The First Domino Falls in Greece

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/21-2

by Shamus Cooke
Published on Monday, May 21, 2012 by Common Dreams

Greece’s situation is not an isolated event, but a bellwether for the industrial world and beyond. The fallout from the 2008 global crisis hasn’t reached bottom yet, and the depths will be dug deeper as the Euro crisis spreads — political crisis will create economic crisis and vice versa, as periods of calm and stability are replaced by international turmoil and panic.

The media and politicians have portrayed the Greeks as indolent and stupid, refusing to swallow the economic medicine needed for a healthy recovery. But the austerity medicine of the bankers — slashing and privatizing the public sector, cutting wages and benefits, mass layoffs, etc. — is a cure that threatens to kill.

What will happen in Greece? Its future was hinted at in the last elections. The centrist parties were devastated by the reality of economic extremes; the “middle ground” simply fell out from under them, since society had been torn asunder by the inequality of the very rich versus everybody else.

In consequence, the radical left party SYRIZA is polled to come in first in the next elections, based on its firm stance against austerity and its uncompromising attitude against the bankers of Greece and beyond. The corporate politicians wanted SYRIZA to take part in a “unity government” that would magically rebuild the country’s lost middle ground and continue the pro-banker austerity policies.

But unity in an economically polarized country like Greece is impossible, especially when the continued existence of the bankers and wealthy rests on the continued suffering of everybody else.

Since unity failed during the last elections, Greek “technocrats” are now overseeing the government until the next elections. What is a technocrat? Someone who supposedly lacks any class bias; the professional strata of professors, lawyers, or doctors that attempt to sit astride an uneven society perfectly balanced, blind to special interests, while keeping their sights set on the “national interest.” But the Greek technocrats are continuing the wealthy’s austerity program, exposing their fake objectivity.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/21-2

Posted in Anti-Globalization, Austerity, Class War, Corporate Abuse, Fascism, Globalization, Human Rights, Workers. Comments Off on The First Domino Falls in Greece

The Walmartization of America Redux: How the Relentless Drive for Cheap Stuff Undermines Our Economy, Bankrupts Our Soul, and Pillages the Planet

From Common Dreams:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-4

by John Atcheson
Published on Friday, December 16, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

If you want to know why the middle class disappeared and where they went, look no further than your local Walmart.  People walked in for the low prices, and walked out with a pile of cheap stuff, but in a figurative sense, they left their wages, jobs, and dignity on the cutting room floor of the House of Cheap.

Welcome to the logical end point of Reagonomics.  Welcome to Ayn Rand’s nightmare vision of morality, where we know the price of everything but the value of nothing; where predatory behavior is celebrated and the notion of community is blasphemy.

In his excellent documentary, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price, Robert Greenwald carefully documents how Walmart’s giant box stores lower wages across the entire retail sector, impose high social and economic costs on the states and communities in which they operate, and destroy local businesses.

Yet the low prices – which come at such a high cost – are irresistible to American consumers.  Walmart has virtually cornered the retail market and amassed astounding wealth in the process.

But it’s not just Walmart.  Big box stores now rule across the board in the US retail economy in everything from electronics to pet supplies. And it’s not just retail. The entire US economy is now organized around the notion that getting us cheap stuff – the more the better – is the sine qua non of economic policy.

There was a time when corporations understood that paying their employees a living wage had economic and societal benefits.  Henry Ford famously said he wanted his employees to be able to afford to buy the cars they made and launched six decades of prosperity.

Continue reading at:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-4

Posted in Austerity, Class War, Corporate Abuse, Depression, Economic Issues, Employment, Environment, Uncategorized. Tags: , . Comments Off on The Walmartization of America Redux: How the Relentless Drive for Cheap Stuff Undermines Our Economy, Bankrupts Our Soul, and Pillages the Planet

Class Consciousness Is Back

From In These Times: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/12413/class_consciousness_is_back

Once you notice inequality, you can’t escape the realities of class in America.

BY Susan J. Douglas
December 14, 2011

Multiple times and on multiple days, my local NPR station actually used the “c” word on the air. No, not that “c” word–it was “class.” Yes, that most unmentionable of topics: socio-economic class and how it determines the fate of millions of Americans.

Our vernacular obscures the country’s very real class divisions, with crippling–even lethal–consequences. The term “middle class” is used capaciously in the United States to include almost everyone, while the term “working class” is eschewed (it sounds way too Marxist). Even the “99%” signs and chants of Occupy protesters occlude the multiple and often stark divisions within that 99%.

