Consumer Confidence Rises; Democracy Declines



March 21, 2007: Benjamin Barber explains why consumer culture is bad for humanity

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Great News!  The good life will soon return to America.  Auspiciously, months before the holiday shopping season began, Americans were told that after more than a year of fiscal recession, or what some have characterized as akin to an economic depression, consumers were optimistic.  The confidence  index and other indicators were much improved.  Manufacturing executives assured the public, the engine that drives the free enterprise system was in a “sustainable recovery mode.” In the very near future, products, and people’s sense of need, would be fabricated again. Everything will be right with the world, economically.  Few feared the threat that, long ago, Americans had come to accept.   The foundation of a democratic system had eroded in favor of consumption.

Egalitarianism had been so swiftly and subtly replaced by free enterprise, only a small number observed what had occurred.  Mostly, Americans were out in the marketplace, the malls, or in the halls of their homes contemplating what else they might buy.  The Declaration of Independence, the document that calls for equality could not be seen amongst the clutter.  People in this Capitalist country do not necessarily ponder the contradiction.  Satisfied and secure in the belief “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  The purpose of government is to protect these rights.  Perhaps not, In the United States the population acts as though there are more important concerns to consider.  

Citizens are certain the core issue is, “How might I retain my right to buy goods and services?”

The oft-heard answer: manufacturing.  American industry and individuals must invent and invest in expansion.  The United States must produce products to sell.  People to serve the needs of purchasers are also indispensable. The need to fabricate an adequate supply, and the staff vital to support it, will increase employment.  Jobs will provide workers with greater purchasing power.  Expenditure will generate profits.  Proceeds provide a gain that can then be invested in manufacturing.  The only missing component in this cycle is perchance the most crucial, promotion.  In America, we, the people, have allowed our selves to be manufactured.  Citizens are no longer the government; they are customers.

Toddlers, teens, twenty, thirty and forty something’s are taught just as earlier generations were,  for an industrialized country to thrive consumers must “feel” confident.  An apprehensive public needs to be convinced it is safe and sane to buy.  Thus, patrons are told they can pay later.  No money need be placed down.  Credit can be arranged.  Long-term loans are available, and why not take advantage.  Americans have been given ample confirmation; debt will not destroy them or our “democracy.”

Besides, banks built empires on binge spending and received billions in bailouts.   The country and Capitalism did not collapse.  The economic crisis was but an ephemeral blip.

Fiscal institutions and  financial advisers assuage Americans; there is bad debt and good debt.  Borrowing has its benefits, a new sofa, a sweet set of wheels, and a sensational home.  Damn democracy, social equality, the homeless persons alongside the road, and those without health care coverage.  Full speed, or better said, a shopping spree ahead.

As a barrage of information built on the argument, the economy is stable, buyers began to believe.  Indeed, faith in the American free enterprise system was born long ago.

Birth of a Notion

Adam Smith introduced an idea. “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.” Later Economists expanded on and extrapolated from the original theory.  Then, early in the twentieth century, Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations maximized the maxim, much to the delight of American manufacturers., such as the architect of the assembly line, Henry Ford, and the originator of the premise, “planned obsolescence,” Alfred P. Sloan.

Together, this team of 20th century tycoons converted what had been the crawl, from a reluctant consumer, to an abundantly content and avid trot.  In America, babies were not born, shoppers were.  These gents understood that if companies were to create a commitment to covet, it would take time, talk, and constant titillation.  Consumers are as children.  Advertisers must hold the hand of potential customers. Marketers will teach them the lesson; what you think is only a want is truly a necessity.  

Radio and television broadcasters must also encourage expenditures.  Periodicals must print the message. Peers will surely support Capitalist principles, as will those Representatives who are well financed by free marketers.  “As consumption goes, so goes the American economy.”

Economic Expansion Energized

By Thanksgiving eve, with Black Friday just round the bend, bargain hunters had become sufficiently encouraged.  There were signs that consumers and the Commerce Department were sanguine.  Buoyed by the numbers the Labor Department released, retailers trusted there was reason for holiday cheer. “Unemployment benefits slid to 466,000 last week”, the lowest in more than a year, from 501,000 the prior week. It was the fourth straight weekly decline. The first time since January that claims dipped below 500,000.”

The evidence was in.  U.S. durable goods orders were up in August.  Granted, the government’s “cash-for-clunkers” program spurred consumers to spend more on major purchases. Similarly, the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers helped revitalize housing sales.  Nevertheless, what truly drove the American people was manufactured and purchased long ago.  Citizens are nothing but customers. The American people have come to resign themselves to a manufactured reality.  Government is not of, by, or for the people; it is the rival.  Today, the population professes, Administrations do not protect our rights.  The public protests.  Imposed rules and regulations deny the common folk their birthright to acquire.

History; Democracy on the Decline

It all began back in the day, in 1776, to be specific.   Not only did the acclaimed Adam Smith present his political economic essays in The Wealth of Nations, at the same time the American Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed, and delivered.  Author Adam Smith, the oft-acclaimed engineer of a free market system, or more fully his followers, gave birth to a notion that self-interest is a superior mission.   Hence, whilst our forefathers worked to give birth to a democratic nation, one in which egalitarian principles are prominent, those who espouse entrepreneurial ethics endeavored to ensure that free enterprise ruled.

Indeed, tis true; Adam Smith advocated for independent thought and actions.  He, however, was also a believer in the greater good.  He understood and advanced a need for government.  Yet, free-trade Economists such as David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, as well as tempter Edward Bernays, and tycoons Henry Ford, and Alfred P. Sloan promoted a further cultural shift.  Businesses must manufacturer consumers, and so they did.

