning radioactive materials in their terroritories.

Gundersen says that this radioactivity ends up not only in neighboring prefectures, but in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California.

He notes that radioactive rain-outs were documented recently in British Columbia and Oklahoma with geiger counters.

Gundersen says that we’ll see another year of radioactive rain-outs, as the Japanese continue to burn radioactive materials.

Cover Up By American and Canadian Governments

Gundersen has a high-level contact in the State Department who says that the U.S. government has decided – within various agencies, including the State Department, FDA, and other agencies – to downplay the dangers from Fukushima. Because of this policy decision, the government is not really testing for radiation.

Gundersen is working with scientists who will publish a paper in the near future definitively debunking Canadian and American health officials’ claims that only harmless levels of radiation are being released.

Click here to listen to the interview.

See this for background.

Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

December 18, 2011

As I was writing Christmas and Hanukkah cards this evening, I began thinking about Jesus of Nazareth, whose birthday is celebrated at Christmas, and who is said to have been a Jewish carpenter.  Nowadays carpenters are skilled workers who may be reasonably well off, at least when the economy is doing its job.  But in Jesus’ day, artisans like carpenters, along with prostitutes, beggars, and bandits, were among the destitute who had been driven off the land by confiscatory taxation and the commercializing Roman Empire, as practices like the forgiveness of debt were replaced by exploitation and foreclosure.

Perhaps someone has already done this, but in case not, I think it’s time to ask:  If Jesus were with us bodily today and living in the United States, is there any serious question where he would stand on the Occupy Wall Street movement?  And if he were living in your community, what would he say (or do) about Occupy Portland, or Boston, or Chicago, or Eugene, or New York, or any of the scores (hundreds?) of other places people have gathered to protest the obscene maldistribution of wealth, income and political power in our society?  After all, wasn’t Jesus, during his public ministry, among the homeless of his time?  The Son of Man had no place to lay his head.

It might be said that bringing Jesus’ name to bear on contemporary politics trivializes his life and teachings, which are concerned with a “higher” plane of existence.  But having spent much of my spare time for twenty years reading dozens of books about the historical Jesus, I agree with those scholars who say his primary concern was with systemic injustice, with which our economy and political system are rife, and that he stood with the destitute against the empire of his time.  It even appears that he was a (the first?) community organizer.  There is more, of course, but I develop these and related themes in the essay below, first published on the CounterPunch site last Xmas Eve, and invite you to consider these things this Season.

It may be useful first to clarify what I mean by the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Those who have participated in the many occupations through the US have been accused of not having expressed a clear set of goals.  It’s true they have spoken with many voices, but the insistence on a set of specific demands is misplaced, if not disingenuous.   Still, I’d like to be clear about what I have in mind as the meaning of OWS.

To me, the most profound gift and achievement of Occupy Wall Street thus far is that it has catalyzed organizing for a better world.  Organizing is, after all, most fundamentally the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that enable people to act collectively to further their common interests.  From this perspective, OWS is already a success (if still only a beginning), in that it has changed the terms of popular discourse, and developed common understandings and relationships of trust, both by its actions and by the success of those actions in shining a spotlight that couldn’t be ignored on the maldistribution of wealth, income and power in our country.  And I think such organizing is not only critically important but perhaps the only possible answer to the seemingly intractable problems of our time.  We apparently face simultaneous climate change, resource depletion, and economic collapse, together with elites of wealth and power in control of a political and propaganda apparatus that makes addressing any of these problems, or even recognizing them, even more difficult than it would otherwise be.  I have worried that the situation could degenerate into chaos, a war of each against all.  The Occupy movement(s) can’t solve all of these problems, but perhaps by bringing back an emphasis and focus on the common good, they can contribute very substantially to easing the transition out of the world we know to the one that is emerging.  Maybe we can face the future helping one another, and producing and sharing the means of survival and community, in the spirit of the Occupations, rather than fighting over scraps that are inadequate, in any event, to go around.

I’ve written extensively on the financial and economic crisis — and proposed solutions, none of which have been implemented — in previous entries in this blog.  But at times I’ve wondered whether some of my concerns were not a bit overdone, with respect to the possible political consequences of the continuation or worsening of current economic conditions.  Thanks to OWS, some of the most prominent and thoughtful voices in the mainstream media (yes, I think there are a few such) have expressed similar concerns.  For example, Martin Wolf, economics commentator for The Financial Times (London), the world’s premier financial newspaper, wrote recently:  “Darker forms of politics are waiting in the wings:  nationalism, racism.  We do not need to watch this tragedy again.”  (“The big questions raised by anti-capitalist protests,” FT, October 27, 2011).  Paraphrasing Wolf and seconding these concerns, William Pfaff, editorial page columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, wrote a few weeks later that “it was not the hyperinflation Germany experienced after the First World War, but rather the brutal and seemingly interminable Depression and unemployment that followed the crash, that created the conditions in which German democracy collapsed.”  As Pfaff continued, “Its successor, National Socialism, ended the Depression and put the German economy back on its feet.  In case anyone has forgotten.”  And in the same piece, Pfaff observes, “The Occupiers dismiss [the] demand for a program as contrary to the spirit of the Occupation.  There is not and cannot be an agreed-upon program because that is not the nature of the movement, which is against ‘the system.’…How, after all, can ‘the system’ be changed?  Well first, justice could be done.  That is what people want:  justice.”  (“What Occupiers Should Ask For but What They Won’t Get,” November 16, 2011, http://www.williampfaff.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=547.)

For more elaborate statements on the meaning and import of OWS and our current situation, I’d also suggest to your attention these further commentaries:  “Belittling the Occupy Movement – By Eugene [Oregon] Occupier Samuel Rutledge (November 20, 2011), http://occupyeugenemedia.org/2011/11/20/belittling-the-occupy-movement-by-eugen-occupier-samuel-rutledge/; Mike King, “Occupations and the Fulfillment of Human Need:  The Vacancies of Capitalism” (November 30, 2011), http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/30/the-vacancies-of-capitalism/; and incidentally, as a little encouragement for those of us who still hope there might still be hope and that thinking things through might help to produce it, historian Gabriel Kolko’s “Menu for Today’s Tricky Planet:  Use Your Head” (November 17, 2011), http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/17/menu-for-today%E2%80%99s-tricky-planet-use-your-head/.

But now on to the main event, my portrait (gleaned almost entirely from the work of others, as cited) of Jesus of Nazareth as a community organizer, whose teachings and values were substantially commensurate with those of Occupy Wall Street:

Up Against the Empire:  Celebrating the Rebel Jesus

Tell me say, What kind of man this Jesus is, my lord?/ He come to my heart, and my heart opened up.

– Buffy Ste.-Marie, “Ananais”

The media distorted parts of Jesus’ message right from the start. The Gospels, and the first generation of Jesus’ followers, effectively altered or hid his more radical teachings, and what has been preached from a million pulpits and that we still get from many today is a gross distortion. Jesus was not preoccupied with individual “sin” but with systemic injustice, in opposition to the commercializing empire of his time. The historical Jesus disclosed by contemporary scholarship appears to be fundamentally the same as the Jesus who is preached and practiced in the Catholic Worker movement, for example. And the parallels between his conflict with Rome and our own with imperial America are striking indeed.

Then as now, the maldistribution of wealth was quite severe, with peasants comprising the bulk of the population. “The term peasant … denotes a relationship of exploitation in which the vast majority who produce the food on which everyone and everything depends are consistently relieved of their surplus, so that a small minority have a huge surplus while most remain at a subsistence level. Simply: a peasant is a systematically exploited farmer.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 4 (1995). Being a Jewish peasant had its saving moments, however, because of “a traditional ideology of land … enshrined in the ancient Pentateuchal laws.” Just as the people were to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Day, so God’s land was to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Year, when Jewish debts were to be remitted and Jewish slaves released. Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 12-14,” Id. 5-6. And in the “Jubilee Year, the year after seven sets of Sabbath Years, all expropriated lands and even village houses, though not city ones, were to revert to their original or traditional owners. Leviticus 25:10, 18. “While the Jubilee Year was most likely no longer implemented at all by the first century, the Sabbath Year was probably still more or less enforced.” Id. 6. Those ancient laws “refuse to see debt, slavery, or land expropriation simply as business transactions. The land is a divine possession not a negotiable commodity[:] … ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.’” Leviticus 25:23.

