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Chris Hedges: Overthrow the Speculators

from truthdig:

Overthrow the Speculators

Posted on Dec 29, 2013
By Chris Hedges

Money, as Karl Marx lamented, plays the largest part in determining the course of history. Once speculators are able to concentrate wealth into their hands they have, throughout history, emasculated government, turned the press into lap dogs and courtiers, corrupted the courts and hollowed out public institutions, including universities, to justify their looting and greed. Today’s speculators have created grotesque financial mechanisms, from usurious interest rates on loans to legalized accounting fraud, to plunge the masses into crippling forms of debt peonage. They steal staggering sums of public funds, such as the $85 billion of mortgage-backed securities and bonds, many of them toxic, that they unload each month on the Federal Reserve in return for cash. And when the public attempts to finance public-works projects they extract billions of dollars through wildly inflated interest rates.

Speculators at megabanks or investment firms such as Goldman Sachs are not, in a strict sense, capitalists. They do not make money from the means of production. Rather, they ignore or rewrite the law—ostensibly put in place to protect the vulnerable from the powerful—to steal from everyone, including their shareholders. They are parasites. They feed off the carcass of industrial capitalism. They produce nothing. They make nothing. They just manipulate money. Speculation in the 17th century was a crime. Speculators were hanged.

We can wrest back control of our economy, and finally our political system, from corporate speculators only by building local movements that decentralize economic power through the creation of hundreds of publicly owned state, county and city banks.

The establishment of city, regional and state banks, such as the state public bank in North Dakota, permits localities to invest money in community projects rather than hand it to speculators. It keeps property and sales taxes, along with payrolls for public employees and pension funds, from lining the pockets of speculators such as Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. Money, instead of engorging the bank accounts of the few, is leveraged to fund schools, restore infrastructure, sustain systems of mass transit and develop energy self-reliance. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/overthrow_the_speculators_20131229

Youth Can Handle the Truth

Youth Can Handle the Truth

Saturday, 28 December 2013 10:36
By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Popular Resistance | News Analysis

This week we want to highlight some of the issues that are spurring youth to get active in their communities and what they are doing about them.

Young people are yearning to understand the world, even when the truth is horrible, so that they can change it for the better. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Salon: “They’re questioning and curious and skeptical and intensely philosophical. They want to make sense of the world and reasons people do the things they do. They have amazing ideas, ideas that are too often wrung out of them by a school culture increasingly devoted to filling in little circles and insisting there’s only one correct answer to any problem that comes along, and only one way of arriving at that.”

She wrote about a fifth grade student in Florida who won an award for his essay called “In the Name of Religion” in which he described the use of religion to justify war and mass murder. His school tried to take away his award and prevent him from reading his essay to his classmates.

Instead of creating an environment for honest discussion of the past and present which would facilitate reconciliation, school text books and programs perpetuate the status quo. For example, high school textbooks often gloss over injustices such as the fact that racial segregation was caused by explicit policies and not by societal norms. ............................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20898-youth-can-handle-the-truth

Populism Rising?

Populism Rising?

Friday, 27 December 2013 10:34
By Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future | News Analysis

The Beltway crowd has discovered populism. Senator Elizabeth Warren's surging popularity from her aggressive defense of Social Security and demand for Wall Street accountability has triggered talk of a populist challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Bill De Blasio indicted New York's gilded age inequality in his stunning victory in the New York Mayoral race. This month, President Obama returned to his campaign themes, delivering a speech calling inequality "the defining challenge of our time."

Republicans, preoccupied with their Tea Party zealots, mostly have avoided joining the debate, but the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party raised the alarm. In an incoherent article appropriately placed in the Wall Street Journal, the New Democrats at the Third Way scorned Warren for defending Social Security and Medicare and peddling a "dead end" "we can have it all fantasy." They beat a hasty retreat when they were slapped down by Neera Tanden, head of the Obama New Dem Center for American Progress, who then labored to paint Bill Clinton – Bill Clinton – as a populist. Gaseous Bill Keller of the New York Times weighed in for what he called the "center-left" against the "left-left" of Warren et al with arguments immediately dismembered by economist Dean Baker.