Class position, of course, affects everything: access to healthcare, education, where you live, what restaurants you eat in, nutrition, careers, income, tax breaks, how much credit costs you, who you marry (and when), who fights and dies for our country, and on and on. But with our media’s national obsessions about gender, race and ethnicity, class may be the most under-covered feature of structural inequality in the country. In November, NPR-affiliate Michigan Radio aired an 11-part series called “Culture of Class,” which rolled back the stone, showing what lurks in America’s cave of inequities.

Let’s start with the legal system. “There, perhaps, is no moment in life when the difference in class is more apparent than when you are accused of a crime,” reporter Lester Graham notes in his piece on class and the courts. If you’re upper-middle class, or even truly middle class, you hire a lawyer, and the richer you are, the more choices you have.

But if you’re a low-income person and are assigned a public defender, you are especially screwed in Michigan: The state ranks 44th in public defense funding. The report also noted that in Detroit, five part-time public defenders handle caseloads up to seven times the national average for full-time public defenders; they get to spend an average of 32 minutes on each case. Graham then put a public face on these statistics: David Tucker, whose public defender was totally unprepared for court. The result? Tucker lost four years of his life in jail before his conviction was finally overturned.

Continue reading at:  http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/12413/class_consciousness_is_back

Posted in Austerity, Class War, Classism, Corporate Abuse, Depression, Discrimination. Tags: . Comments Off on Class Consciousness Is Back

Depression and Autocracy From Merkel to Michigan

From The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/blog/165134/depression-and-autocracy-merkel-michigan

Laura Flanders
on December 14, 2011

“Depression and Democracy”—Paul Krugman’s Monday column took on a key topic. Amazingly, having seized the critical question, he let it squirm away. Insurgent neo-Nazi extremists may pose a threat, but right now mainstream governments are doing the real damage to democracy. They are suspending accountability on both sides of the Atlantic, and they’re doing it before our eyes, even to applause, in the name of emergency financial management.

Starting in Europe, Krugman focuses on Hungary’s governing far-right Fidesz party, whose plans, he writes, “amount to the re-establishment of authoritarian rule under a paper-thin veneer of democracy.” The Fidesz sound like a nasty lot, but how authoritarian is last week’s Eurozone deal? Led by Germany, the agreement requires individual nations to shrink pensions, scale back health insurance, cut services, privatize public enterprises and de-unionize public jobs—no matter what their voters say. It’s all so as not to default to the large banks and financial institutions.

Over at Counterpunch, economist Michael Hudson is calling it the “deadly transition from social democracy to oligarchy.” Ulrich Beck, writing in the Guardian, describes it as a power shift that imposes on an entire continent a take-it-or-leave-it “German culture of stability.”

“The basic rules of European democracy are being suspended or even inverted, bypassing parliaments, governments and EU institutions,” wrote Beck shortly before the Deutschmark deal was done. “Multilateralism is turning into unilateralism, equality into hegemony, sovereignty into the deprivation of sovereignty, and recognition into disrespect for the democratic dignity of other nations. Even France, which long dominated European unification, must submit to Berlin’s strictures now that it must fear for its international credit rating.”

European heads of state have already toppled, from Ireland to Portugal, Italy and Greece. No doubt there’s more to come. As far as international credit raters are concerned, it’s end-of-history time: there’s no going back on austerity plans, and there are no alternatives—no matter how poorly they perform.

Continue reading at:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/165134/depression-and-autocracy-merkel-michigan

Posted in Austerity, Class War, Corporate Abuse. Comments Off on Depression and Autocracy From Merkel to Michigan

Mario and the Confidence Fairy

From The New York Times:   http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/mario-and-the-confidence-fairy/

Paul Krugman
December 14, 2011

Oh, my. A downbeat FT report includes the following:

Mario Monti, whose technocratic government took office after Italy’s debt crisis toppled veteran premier Silvio Berlusconi, is seeking to tackle public debt levels which stand at 120 per cent of gross national product but faces resistance from labour unions and political foes.

“We are confident that markets will react positively to the efforts Italy is making, maybe not tomorrow, but the reduction in borrowing costs that we anticipate in the coming months will help spur the economy,” Mr Monti told legislators on Tuesday night.

I guess in Europe today “technocratic” is a synonym for “delusional”.

Look, more austerity isn’t going to convince the bond markets that Italy is just fine, let alone cut interest rates sufficiently to make contractionary policies expansionary. In fact, austerity — at least if not accompanied by major policy changes in Frankfurt — is probably self-defeating, because it will hurt the Italian economy more than it helps the short-term budget picture.