By Jesus’ day, however, the Roman Empire was no longer a traditional but a commercialized agrarian empire. To the Roman imperialist, land accumulation was a sensible business practice and debt foreclosure the best and quickest way to accomplish it. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 6. In first century Palestine, the Jewish peasantry was being pushed into debt and displaced from its holdings at unusually high rates, since land became, under the commercialized Roman economy, less an ancestral inheritance never to be abandoned and more an entrepreneurial commodity rapidly to be exploited. As higher rates of imperial and Herodian taxation forced increasing numbers of peasants from their land, there developed a growing class of destitute people with few options. One could become an artisan, a prostitute, a beggar, or a bandit. In this context Jesus of Nazareth appeared, the son of an artisan.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” But “repentance” is not about a feeling of penitance for individual sins. It means a turning, at a more fundamental level, of the heart and soul to God. Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision 122 n. 74, and 163-164 (1987). “The prophets called Israel to repent, which meant to turn or return, and which referred primarily to a change in Israel’s collective life, and not simply to a change in individual lives.” Id., 153 text and n. 13. Belief in the gospel does not mean merely to believe, as a condition of salvation, in certain doctrines or teachings, but to “give one’s heart to” the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. See Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time 137 (1995). And the Kingdom entails both religious and political meanings, in a situation of imperial domination and colonial exploitation. “The phrase evokes an ideal vision of political and religious power, of how this world here below would be run if God, not Caesar, sat on the imperial throne.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 7-8.

In the Kingdom of God, it is not the rich who are favored, but the destitute. As destitute people flocked to Jesus to hear his teaching and to see or be cured by his mighty works, he taught them by the example of his life, as well. Be compassionate as God is compassionate. (Luke 6:36; see Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again 46, text and fn. 1.) Judge not, lest you be judged. If you have two coats and your brother has none, give one to your brother. Never refuse alms to one who asks for them. What you do for the least of these, you do for me. Love your neighbor as yourself. And who is my neighbor? A broken stranger lying by the side of the road. Eating and drinking, Jesus practiced open commensality, shared table fellowship, that mirrored many of his stories in their radical egalitarianism. He practiced free healing, declining to set up a brokered healing business that would stay in one place and let his disciples mediate access to him for a fee. Instead, he was always on the move for the next town, personally and directly accessible, and always performed, as it were, free of charge. He didn’t make people dependent on his power: he empowered them.

The stories of Jesus’ interactions with women are remarkable. First century Judaism was deeply patriarchal. Women had few rights; they could not be witnesses in a court of law, or initiate a divorce. They were not to be taught the Torah and were to be separated from men in public life. Respectable women did not go out of the house unescorted by a family member; adult women were to be veiled in public. But Jesus defended the woman who entered an all-male banquet, unveiled and with her hair unbraided, and washed his feet with her hair. While being hosted by Mary and Martha, he affirmed Mary’s choice of the role of disciple. And of course, he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Women were apparently part of the itinerant group traveling with Jesus; the movement itself was financially supported by some wealthy women. And the evidence is compelling that women played leadership roles in the early post-Easter community. Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time 57 (1995).

“When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them.” Gospel of Thomas 14:2. See also Luke 10:4-11 = Matt 10:8-14 and Mark 6:8-13 = Matt 10:8-10a, 11 = Luke 9:2-6. John Dominic Crossan in a study based in part on the Didache argues persuasively that the itinerants who went out preaching the gospel in the century or so following Jesus’ ministry offered free healing in exchange for a meal, carrying on the practice mentioned, briefly, in the Gospels. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 9-10, and The Birth of Christianity, passim. Crossan speculates that the disciples were sent out two by two because one of them was likely female in many cases, and the two would travel as a couple for the woman’s protection.

The Kingdom movement was thus a form of community organizing, Jesus’ program of empowerment for a peasantry becoming steadily more hard-pressed through insistent taxation, indebtedness, and eventual loss of land, within the commercialized Roman Empire under Augustan peace and a Lower Galilee under Herodian urbanization. “Jesus lived, against the systemic injustice and structural evil of that situation, an alternative open to all who would accept it: a life of [free] healing and shared eating, of radical itinerancy, programmatic homelessness, and fundamental egalitarianism, of human contact without discrimination, and of divine contact without hierarchy. He also died for that alternative.” Crossan, The Essential Jesus 12.

The parallels with contemporary events could scarcely be more clear, or more striking. The form of globalization promoted by the elites of the rich countries and their instruments such as the IMF and the World Bank have driven peasants the world over off their land and into lives and early deaths of destitution. For example, “[p]rior to the 1910 revolution, wealthy landowners had confiscated most of indigenous Mexico’s communal farmland, reducing the campesinos to a state of serfdom. … [L]argely through the struggle of Zapata and his followers … the Mexican constitution of 1917, [in] Article 27, guaranteed the return and protection of communal land to farmers. … [A]lthough land reform [thus] became law in Mexico, it was only partially carried out. However, on January 1, 1994, as a condition of Mexico’s joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Article 27 of the Mexican constitution was abolished. An organization of Mayan Indians from the state of Chiapas, calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), recognized this abolition as a death sentence for Mexico’s rural indigenous population. NAFTA would force farmers who could not compete with foreign investors’ technology and equipment off the land, thus opening up a wealth of cheap land and labor for exploitation by international corporations.” Donald Nollar, “Fighting For Our Lives,” Catholic Agitator (May, 2001), p. 1.

The rest has become part of our recent history, and is still going on. Similar scenarios have played out all across the globe. The rich countries continue to enforce protectionist policies and provide subsidies for their own basic industries, while demanding access to the markets of developing countries. “Free trade” is a euphemism for unfair trade. Protectionism is the only way any country has ever developed a domestic industrial base. The destruction of trade barriers and other mechanisms have, however, opened up many Third World countries to imports from the rich countries, resulting in the devastation of Third World industries, agriculture, and entire economies. Haiti is one of the more heart-rending examples.

And the commercializing empires of the industrialized world seek to reduce everything that was once regarded as personal or unique or holy to the status of interchangeable, salable commodities, demanding that all resources, including human beings, be accessible for exploitation, ostensibly to maximize production and thus promote the common good. But we all know what a rising tide does to those who have no boats, and it’s happening every minute of every day to people throughout the world.

At this point, the very idea of the common good is under relentless attack. That’s what is so evil about the current attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally, such as it still is. The real animus behind these attacks is hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization. But caring for one another is our natural state, so a sustained program of propaganda is in place to persuade us to think only of wealth, forgetting all but self.

And what I think we need not only to counter these forces but to build community for its own sake is organizing: the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that will enable enough of us to act collectively, constructively, in coordination, to redeem the commons and serve the common good. Given that the airwaves are saturated with lies, the truth needs to be shared through other means: mind-to-mind, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, sometimes but not necessarily face-to-face and one-on-one. That’s what organizing ultimately is, and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by the written as well as the spoken word.

We are called upon, in the present age, to oppose the forces of injustice and oppression, and to defend the commons, our common humanity, and the common good, and with them our neighbors, including and especially the most vulnerable among us. We are called by our very nature, our needs as human beings for fulfillment through relationship and community. This Season, we also hear the call from the movement to Occupy Wall Street.  And in answering that call, we have the powerful and heroic example of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth – as Jackson Browne has aptly called him, the rebel Jesus.

Up Against the Empire: Celebrating the Rebel Jesus

December 24, 2010

“Tell me, say – what kind of man this Jesus is, my lord?”

– Buffy Ste.-Marie, “Ananais”

The media distorted parts of Jesus’ message right from the start. The Gospels, and the first generation of Jesus’ followers, effectively altered or hid his more radical teachings, and what has been preached from a million pulpits and that we still get from many today is a gross distortion. Jesus was not preoccupied with individual “sin” but with systemic injustice, in opposition to the commercializing empire of his time. The historical Jesus disclosed by contemporary scholarship appears to be fundamentally the same as the Jesus who is preached and practiced in the Catholic Worker movement, for example. And the parallels between his conflict with Rome and our own with imperial America are striking indeed.