These are but the opening skirmishes of what is likely to be a fierce battle inside and outside the Democratic Party. Populism, by definition, doesn't trickle down from the top. It spreads as a bottom up movement that chooses and elevates its own leaders. It doesn't spread because Elizabeth Warren is espousing politically toxic and unpopular ideas, as the Third Wayers charged. Rather Warren is threatening because she champions attitudes and ideas that enjoy widespread popularity outside the beltway, but are slighted inside of it.

Populist movements grow out of popular discontent. For over thirty years, inequality has been growing. Profits and productivity and CEO salaries have risen, but workers haven't shared in the growth. But hard times, as Lawrence Goodwyn, the great historian of the Populist Movement notes, do not generate democratic movements. Times have been "hard" for most people for a long time. When families lose ground, people tend to believe that they are at fault, that their luck has been bad, that they made the wrong choices. They work harder; they take on debt; they get by. Resignation and deference are normal. Movements start only when reality – and organizers – begin to open people's eyes. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20882-populism-rising

David Sirota: Celebrating the End of the Fake ‘War on Christmas’

from truthdig:

Celebrating the End of the Fake ‘War on Christmas’

Posted on Dec 27, 2013
By David Sirota

Another winter solstice has come and gone, and yes, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus has once again survived the alleged “War on Christmas.” In fact, as of this year, this pretend war may finally be ending—and not because those “defending” Christmas won some big battle, but because more and more Americans are realizing there is no such war at all.

This is one of the key findings of a new poll about Christmas from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In that survey, only 28 percent of respondents said they believe liberals are waging a war on Christmas. That’s a steep decline from last year, when a Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Americans believing there is a war against the holiday.

All of this is good news—especially because these welcome public opinion trends are coinciding with a renewed effort by the divide-and-conquer crowd to continue manufacturing division. Indeed, as just one example, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly tried to make the “War on Christmas” meme into a full-on race war by insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus must be depicted as white. Apparently, Rupert Murdoch’s cable television empire is still trying to turn the holiday into another excuse to promote conflict. Thankfully, polls show that the ruse isn’t working.

Of course, using the word “holiday” in reference to anything around Jesus’s birthday is apparently still seen as controversial in many quarters. Yes, in the same Fairleigh Dickinson poll, two thirds of respondents want “Merry Christmas” rather than the more universal “Happy Holidays” used as the season’s greetings. Similarly, only about a quarter of Americans believe public schools should host non-religious events instead of explicitly religious Christmas festivities. ....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/celebrating_the_end_of_the_fake_war_on_christmas_20131227

Chicago: CTA News in Review - November 2013

Official CTA spin, so Ventra will sound like the best thing since lattes.

Relatives Gather From Across The Country To Stare Into Screens Together

from The Onion:

OAK CREEK, WI—Turning on the television while unpacking tablets, iPhones, and laptops from their suitcases, members of the McPherson family communed from across the nation this holiday season for several straight days of staring into electronic screens while in the same room together, sources confirmed Friday. “Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit more than sitting down on the couch with my parents and siblings, turning on the TV, and then proceeding to either look at the screen or gaze down into my glowing tablet display for hours on end,” 28-year-old Andrew McPherson told reporters, adding that he always felt most connected to his relatives when they were both silently gazing into glowing screens of some kind. “It’s just great to get home for a while and spend some quality time not speaking a single word to my relatives, whether that’s by sipping hot cocoa with my sister while we both check our emails, or by gathering the whole clan for a nice holiday meal where everyone is fixedly looking down at the text messages on their phones—’tis the season, you know?” McPherson noted he was sad, however, that Grandpa Sam would not be there to stare into screens with them this year.