Italy faces an immediate crisis of self-fulfilling panic, and a huge medium-term adjustment problem as it tries to get costs and prices back in line with core Europe. The only plausible way to resolve these problems is via much more liberal policy from the ECB, in the form of bond purchases now and an implicit (but understood) willingness to let inflation run a bit high for an extended period.

The story optimists were telling themselves was that all this austerity stuff was to provide cover for the ECB to do the necessary. But this now looks like wishful thinking; Europe’s delusional technocrats apparently still believe that one more turn of the austerity screw will do the trick.

Continue reading at:   http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/mario-and-the-confidence-fairy/

Posted in Anti-Globalization, Austerity, Economic Issues, Uncategorized. Comments Off on Mario and the Confidence Fairy

Markets of Shame Before the Collapse: Crisis, Crisis, Everywhere

From Common Dreams:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/14-4

by Danny Schechter
Published on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

Earlier this week, Stephen Colbert announced dramatically that there were important developments underway in Europe that we should know about.

True to form, Colbert’s Repor didn’t talk about the big problem. His story, ha ha ha, was about a butter shortage in Norway.  Talk about going from the obscure to the ridiculous.

We all know that European countries have been wrestling with what to do about saving the Euro.

There have been warnings of an economic catastrophe if the Euro falls, and it’s plain that the already shaky American economy will take a big hit if it happens.

The drama in Europe seems to be beyond the ability of both comedy and financial programs to explain. Perhaps it’s more of a divine comedy in the Dantean sense, because we are all perched on the edge of circle of hell that many of us don’t want to wrap our minds around.

While many news outlets prefer to recycle endless soundbites of Gingrich bashing Romney and vice versa, and as American diplomats seem to be cranking up a war against Iran as if that can save the economy the way World War 2 pulled us out of a depression, the world economy is tottering thanks to all the debt American firms sold Europeans who then managed it so stupidly and corruptly.

Now we have Timesman Paul Krugman, for years an economist holding up the liberal middle, finally admitting that nothing is working;

It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/14-4

Posted in Anti-Globalization, Austerity, Corporate Abuse, Depression, Economic Issues, Globalization, Uncategorized. Tags: , . Comments Off on Markets of Shame Before the Collapse: Crisis, Crisis, Everywhere

How Credit Collectors Have Reinvented the Debtors’ Prison

From New Deal 2.0:  http://www.newdeal20.org/2011/12/14/how-credit-collectors-have-reinvented-the-debtors-prison-67301/

by Mike Konczal
Wednesday, 12/14/2011

ew tactics have an old ring to them and low-income debtors are falling prey.

NPR just ran a story called “Unpaid Bills Land Some Debtors Behind Bars.” As they report, ”Here’s how it happens: A company will often sell off its debt to a collection agency, generally called a creditor. That creditor files a lawsuit against the debtor requiring a court appearance. A notice to appear in court is supposed to be given to the debtor. If they fail to show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest.” Marie Diamond has more.

This is increasingly common across the country. My colleagues Matt Stoller and Bryce Covert have both written about debtors being jailed for failure to appear in court. Debtors’ prisons are illegal, and some point out that this is really jail for a summons problem, not a payment. But I haven’t had a full vision of the practice until I read this excellent working paper by Lea Shepherd of Loyola Chicago law school, “Creditors Contempt” (h/t creditslips). Beyond laying out the problems with the current system, which gives a disproportionate amount of the coercive powers of the state to creditors, this paper also has implications for another topic I’m interested in — the class bias of the submerged state.

The key here is something called in personam debt collection remedies. In an agrarian economy, it was relatively straight forward for creditors to order a sheriff to seize the property of a debtor. In rem actions, where a sheriff would go and seize property, would work just fine. But this became harder to do as time went on.

The debt collection market evolved in personam debt collection remedies. This in personam action has two goals: discovery and collection. The court orders the debtor to disclose information about his property, location of his assets, etc. to help creditors track down those assets. Then the court orders certain payments to be made, which allows for collection. This court order is enforced through the court’s authority to hold debtors in contempt, which in turn is enforced through threats of imprisonment. Depending on the jurisdiction, contempt charges can be made against either the failure to show up for the discovery process or the failure to stick to the collection ordered.

Continue reading at:   http://www.newdeal20.org/2011/12/14/how-credit-collectors-have-reinvented-the-debtors-prison-67301/