Then as now, the maldistribution of wealth was quite severe, with peasants comprising the bulk of the population. “The term peasant … denotes a relationship of exploitation in which the vast majority who produce the food on which everyone and everything depends are consistently relieved of their surplus, so that a small minority have a huge surplus while most remain at a subsistence level. Simply: a peasant is a systematically exploited farmer.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 4 (1995). Being a Jewish peasant had its saving moments, however, because of “a traditional ideology of land … enshrined in the ancient Pentateuchal laws.” Just as the people were to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Day, so God’s land was to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Year, when Jewish debts were to be remitted and Jewish slaves released. Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 12-14,” Id. 5-6. And in the “Jubilee Year, the year after seven sets of Sabbath Years, all expropriated lands and even village houses, though not city ones, were to revert to their original or traditional owners. Leviticus 25:10, 18. “While the Jubilee Year was most likely no longer implemented at all by the first century, the Sabbath Year was probably still more or less enforced.” Id. 6. Those ancient laws “refuse to see debt, slavery, or land expropriation simply as business transactions. The land is a divine possession not a negotiable commodity[:] … ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.’” Leviticus 25:23.

By Jesus’ day, however, the Roman Empire was no longer a traditional but a commercialized agrarian empire. To the Roman imperialist, land accumulation was a sensible business practice and debt foreclosure the best and quickest way to accomplish it. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 6. In first century Palestine, the Jewish peasantry was being pushed into debt and displaced from its holdings at unusually high rates, since land became, under the commercialized Roman economy, less an ancestral inheritance never to be abandoned and more an entrepreneurial commodity rapidly to be exploited. As higher rates of imperial and Herodian taxation forced increasing numbers of peasants from their land, there developed a growing class of destitute people with few options. One could become an artisan, a prostitute, a beggar, or a bandit. In this context Jesus of Nazareth appeared, the son of an artisan.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” But “repentance” is not about a feeling of penitance for individual sins. It means a turning, at a more fundamental level, of the heart and soul to God. Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision 122 n. 74, and 163-164 (1987). “The prophets called Israel to repent, which meant to turn or return, and which referred primarily to a change in Israel’s collective life, and not simply to a change in individual lives.” Id., 153 text and n. 13. Belief in the gospel does not mean merely to believe, as a condition of salvation, in certain doctrines or teachings, but to “give one’s heart to” the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. See Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time 137 (1995). And the Kingdom entails both religious and political meanings, in a situation of imperial domination and colonial exploitation. “The phrase evokes an ideal vision of political and religious power, of how this world here below would be run if God, not Caesar, sat on the imperial throne.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 7-8.

In the Kingdom of God, it is not the rich who are favored, but the destitute. As destitute people flocked to Jesus to hear his teaching and to see or be cured by his mighty works, he taught them by the example of his life, as well. Be compassionate as God is compassionate. (Luke 6:36; see Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again 46, text and fn. 1.) Judge not, lest you be judged. If you have two coats and your brother has none, give one to your brother. Never refuse alms to one who asks for them. What you do for the least of these, you do for me. Love your neighbor as yourself. And who is my neighbor? A broken stranger lying by the side of the road. Eating and drinking, Jesus practiced open commensality, shared table fellowship, that mirrored many of his stories in their radical egalitarianism. He practiced free healing, declining to set up a brokered healing business that would stay in one place and let his disciples mediate access to him for a fee. Instead, he was always on the move for the next town, personally and directly accessible, and always performed, as it were, free of charge. He didn’t make people dependent on his power: he empowered them.

The stories of Jesus’ interactions with women are remarkable. First century Judaism was deeply patriarchal. Women had few rights; they could not be witnesses in a court of law, or initiate a divorce. They were not to be taught the Torah and were to be separated from men in public life. Respectable women did not go out of the house unescorted by a family member; adult women were to be veiled in public. But Jesus defended the woman who entered an all-male banquet, unveiled and with her hair unbraided, and washed his feet with her hair. While being hosted by Mary and Martha, he affirmed Mary’s choice of the role of disciple. And of course, he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Women were apparently part of the itinerant group traveling with Jesus; the movement itself was financially supported by some wealthy women. And the evidence is compelling that women played leadership roles in the early post-Easter community. Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time 57 (1995).

“When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them.” Gospel of Thomas 14:2. See also Luke 10:4-11 = Matt 10:8-14 and Mark 6:8-13 = Matt 10:8-10a, 11 = Luke 9:2-6. John Dominic Crossan in a study based in part on the Didache argues persuasively that the itinerants who went out preaching the gospel in the century or so following Jesus’ ministry offered free healing in exchange for a meal, carrying on the practice mentioned, briefly, in the Gospels. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 9-10, and The Birth of Christianity, passim. Crossan speculates that the disciples were sent out two by two because one of them was likely female in many cases, and the two would travel as a couple for the woman’s protection.

The Kingdom movement was thus a form of community organizing, Jesus’ program of empowerment for a peasantry becoming steadily more hard-pressed through insistent taxation, indebtedness, and eventual loss of land, within the commercialized Roman Empire under Augustan peace and a Lower Galilee under Herodian urbanization. “Jesus lived, against the systemic injustice and structural evil of that situation, an alternative open to all who would accept it: a life of [free] healing and shared eating, of radical itinerancy, programmatic homelessness, and fundamental egalitarianism, of human contact without discrimination, and of divine contact without hierarchy. He also died for that alternative.” Crossan, The Essential Jesus 12.

The parallels with contemporary events could scarcely be more clear, or more striking. The form of globalization promoted by the elites of the rich countries and their instruments such as the IMF and the World Bank have driven peasants the world over off their land and into lives and early deaths of destitution. For example, “[p]rior to the 1910 revolution, wealthy landowners had confiscated most of indigenous Mexico’s communal farmland, reducing the campesinos to a state of serfdom. … [L]argely through the struggle of Zapata and his followers … the Mexican constitution of 1917, [in] Article 27, guaranteed the return and protection of communal land to farmers. … [A]lthough land reform [thus] became law in Mexico, it was only partially carried out. However, on January 1, 1994, as a condition of Mexico’s joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Article 27 of the Mexican constitution was abolished. An organization of Mayan Indians from the state of Chiapas, calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), recognized this abolition as a death sentence for Mexico’s rural indigenous population. NAFTA would force farmers who could not compete with foreign investors’ technology and equipment off the land, thus opening up a wealth of cheap land and labor for exploitation by international corporations.” Donald Nollar, “Fighting For Our Lives,” Catholic Agitator (May, 2001), p. 1.

The rest has become part of our recent history, and is still going on. Similar scenarios have played out all across the globe. The rich countries continue to enforce protectionist policies and provide subsidies for their own basic industries, while demanding access to the markets of developing countries. “Free trade” is a euphemism for unfair trade. Protectionism is the only way any country has ever developed a domestic industrial base. The destruction of trade barriers and other mechanisms have, however, opened up many Third World countries to imports from the rich countries, resulting in the devastation of Third World industries, agriculture, and entire economies. Haiti is one of the more heart-rending examples.

And the commercializing empires of the industrialized world seek to reduce everything that was once regarded as personal or unique or holy to the status of interchangeable, salable commodities, demanding that all resources, including human beings, be accessible for exploitation, ostensibly to maximize production and thus promote the common good. But we all know what a rising tide does to those who have no boats, and it’s happening every minute of every day to people throughout the world.

At this point, the very idea of the common good is under relentless attack. That’s what is so evil about the current attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally, such as it still is. The real animus behind these attacks is hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization. But caring for one another is our natural state, so a sustained program of propaganda is in place to persuade us to think only of wealth, forgetting all but self.

And what I think we need not only to counter these forces but to build community for its own sake is organizing: the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that will enable enough of us to act collectively, constructively, in coordination, to redeem the commons and serve the common good. Given that the airwaves are saturated with lies, the truth needs to be shared through other means: mind-to-mind, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, sometimes but not necessarily face-to-face and one-on-one. That’s what organizing ultimately is, and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by the written as well as the spoken word.