TX: Commuters embrace Arlington’s experiment with public transportation

ARLINGTON — The city’s first commuter bus sits on Center Street as passengers file in, buy their tickets, take their seats and wait for the drive to start.

The Metro ArlingtonXpress, or MAX, as it’s commonly called, is Arlington’s first taste of public transportation, and the two-year pilot program is meeting its early goals.

The shuttle route launched Aug. 19 to take passengers between a stop near the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station near D/FW Airport.

A third stop was added to the route in November in the city’s entertainment district on Collins Street near AT&T Stadium. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/20131220-commuters-embrace-arlingtons-experiment-with-public-transportation.ece

A Year of Delightful Egalitarian Imagination

from Too Much: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality:

A Year of Delightful Egalitarian Imagination
December 23, 2013

Nurses, philosophers, and trade unions have over the past 12 months all shared some fascinating ideas on how we can make our societies more equal — and much better — places to live.

By Sam Pizzigati

Economic inequality, we suspect, may have crept into more conversations in 2013 than ever before. But people aren’t just talking about how unequal we’ve become. They’re talking about antidotes to the avarice all around us.

We’ve assembled out of those discussions a list that samples 2013′s most promising and provocative inequality-busting ideas, proposals, and campaigns.

Some of these notions seek to make an immediate, politically practical impact. Others raise hopes that many might deride as pure “pie in the sky.” We like practical. We also like pie. We think you might, too. Read ‘em and think!

Attention, share-the-wealth shoppers: Consumers committed to sustainability can buy forest-friendly paper. But what about consumers who want to strike a blow against corporate pay inequality? Toronto activists have an alternative to offer: Wagemark, a new initiative that offers a special insignia to enterprises that pay their top execs no more than eight times what they pay workers. Canada’s top 100 CEOs currently take home 235 times Canadian average worker pay. Big-time U.S. CEOs average 354 times worker pay. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://toomuchonline.org/year-delightful-egalitarian-imagination/#sthash.j5JkbGCg.dpuf

A Very Adult Social Security Tantrum

from In These Times:

A Very Adult Social Security Tantrum
Centrist Dems are horrified by Elizabeth Warren’s plan to raise benefits. But populists aren’t backing down.

BY Chris Lehmann

Populists! Run!

That, in a phrase, is how the sachems inside the leadership circles of the Democratic Party have greeted the merest suggestion that Democratic lawmakers might turn their attention to expanding Social Security.

On another, saner planet, you might expect the strategists of a major political party to hear out a proposal to make the most popular spending program of the past century or so available to more people. You’d also think that said strategists would understand, on a purely political calculus, that it’s a good idea to reinforce the honorable Democratic origins of Social Security in the minds of voters who have precious little else to induce them to vote their pocketbooks in coming election cycles.

But you would, of course, be wrong. That’s because the Democratic establishment is an all-but wholly owned subsidiary of Washington’s interlocking lobbying, consulting and pundit classes. These operators are devotees of the catechism that entitlement spending simply must be reined in at every conceivable other cost—and that making the difficult, grown-up decision to do just that renders one a Responsible Political Leader with the bona fides to lounge about in David Gregory’s Green Room.

So it was with the brio of genuine Democratic Grown-ups that Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, respectively the president and senior policy executive for the center-right Democratic think tank Third Way, took to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal to hammer away at the refrain that the principles of economic populism, as embodied in Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s modest plan to increase Social Security benefits to keep better pace with inflation, are simply “disastrous.” Warren would pay for the increase by raising taxes on the wealthy, they wail. Worse, they argue, increasing federal spending on dread “entitlements” would beggar other progressive Democratic causes, like more robust spending on the nation’s aging infrastructure. .......................(more)

The complete piece is at http://inthesetimes.com/article/16007/centrist_democrats_reject_elizabeth_warrens_populist_social_security_plan

Karl Polanyi, prescient in 1944............

[font size="4"]“...To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity, "labor power" cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity. In disposing of a man's labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity of "man" attached to the tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed...”[/font]

-- from The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

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