We are called upon, in the present age, to oppose these forces of injustice and oppression, and to defend the commons, our common humanity, and the common good, and with them our neighbors, including and especially the most vulnerable among us. We are called upon by our very nature, our needs as human beings for fulfillment through relationship and community. But in answering that call, we also have the powerful and heroic example of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth – as Jackson Browne has aptly called him, the rebel Jesus.

Chris Hedges Hits One Out of the Park

November 30, 2010

I discovered Chris Hedges’ work maybe a year or two ago, and for a time, he was an inspiration. At times, like this morning, he still is. He’s obviously gifted in rhetoric, and committed to justice. But some of his more recent writings have been not only depressing, but annoying. My thought was that he’s carried away by his own rhetoric into a realm of hopelessness and despair. Resistance may be beautiful, but it’s futile. The ballot box is useless. There’s nothing we can do. That was the message I heard several times, and some of my understanding is clearly accurate. But in his latest post on truthdig, copied below, I feel he transcends all that to produce, once more, a piece that elevates and inspires, even as it touches on profoundly depressing aspects of our situation, and calls by name many of the more destructive players in our world. The value of this piece came to me forcefully when, about two-thirds of the way through, I began to cry.

I don’t know where it comes from, but not unlike Chris Hedges and many others whose work helps to inform and sustain me these days, I feel driven to respond to the cruelty and injustice that I see. I’ve always been this way, speaking out in writings and other ways. But lately, as I must see fifty things a day that cry out for a response, I’ve been trying to let myself off the hook sometimes. A life spent completely in dwelling on such things is a life completely spent; I pay for it in anxiety and physical tension that used to lead to migraines until I learned to manage my energy a little better. So I don’t always speak out. The cruelty and injustice are too ubiquitous, and I’m not one of the prophets, I just admire them. But I try to emulate them in a small way, to target some of the worst offenses, learn enough about them to say something useful, and then pass that along, on this blog, in an op ed or letter to the editor, in emails and conversations with friends.

Faced with the pervasive catastrophes of our time, I do try to respond constructively. What happened this morning, when I broke down and cried in the middle of Chris Hedges’ essay, was that it all just got to me too deeply. That happens at times. There is just so much. I won’t repeat the list, Hedges does an estimable job in the piece I’m about to copy here. And it does seem that our situation might be hopeless, in the sense that, as I think Wendell Berry said recently, everything of value is threatened, and it seems unlikely the lives we now lead can be sustained in any easily recognizable form. There appears to be, as Hedges says, just a thin line of defense between civil society and its disintegration.

But before repeating Chris Hedges’ prescription, I want to say that I think more is possible. As Noam Chomsky frequently points out, we do still have enormous freedom to agitate, organize, protest and struggle for change. The ballot box isn’t useless, it just isn’t being used nearly enough. But we still have it. And for its use to be more effective, we need a great many more people who recognize our real problems and demand that our political structures and players address them. It isn’t yet quite true, as Leonard Cohen said so long ago, that “the cities they are broke in half, and the middlemen are gone.” So “let me ask you one more time, O children of the dust: All these hunters who are shrieking now, do they speak for us?”

But I won’t ask just one more time. I’ll keep asking, nagging, agitating, informing, sharing information and analysis in the hope of helping to organize a sufficient and sustained opposition to the evils of our time, and a multitude of forces for the common good. That is, by the way, what is so evil about the current attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally, such as it still is: The real animus behind these attacks is hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization.

What I think we need is organizing: the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that will enable enough of us to act collectively, constructively, in coordination, to redeem the commons and serve the common good. Given that the airwaves are saturated with lies, the truth needs to be shared through other means: mind-to-mind, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, sometimes but not necessarily face-to-face and one-on-one. That’s what organizing ultimately is, and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by the written as well as the spoken word.

I may misunderstand Chris Hedges, but that’s what I think of as my disagreement with him, that I wanted to express before sharing his wonderful latest piece of work. I don’t think it’s hopeless – it may be, but that’s just a hypothesis, like its opposite, at this point in our time – and there are things we can do to affect the outcome. Some of them may consist of protests like the one planned by Dan Ellsberg, Chris Hedges and others (described below), and routinely engaged in over the years by the War Resisters League and the Catholic Workers, to mention just two of my favorites. But others include conversation, speech-making, publication, and even use of the ballot, once organizing has produced a critical mass sufficient to put good people into office. Iraq Veterans Against the War is organizing by a variety of means, and as I wrote to them just the other day, theirs is some of the best organizing and most important work I’m aware of. Progressive Democrats of America and others are organizing to make more effective use of the ballot box. Even in Congress, there are some very good people: most members of the Progressive Caucus were reelected earlier this month, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky somehow got onto the Deficit Commission and has offered a compassionate and practical alternative to the deficit hawks’ attack on the safety net and the common good.

I think I will copy here the piece by Chris Hedges, and follow that with a script I composed for a reading at a bar mitzvah several years ago.

And please remember this:  Like lovers in a stormy night/with a child to defend,/No defeat, baby. No surrender.

Real Hope Is About Doing Something

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/hope_in_the_21st_century_20101128/

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 – By Chris Hedges

On Dec. 16 I will join Daniel Ellsberg, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern and several military veteran activists outside the White House to protest the futile and endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of us will, after our rally in Lafayette Park, attempt to chain ourselves to the fence outside the White House. It is a pretty good bet we will all spend a night in jail. Hope, from now on, will look like this.

Hope is not trusting in the ultimate goodness of Barack Obama, who, like Herod of old, sold out his people. It is not having a positive attitude or pretending that happy thoughts and false optimism will make the world better. Hope is not about chanting packaged campaign slogans or trusting in the better nature of the Democratic Party. Hope does not mean that our protests will suddenly awaken the dead consciences, the atrophied souls, of the plutocrats running Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil or the government.

Hope does not mean we will halt the firing in Afghanistan of the next Hellfire missile, whose explosive blast sucks the oxygen out of the air and leaves the dead, including children, scattered like limp rag dolls on the ground. Hope does not mean we will reform Wall Street swindlers and speculators, or halt the pillaging of our economy as we print $600 billion in new money with the desperation of all collapsing states. Hope does not mean that the nation’s ministers and rabbis, who know the words of the great Hebrew prophets, will leave their houses of worship to practice the religious beliefs they preach. Most clerics like fine, abstract words about justice and full collection plates, but know little of real hope.

Hope knows that unless we physically defy government control we are complicit in the violence of the state. All who resist keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become enemies of hope. They become, in their passivity, agents of injustice. If the enemies of hope are finally victorious, the poison of violence will become not only the language of power but the language of opposition. And those who resist with nonviolence are in times like these the thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration.

Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. Hope does not come with the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is an action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and the more potent hope becomes. Hope never makes sense. Hope is weak, unorganized and absurd. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope does not believe in force. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on us all. Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope’s power and it is why it can never finally be defeated. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face.

Hope is not for the practical and the sophisticated, the cynics and the complacent, the defeated and the fearful. Hope is what the corporate state, which saturates our airwaves with lies, seeks to obliterate. Hope is what our corporate overlords are determined to crush. Be afraid, they tell us. Surrender your liberties to us so we can make the world safe from terror. Don’t resist. Embrace the alienation of our cheerful conformity. Buy our products. Without them you are worthless. Become our brands. Do not look up from your electronic hallucinations to think. No. Above all do not think. Obey.

W.H. Auden wrote:
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The powerful do not understand hope. Hope is not part of their vocabulary. They speak in the cold, dead words of national security, global markets, electoral strategy, staying on message, image and money. The powerful protect their own. They divide the world into the damned and the blessed, the patriots and the enemy, the rich and the poor. They insist that extinguishing lives in foreign wars or in our prison complexes is a form of human progress. They cannot see that the suffering of a child in Gaza or a child in the blighted pockets of Washington, D.C., diminishes and impoverishes us all. They are deaf, dumb and blind to hope. Those addicted to power, blinded by self-exaltation, cannot decipher the words of hope any more than most of us can decipher hieroglyphics. Hope to Wall Street bankers and politicians, to the masters of war and commerce, is not practical. It is gibberish. It means nothing.

I cannot promise you fine weather or an easy time. I cannot assure you that thousands will converge on Lafayette Park in solidarity. I cannot pretend that being handcuffed is pleasant. I cannot say that anyone in Congress or the White House, anyone in the boardrooms of the corporations that cannibalize our nation, will be moved by pity to act for the common good. I cannot tell you these wars will end or the hungry will be fed. I cannot say that justice will roll down like a mighty wave and restore our nation to sanity. But I can say this: If we resist and carry out acts, no matter how small, of open defiance, hope will not be extinguished. If all we accomplish is to assure a grieving mother in Baghdad or Afghanistan, a young man or woman crippled physically and emotionally by the hammer blows of war, that he or she is not alone, our resistance will be successful. Hope cannot be sustained if it cannot be seen.

Any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeks to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others. Hope affirms that which we must affirm. And every act that imparts hope is a victory in itself.

Also from Auden:
Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Chris Hedges is Truthdig columnist and a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.” More information on the Dec. 16 protest can be found at http://www.stopthesewars.org.

Reprinted from Sharon Astyk’s Blog CASAUBON 11/11/07 (excerpt):
Tikkun Olam, if you are a Jew, or even if you find the metaphor compelling – tikkun olam means “the repair of the world.” In my faith, that is why we are here – to fix what is broken, repair what is damaged, to improve what can be improved. As the saying goes, it is not required of us that we complete the work, but it is not permitted for us not to try. …
Sharon

Comments: Robert said…
Thank you, Sharon. … Recently I was asked to prepare a reading for a bar mitzvah. … I somewhat surprised myself by coming up with the following, which I’d like to share in response to your statement:

There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years…. The crises we face [today] are real and imminent, [but] in each case means are available to overcome them. The first step is understanding, then [at times, individual action can be effective; at others, we need] organization and [collective] action. That is the path that has been followed in the past, bringing about a much better world and leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before.…[1]

Therefore, may we have not only strength, determination, and will power, but understanding, compassion, patience, persistence, and the courage to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, [to vindicate] the rights of all who are left desolate,”[2] and to work in cooperation with our neighbors and the world community, that our world may become just and therefore peaceful and safe, and that our lives may be blessed.[3]

And let us say: Amen.

[1] Adapted from Noam Chomsky, Failed States, and “Imminent Crises: Threats and Opportunities,” Monthly Review 17, June 2007.
[2] Proverbs 31:8.
[3] Adapted from Jack Riemer, Social Action

Let’s Vote and Get Out the Vote this Tuesday – While We still Can.

October 31, 2010

In the summer of 2009, Sara Robinson wrote several articles on the possibility of fascism developing in the United States. As I wrote in response at the time (http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/), I had had some concern along those lines on and off for some time. The discussion then focused on the unruliness of many who attended political gatherings in what appeared to be spontaneous outpourings of outrage over various policies, on the part of people who came to be called Tea Partiers. Bullying of scapegoats by roving mobs was one of the elements of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.

More recently, several factors have given greater concreteness to the concern that such a phenomenon may be gathering force and coherence in the US. For one thing, it has emerged that the development, persistence and direction of what is often referred to as the Tea Party has been supported by right-wing billionaires whose sponsorship of think-tanks and ownership and direction of media has helped to create an atmosphere of hostility to government (rather than to the corporate masters of the government), in which the general financial and logistical support of these parties has been able to produce the appearance and increasingly the reality of a coherent “movement.” See, e.g., Pam Martens, “More Tentacles Surface at Rightwing Front Group: The Koch Empire and Americans for Prosperity,” http://www.counterpunch.org/, October 19, 2010).

There have now been a number of manifestations of bullying violence, in connection with the mid-term elections of 2010. In this context, my initial concern about the possible impact the victory of right-wing candidates could have on public policy has been augmented by my concern that such a victory would be a further development in the emergence of an atmosphere of bullying, scapegoating, and other aspects of a loss of civility which, whether one calls it a step on the road to fascism or not, would be deeply troubling. I have therefore come to have a renewed interest in the elections, taking the view that the victory of even candidates with whom I differ substantially on important issues would be preferable to that of their opponents, who threaten to bring with them not only even worse policies but an atmosphere of tolerance for and even encouragement of violence.

I’m again indebted to Sara Robinson for articulating earlier this month an updated analysis of the problem. http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2010-10-24-03-55-29-news.php. As Ms. Robinson sums up her earlier work and its reception:

“In August 2009, I wrote a piece titled Fascist America: Are We There Yet? that sparked much discussion on both the left and right ends of the blogosphere. In it, I argued that—according to the best scholarship on how fascist regimes emerge—America was on a path that was running much too close to the fail-safe point beyond which no previous democracy has ever been able to turn back from a full-on fascist state. I also noted that the then-emerging Tea Party had a lot of proto-fascist hallmarks, and that it had the potential to become a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy if it ever got enough traction to start winning elections in a big way.”

At the conclusion of her updated treatment of the subject, Ms. Robinson suggests three possible scenarios:

“1. The Tea Party is rejected outright by the voters on November 2. A handful of their candidates do win their races; and for the next few years, the Democrats have a grand time pointing out their sheer wingnuttitude, bolstering a compelling case against electing any more of them in the future. The party begins to lose momentum, and in a few years is defunct.

“2. The Tea Party elects a credible number of these 70-odd candidates—enough to make a solid showing and establish its political bona fides, but not enough to get anything serious done. If this happens, progressives need to work fast and hard. If this right-wing tide continues to build as we head into the 2012 election, we’ll still be cruising straight into a fascist future—just not quite yet. There’s time to stop it, but the momentum is not on our side—and stopping it only gets harder with every passing week.

“3. A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement’s lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They’ve already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.

“In this scenario, the fail-safe point—the point beyond which no country has ever turned back from the full fascist nightmare—may well be behind us when we wake up on November 3. From there, the rest will play out in agonizing slow motion; and the character of the rest of this decade will hinge almost entirely on whether the corporatists, the militarists, or the theocrats ultimately get the upper hand in the emerging regime.”

Robinson acknowledges that people with the sorts of views now ascribed to Tea Partiers have always been with us, but notes:

“According to Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, the Tea Parties are a broad movement that brings together several preexisting formations on the political right:
— Economic libertarians who worry about big government collectivist tyranny
— Christian Right Conservatives who oppose liberal government social policies
— Right-wing apocalyptic Christians who fear a Satanic New World Order
— Nebulous conspiracy theorists who fear a secular New World Order
— Nationalistic ultra-patriots concerned that US sovereignty is eroding
— Xenophobic anti-immigrant white nationalists who worry about preserving the “real” America.

“This unification of right-wing forces around radical far-right ideas has never happened on anything like this scale in modern American history. And it’s why we need to recognize the Tea Party as something unique under the political sun—and seriously evaluate the future that awaits us if it becomes any more powerful.”

Her article concludes with this important call to involvement:

“Be the one who sees where this is taking us. Be the one who stands while you still can. The future these people have in mind for us is one that dozens of countries have already lived through; and all of them will carry the scars for centuries. It’s not fascism yet; but if the Tea Party manages to get its hands on the levers of power, it will be.”

Writing along similar lines, Chris Hedges has raised similar concerns (“How Democracy Dies: Lessons From a Master,” Posted October 10, 2010 at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/how_democracy_dies_lessons_from_a_master_20101011/):

“The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes spent his life battling the assault on democracy by tyrants. It is disheartening to be reminded that he lost. But he understood that the hardest struggle for humankind is often stating and understanding the obvious. Aristophanes, who had the temerity to portray the ruling Greek tyrant, Cleon, as a dog, is the perfect playwright to turn to in trying to grasp the danger posed to us by movements from the tea party to militias to the Christian right, as well as the bankrupt and corrupt power elite that no longer concerns itself with the needs of its citizens. He saw the same corruption 2,400 years ago. He feared correctly that it would extinguish Athenian democracy. And he struggled in vain to rouse Athenians from their slumber.

“There is a yearning by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They seek out of ignorance and desperation to create a utopian society based on “biblical law.” They want to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy. These radicals, rather than the terrorists who oppose us, are the gravest threat to our open society. They have, with the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate money, gained tremendous power. They peddle pseudoscience such as “Intelligent Design” in our schools. They keep us locked into endless and futile wars of imperialism. They mount bigoted crusades against gays, immigrants, liberals and Muslims. They turn our judiciary, in the name of conservative values, over to corporations. They have transformed our liberal class into hand puppets for corporate power. And we remain meek and supine.”

At the conclusion of his own analysis, Hedges echoes the call of Sara Robinson:

“Let us not stand at the open gates of the city meekly waiting for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching towards Bethlehem. Let us, if nothing else, like Aristophanes, begin to call our tyranny by its name.”

Bill Fletcher, Jr., articulates and reinforces the point that our first line of defense is the coming elections, in “Enthusiasm: I Am Not Interested In Things Getting Worse!, http://pdamerica.org/articles/campaigns/2010-10-27-10-51-34-campaigns.php (October 27, 2010):

“I am focusing on those on the right attempting to move in, and frankly they are an unsettling bunch. You see, my enthusiasm for voting rests on the fact that I am not interested in people who worship ignorance, intolerance, war and the strengthening of a plutocracy increasing their grip on power and pulling this country any further to the right than it currently is. In other words, the challenge for progressives is two-fold: one, to beat back the irrationalist right; and, two, to move against the right-wing of the Democratic Party and to push for real change.”

As Fletcher’s piece concludes:

“Well, we are now facing a moment of truth. This is not the boy who cried wolf. In addition to the Democratic Congress as a whole being under assault from the Republicans, there are some liberal and progressive Democratic elected officials who are under siege, and about whom we should be concerned. There is an energized, right-wing army waiting to turn back the clock. So progressives should be enthused right now; enthused to defend our friends, but also to defeat our enemies. But we should also be motivated to put into practice a different set of politics. We have got to get off the defensive and promote a different sort of vision, an inspiring, progressive vision.”

Many of us are by now aware of the incidents to which I refer above. As Michael Moore describes one of the most sickening:

“There she was, thrown to the pavement by a Republican in a checkered shirt. Another Republican thrusts his foot in between her legs and presses down with all his weight to pin her to the curb. Then a Republican leader comes over and viciously stomps on her head with his foot. You hear her glasses crunch under the pressure.

Holding her head down with his foot, he applies more force so she can’t move. Her skull and brain are now suffering a concussion.

“The young woman’s name is Lauren Valle, but she is really all of us. For come this Tuesday, the right wing — and the wealthy who back them — plan to take their collective boot and bring it down hard on not just the head of Barack Obama but on the heads of everyone they simply don’t like.” “A Boot to the Head…from Michael Moore,” October 28, 2010, http://www.michaelmoore.com/.

Mike Lux sums up the situation this way (“Robbing You With A Fountain Pen – Rightwing Electoral Violence,” October 28, 2010, http://pdamerica.org/articles/campaigns/2010-10-28-01-20-20-campaigns.php):

“I think the lawlessness reflected in the physical violence on the campaign trail coming from so many on the right, and the blatant disregard for the rule of law by the big banks trying to railroad so many people out of their homes without the proper paper work, are more related than conventional wisdom would suggest. The fact that banks and their “servicers” have apparently committed massive document fraud and have in some cases actually hired thugs to break into people’s homes and change their locks during foreclosure proceedings, and the fact that they lied to and bet against their own clients in investment deals is all part of a pattern: people with too much power and an Ayn Randian view of the world. Ayn Rand, the Social Darwinists of the 1880s, the big Wall Street banks, libertarian candidates like Rand Paul and these thugs who work on their campaigns all make the same arguments: power is morality, greed is good, compassion is weakness, buyer beware. While they call for civility, and argue against class warfare and populism, they believe in turning the Golden Rule of the Bible on its head and replacing it with another one: he who has the gold, rules. And if the rule of law gets in their way, they just ignore it or use their political power to change the law. If politicians or public opinion create a problem for them, they use their money to dump millions into lobbying to change the law, or dump millions into secretive groups to buy elections.”

Lux concludes:

“The best argument for the Democrats in these elections is that the sharks are in the water, and the thugs are in the street. Democrats can and do drive us crazy sometimes, but when the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists on Wall Street and the streets of Kentucky argue that the strong should rule over the weak, it is better to strengthen the hand of our advocates like [Elizabeth] Warren and [Alan] Grayson and [US Senator] Sherrod (rather than Scott) Brown. There are some who rob you with a gun, and some with a fountain pen—some who kick you in the head and some who throw you out of your home—and it is better to have a sheriff who will be on your side at least some of the time.”

Right here in my home area of Lane County, Oregon, a recent public hearing of the Board of County Commissioners raised some of the same themes. A crowd of perhaps 450-500 people angrily packed what was to be a public hearing on proposed rules to protect public drinking water by regulating the use of property adjacent to the McKenzie River. At the outset, as the Commissioners were trying to get the meeting underway, many in the crowd rose as one and preemptively recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They subsequently shouted down any effort to speak. Since there were problems with the sound system and the venue couldn’t safely accommodate so many people, the hearing was reset to a later date. Some who attended have called for all who attend the rescheduled hearing to wear red shirts.

Obama has not disappointed me once. I voted for him because I thought he was unlikely to get us into a nuclear war, whereas there was a much higher probability McCain would do exactly that. Thus far at least, Obama has lived up to my expectations. But his administration has nevertheless been a dismal failure thus far from my perspective, for reasons alluded to in several of the articles cited in this piece, such as passing an inadequate stimulus and failing to articulate the need for more; compromising the guts out of health care reform, and doing the same with reregulation of the financial system.

And as I said, I have some serious policy differences with many Democrats, even including some whose candidacies I actively support in this election. Congressional Democrats as a group have disappointed me so deeply that I have declined to give any support whatsoever to the national Democratic Party or any of its organs, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or its counterpart for Senatorial candidates. But as election eve approaches, I’m very glad I did seek out some of the most clearly and reliably progressive candidates nationally, especially those supported by Progressive Democrats of America. And as I wrote yesterday to Meredith Wood Smith, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, in sending a small contribution to the DPO:

“I’ve given in a small way before and am adding [a bit more] now. In doing so I’d like to say that I have big differences with [gubernatorial candidate] John Kitzhaber about biomass and with [US Senator] Ron Wyden about trade policy and forest issues. I’m contributing in part because Oregon Democrats have backed progressive taxation and finally put an end to field burning [by grass seed growers in the Willamette Valley, a controversial practice that routinely polluted the air where I live]. But on a more general level, I believe the opposition threatens us with not only destructive policies favoring even worse concentration of wealth, plundering of the Earth and loss of the social safety net, but a loss of civility. In that connection I’m afraid the incident in Kentucky may be emblematic of larger tendencies that we face even here in Oregon and specifically, Lane County. I look forward to working with Democratic officeholders and citizens in Oregon after Election Day, regardless of what happens nationally, and hope those with whom I disagree will have open minds and a willingness to consider science and facts, which is sadly lacking in so much of the opposition.”

Krugman’s Old Enemies and Chris Hedges’ Greeks

May 25, 2010

I don’t really think Obama has an inner FDR to awaken, but perhaps the rest of us can find our inner Greek, and wake him/her up to defend our interests while we still have some. At any rate Krugman’s column on corporations and the rich returning to the Republican fold and Hedges’ “The Greeks Get It” are an interesting one-two punch. See Krugman’s at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/24/opinion/24krugman.html and Hedges’ at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_greeks_get_it_20100524/, or find them both this week at the homepage of Progressive Democrats of America at http://pdamerica.org/index.php.

Fix the Economy and Get Wall Street Under Control: Start By Firing the Three Stooges

January 26, 2010
Thanks to A New Way Forward for posting this piece at http://www.anewwayforward.org/blogs/ today.

Fix the Economy and Get Wall Street Under Control: Start by Firing the Three Stooges, Ben, Larry and Curly Tim

The Three Stooges – Moe, Larry and Curly Joe – gave a comic definition to the term “stooge.”  But one of the dictionary definitions of “stooge” is “one who plays a subordinate or compliant role to a principal” – “principal” meaning one who calls the shots.  “Puppet” is said to mean the same thing.  The dictionary I’m looking at even gives, to illustrate the definition of “stooging,” “congressmen who stooge for the oil and mineral interests.”  So how apt is the use of the term for Ben, Larry and Curly Tim – Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council, the White House office that coördinates economic policy in the Obama Administration, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?

In a general way, all three are stooges for Wall Street, in that their reaction to the near-collapse of the financial system that nearly brought us a Second Great Depression – and still could, in my view – has been to try to revive the institutions and practices that gave rise to the problem in the first place.  In short, they have been representing financial interests, rather than Main Street.  More specifically, Ben Bernanke supported and now continues the low-interest policies that helped inflate the Bubble Economy, enabled widespread fraud by failing to exercise the Fed’s regulatory powers while the Bubble was inflating, and has arranged trillions in backing for the credit markets, making more billions for Wall Street at the expense of the rest of us.  And it seems entirely fair to give Larry Summers, as the chief advisor to the White House on economic policy, an ample helping of blame for Obama’s failure to fight for a more substantial jobs program.  And there is evidence Tim Geithner arranged for a secret bailout of AIG when he was chairman of the New York Fed.  Others have made the case in more detail – see, for example, Chris Hedges, “Wall Street Will Be Back For More” and the other sources cited below – but I think it’s clear the terms are apt, and a useful way to draw attention to the need for President Obama not only to do an about-face on the subject of financial regulatory reform, but to clean the White House of the influence of those who have until now served as stooges for Wall Street while occupying positions of public authority and trust.  And a good start would be firing Ben, Larry and Curly Tim.

Perhaps in desperation after the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts, President Obama has finally come out swinging at Wall Street.  Previous “reform” efforts were a smokescreen, but there is potential for real change in the latest proposals.  Those should be evaluated against our own program for fundamental restructuring of the financial system and the economy, and as their impact is complex and they will surely change, I don’t propose to evaluate them fully here.  Suffice it to say that in adopting the proposals of former Fed Chief Paul Volcker, Obama may have taken a page directly out of the playbook outlined by Simon Johnson a few days previous.  But as the dust flies and may not settle for some time, there are some things we can and should do to impact the situation.  This article outlines some of those first steps and provides a toolkit of information resources for following the action.

First, Obama should conduct a clean sweep, and divest his administration of those who produced the near collapse of the financial system and the economy and have thus far been working to preserve the pre-crisis status quo.  That means dumping the Three Stooges who laid so much of the groundwork for the recent near collapse of the economy and have worked ever since to preserve in its current form the financial system that caused it:  Amid the talk of possibly replacing Bernanke at the Fed, Summers’ name has been floated as an alternative.  That would be a change we could believe in – from the frying pan to the fire, or vice versa, take your pick.  Instead, progressive forces should mobilize behind figures like FDIC Chair Sheila Bair or economists like Joseph Steiglitz or James K. Galbraith.  And the few Senators who have thus far announced opposition to Bernanke’s reappointment – Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, and California’s Barbara Boxer – should hear from us in support, and the rest should hear from us in protest until they change their tune.

Second, something constructive should come out of the hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.  Thus far, we’ve seen softball questions lobbed at the giants of the finance industry on heavily reported Day One, while the media all but ignored the second day, at which Sheila Bair and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, among others, systematically described the ways in which the Fed helped enable the rampant fraud that led to the crisis and proposed serious steps to avoid a repetition.

Third, we should understand generally Wall Street’s program at this point – so we can oppose it – and devise and promote specific steps toward genuine and effective reform.  Ms. Bair’s testimony before the Commission is a wonderful resource for this purpose, and in reviewing it, we should also recognize that the People have a genuine champion in Sheila Bair.  Ms. Bair deserves our thanks, praise and support for taking on the – literally – Old Boys network who have empowered Wall Street’s fraud machine and are working to preserve it.

I published last May a comprehensive assessment of the financial and economic crisis, and a set of proposals for restructuring the economy.  Nothing in my assessment has changed, and I suggest it to your attention as a starting point if you want one.  Fast-forwarding to the present, possibly the best short resource I’m aware of on the background to the current situation and how it is evolving is Michael Hudson’s “The Revelations of Sheila Bair: Wall Street’s Power Grab (CounterPunch, January 19, 2010).

There are some straightforward proposals, already on our table if not Wall Street’s, that we should keep sight of and continue to mobilize behind.  Wall Street’s program provides a sort of mirror image of what they are and ought to be.  First, the Old Boys want to be allowed to continue to gamble with other people’s money and the financial system as a whole, and they want the financial sector to stay as it is even though it is already too big a part of the overall economy and is full of institutions whose practices continue to pose systemic risk.  Second, they want the proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to be dumped.  Third, they want to avoid any structural reforms like reenactment of Glass-Steagall.  And of course, they want their own Three Stooges – Ben, Larry and Curly Tim – to remain in charge at the Fed, the Treasury, and the White House.  So if they lost Bernanke at the Fed, for example, they’d want to replace him with Larry Summers.  Flip those coins and we have the beginnings of our own program.

First, the big banks should be broken up.  Too big to fail means too big to be allowed to exist.  However, the financial system has evolved so that there are now institutions other than banks whose failure can pose systemic threats.  That’s one reason Obama’s proposals are more complex than the old Glass-Steagall firewall between commercial and investment banking.  There should be limits on the size of financial institutions.  But just as importantly, any institution engaged in financial activity should be required to hold sufficient reserves to cover its deposits if it takes them, and its bets if it makes them.  Simon Johnson recommends tripling capital requirements so banks hold at least 20-25 percent of their assets in core capital.  Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, “A bank levy will not stop the doomsday cycle,” Financial Times, January 19, 2010.  If implemented, such a requirement would make it more expensive for financial entities to expand beyond their usefulness or to pose systemic risk by making bets they couldn’t cover.  Of course, such a rule would have to be vigorously enforced, and that would require a regulator with integrity as well as authority.

Another key proposal is creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  On the need for it, see “Elizabeth Warren: Pass A Consumer Protection Agency Or Forget Regulatory Reform,” and Michael Hudson’s article including his report of Sheila Bair’s testimony.  In the meantime, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who has floated the idea of dumping such an entity or burying it in another agency in order to obtain, excuse the expression, bipartisan support, should hear from his constituents by all available means.

And the financial sector itself should be reduced in size to the point where it can serve the needs of the economy without putting it at risk.  As Ms. Bair pointed out, “our financial sector has grown disproportionately in relation to the rest of our economy,” from “less than 15 percent of total US corporate profits in the 1950s and 1960s…to 25 percent in the 199s and 34 percent in the most recent decade through 2008.”  While financial services are “essential to our modern economy, the excesses of the last decade” represent “a costly diversion of resources from other sectors of the economy.”  In other words, what is spent on financial services is not available for investment in plant, equipment, research and development, training, or the production of goods, services and jobs outside the financial sector.

As the battles that have now been joined proceed, I’d suggest, among many excellent resources, those listed below, and the ongoing commentary of Simon Johnson, Michael Hudson, Mike Whitney (often posted on the website of CounterPunch, and others whose work appears here and on the home page of Progressive Democrats of America).

Robert Roth is a retired public interest lawyer who prosecuted marketplace fraud for the Attorneys General of New York and Oregon.

Other valuable reads from Robert:

Dan Geldon, http://baselinescenario.com/2010/01/20/how-supposed-free-market-theorists-destroyed-free-market-theory/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BaselineScenario+%28The+Baseline+Scenario%29″>“How Supposed Free-Market Theorists Destroyed Free-Market Theory”

Robert Roth, “Fixing the Economy: For Starters, Fed Chief Ben Bernanke Should Not Be Re-Appointed”

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Momentum for a second stimulus, & manure for the US economy

July 13, 2009

I first latched on to the idea of a second federal stimulus when I was preparing testimony to the Oregon Legislature, trying to avoid funding and services cuts to vulnerable people.   I proposed some progressive tax increases, but those were not enough, and Robert Reich had calculated that state budget cuts and tax increases were already projected to total $350bn, enough to negate nearly half of the first stimulus.  So I joined Mr. Reich, Paul Krugman, and James K. Galbraith in calling for an additional federal stimulus.  At the time the idea was eminently sensible and reasonable but like many such ideas, was almost too far out to propose without people rolling their eyes.

In just the ten weeks since, the idea, still as sensible as ever, has nevertheless entered the mainstream of public discourse.  I commented on that fact, and outlined the need for a restructured economy, in a letter today to the Financial Times, the pre-eminent financial newspaper (it’s much more useful and informative than the Wall Street Journal, and Obama says he’s been reading it for 20 years).  Here’s the letter, which I hope speaks well enough for itself:

Sir,

Progressive Democrats of America went on record in support of a second stimulus with its May 18, 2009 publication of my assessment of the financial and economic crisis and a plan to address it.  The idea was not original — I got it from Robert Reich, and Paul Krugman and James K. Galbraith also supported it — but it was hardly part of mainstream discussion, despite Reich’s calculation that a projected $350bn in State budget cuts and tax hikes would predictably negate nearly half the impact of the $787bn first federal stimulus.

In less than two months, that snowball has become at least a small avalanche:  on June 29th, the FT reported that Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, had said the administration would be open to further stimulus if needed, acknowledging that cutbacks by states facing budget crises would push in the opposite direction.  Laura Tyson of the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board came out in favor the following week.  But my jaw actually slackened a bit when I realized the July 11-12, 2009 FT editorial I was reading called for a second stimulus, specifically targeting the states on condition the money be spent quickly.

A second stimulus is critical as a holding action, to keep us from going over the cliff.  As Aline van Duyn notes (also July 11-12, 2009), alluding to Nouriel Roubini’s recent analysis, “green shoots” have been replaced in the discussion by talk of weeds that may, in the case of the US economy, turn to manure.  Obama should recognize and level with the public about the dimensions and severity of the problem, and return to Congress for a second stimulus to help the states maintain vital services and avoid tax increases, and Congress should heed the request.

But if we are to pull back any substantial distance from that cliff and begin to grow our economy, it must be done sustainably, and here I think the metaphor of manure in its positive meaning, as a fertilizing substance that replenishes and nourishes the soil, is useful.  The US economy isn’t a car in running condition that just needs a jump start to resume operations, it’s a field of depleted soil that needs a whole range of remedial measures, so that when we’re done with stimuli the debt we’ve incurred has not just ameliorated the effects of the crisis but encouraged the emergence and growth of real green shoots with a future.

Of course we need the capacity to generate and sustain sufficient aggregate demand.  Since wages have stagnated for roughly thirty years, the demand that sustained the world economy till recently came from US consumer debt.  That source cannot be revived both for arithmetic and psychological reasons:  People can’t afford to borrow more, and they’re understandably afraid to.  So we need debt relief as well as more and better jobs at higher wages.  Hence the roots of the problem must be addressed, including the obscene concentration of wealth that has left US households without money to spend, and the so-called trade agreements that have offshored and outsourced much of the US manufacturing sector.  We should facilitate rather than hamper labor organizing, through such measures as the Employee Free Choice Act, and revisit the trade agreements, through such legislation as the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act, to be introduced in this session of Congress by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME).

We of course also need repaired and improved infrastructure, with the emphasis on energy conservation, mass transit and renewable sources, as well as education to prepare workers for the jobs of the future, and a universal healthcare system to enable U.S. firms to be viable and compete.

However, when the U.S. and Western economies have recovered from past recessions, as well as the Great Depression, they had at their disposal – and have now substantially disposed of – the resources of the natural world – including not only cheap oil but also abundant land, air and water – to resume operations. With natural resources now considerably more expensive and the continued operation of the Old Economy threatening the means of life (e.g., overfishing the oceans) and the biosphere itself (e.g., arable land, breathable air, drinkable water), the creation of more jobs at higher wages will require a complex process of reconstructing an economy as if people and the Earth mattered. We need something – indeed many things – to be substantially different, including, for example, the means of producing food by sustainable agricultural practices, with less chemically dependent agribusiness and much more locally based, smaller-scale and sustainable farming.

How to pay for all this, and save the dollar to boot?  We might start by recovering the ill-gotten gains of those who apparently caused or contributed to the crisis through fraud.  In the wake of what appears to have been far and away the biggest financial scam in the history of the world, nobody but pikers like Bernie Madoff has even been investigated.  A tax on financial transactions would also help.  So would cessation of our foreign military adventures deceptively marketed as the “war on terror,” or whatever our current wars come to be called, now shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. These have been an enormous waste of resources as well as human lives, as a substantial consensus among knowledgeable analysts finds – as was predicted – that the result has been an increase in terrorism. Another increasingly glaring fact about these wars is that we just can’t afford them anymore. We’re waging them on credit, and increasingly on credit from foreigners. And – besides the appalling and immoral loss of human life, an immeasurable cost – the resources wasted on these destructive activities are wholly unproductive economically, as well as needed elsewhere.

Much or all of this is of course anathema to US elites.  But these civilizing measures are essential if the US is to avoid becoming a Third World country beset by disillusionment with public institutions, social unrest, and possibly violence on a grand scale, and instead emerge from the present crisis in substantially different but still civilized form.

These and related suggestions are developed in greater detail at http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2009-05-18-10-29-00-news.php and on my own blog at http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/.  Another useful summation of much of the foregoing is E. F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful (recommended by Harry Eyres, January 31 and in Mr Don Cropper’s letter, July 11-12, 2009).

Cordially,

Robert Roth

The Financial and Economic Crisis: Analysis & Action Plan

July 5, 2009

The article I have posted as a Page under this title was posted on the website of Progressive Democrats of America on May 18, 2009.  I began writing it as testimony to the Ways & Means Committee of the Oregon Legislature for hearings on how to handle the Oregon budget crisis.  I was primarily concerned about prospective losses of funds and services for people  with mental and developmental disabilities and other vulnerable people, but just about everyone who testified at that hearing in Eugene told of other worthy and crying needs that would be denied if the Legislature cut off funding.  I decided the most constructive thing I could do was suggest sources of funding.  After reviewing the recent reports of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, I wrote testimony in favor of a new tax on individuals with $250,000 or more in annual income and on profitable corporations.  But in addition, I suggested the Legislature ask the Congressional Delegation to seek additional federal stimulus money.

Much as the idea of more federal stimulus seemed unlikely — with the Republicans already attacking the stimulus that had been passed — the justification for it is quite reasonable:  The federal stimulus amounted to $787 billion to stimulate economic activity by creating jobs and funding needed services.  State budget cuts and tax increases were (and still are as far as I know) projected to be about $350 billion.  So nearly half of the first federal stimulus would be negated, undone, by those State actions.  Thus we would need more federal stimulus just to get the effect the first package was designed to deliver.

I got the idea for more federal stimulus targeting the States from Robert Reich.  It was also favored by economists Paul Krugman and James K. Galbraith, Jr.  But at that point it was just them, and me, and Progressive Democrats of America on record in favor of it.  However, the idea may be beginning to catch on.

Last week, Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, acknowledged in an interview with the Financial Times that cutbacks by states facing budget crises would push in the opposite direction from the federal stimulus.  Meanwhile David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, told NBC Television the administration would be open to more stimulus if it turned out to be needed.  These and related remarks are reported in the Financial Times of 6/29/09.

The idea for more federal stimulus, and the other policy proposals in my article for PDA, are intended to buy time for the transition to what I think will be a new economy.  The pessimism of my assessment of the economy back in mid-May seems to have held up so far, and there’s at least a strong chance the economy will resist the “jump start” the federal stimulus is intended to provide.  As unemployment continues to grow and more people become increasingly desperate, I’m afraid we may face a period of social and political unrest that may even degenerate into chaos and violence.   Our leaders, including President Obama, are doing nothing to prepare us for the worst case scenario that has at least a strong chance of coming to pass.  So the spirit of my “Action Plan” on the financial & economic crisis is really to make the transition to a lower living standard more gradual, and lay some groundwork for a transition to a more sustainable economy.

On a more fundamental level, we need an approach that is best described for me, so far, by Robert Jensen in his new book, “All My Bones Shake,” about seeking the prophetic voices we need to find and use in the times ahead — starting now.  I’m just beginning the book, but have read three excerpts posted in various places.  I’ll speak of them further in a later post.


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