Purveyors pursued the public.  People were persuaded to purchase.  The American populace became nothing but pawns.  The common folk are not forced to buy; they are only constantly coaxed to believe wants are needs.  Equal representation and freedom to choose has been converted to Capitalism.  Adults have been infantilized.  Mature Moms, Dads, men, and women say, “Give me.  Give me.  Give me.”

Shoppers Succumb. Economic Strength Expands Again

Buyers trust; they can have all they want.  Prosperity was the dream, the undertaking, and indeed, in America, affluence is the way of life.  We ponder it, produce it, and protect policies that will promote it.

Educated elders, Economists, and elected officials expound; if businesses are bestowed with the freedom to bring in new revenue, bliss will be ours today, tomorrow, and for time in eternity.

Wealth will be shared equally amongst all our citizens, or at least the opportunity to acquire; to aspire, to ascend, towards the American Dream will be possible.  We only need to begin to buy again.  Economic experts, just as everyday commoners trust in the Capitalist system of consumption, and why not.  In this country the constant refrain is “Capitalism is the worst economic system  . . . except for all the others that have been tried.”

With this thought in mind, it is easy to ignore history.  We need not reflect upon the seventeen recessions and world crises since The Great Depression.  In this North American continent, forever, we have faith; we are constantly “turning a corner” Perhaps we are.  Americans have moved back to the future.

Back to a Boom and Bust future

‘Without regard for the existing recession, nor the threat of a deeper Depression, citizens brush aside the words of woe and warning.  Mindful of the messages massaged by the powerful few, who control the media, the former Vice President Albert Gore observed television covers trivial excess.  In his latest book, The Assault on Reason, Mister Gore acknowledged American democracy “is in danger of being hollowed out,” as are the brains of buyers who know what they want.  Good news?

The summer doldrums gave way to greater news.   Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke affirmed there is raison d’être for bliss; “Even though from a technical perspective the recession is very likely over at this point.”  

Finally, Americans can muse once, twice, or thrice more; assembly lines with accolades to Henry Ford, will hum again.  The nation’s most powerful tool, mass manufacturing, will ensure near full employment. “Planned obsolescence,” a tribute to Alfred P. Sloan, will still serve as the old reliable economic engine.  The “need” for newer, better, or the best will bring mighty manufacturers new business. The time to consume is once again upon us.  

Indeed, Edward Bernays ensured that the free enterprise system would be easily assimilated.  Adam Smith while the originator of the theory did not implant the seed of shopping as well as later Economists did.   David Ricardo with assistance from John Start Mills enhanced, and would create an American culture of coveters.

In 2009, we witness the outcome.  As US Novelist William Faulkner observed  “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”  What was is ever-present in our lives.  

The economic downturn has required reflection.  Americans think to adopt a paradigm, which is difficult for those, accustomed to endless shopping sprees to accept, self-control, and a sense of being part of a broader society.  While from appearances, in the near term, it would seem the people have been easily able to reduce spending in truth, consumers lie in wait, hopeful that this recession too shall pass.

Economic Past is Ever Present

For a short while, Americans were given an opportunity to ponder the predicament, people began to save., The electorate believed that economic debt and emotional deficits could no longer be endured.  Fiscal frugality had become the favored fashion in America.  “Reluctance to spend became the legacy of the recession.”  Citizens said, countless decades of spending in excess of earnings must cease. Protests could be heard; government cannot continue to print more paper to cover corporate creditors arrears.  Our countrymen must no longer rely on credit.

During the height of the fiscal crisis, Americans looked to the country’s core value. Social equality, as delineated in the Declaration of Independence, was finally thought to be the more attractive commodity.  However, its appeal was short-lived.  Democracy could not compete with more tangible temptations. Ultimately, citizens, consumers, surrendered to their concrete desires.  

News reports served to reassure restless shoppers.  Advertisers did as well.  Earlier in the year, whilst mechanized factories stood silent and still, merchants remained hard at work, Businesses continued to manufacturer customers.  Commercials sustained America’s shared awareness. “Buy. Buy. Buy!”  The people confidently did.

Capitalism; The Credible Crucible

Indeed, for the first time since the recession began more businesses planned to hire workers rather than fire employees.  There seemed to be ample reason to hope.  

Some Economists stated there will be strong growth in 2010.  Existing Home Sales in the United States Jumped.  Prices fell. Home Depot announced profits were better than analyst estimates. Luxury retailer, Saks Fifth Avenue, whose clientele was once thought immune to severe recessionary slumps, beat the street.  All around, earnings were surprisingly strong.  Principles planted firmly in Americans’ collective consciousness assure us we will be fine.  

It is as Adam Smith proclaimed. The notion of the free enterprise system, works. Every individual is led by an invisible hand to achieve, and ,to do the best with his or her abilities. However, poverty is not necessarily reduced.  Prosperity does not consistently or evenly grow,  Innovation is and is not encouraged’ and social and moral progress is evident only for the elite and entrepreneurs.  

What is true, Statistics say one thing, citizens say another.

The numbers make obvious the need to save.  Nonetheless, consumers covet and cling to the idea that what they want is truly what they need .  Accolades to Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mills, and most assuredly to Henry Ford, Alfred P. Sloan, and the maestro Edward Bernays, the mastermind behind a Century of Self.

With thanks to these theorists and tycoons, consumers are happy to ignore Unemployment rates of 10.2 percent of Americans in October.  Certain that the economy will rebound, consumers will  just shop until they drop.

Black Friday, the holiday shopping season will be blissful.  Customers will remain confident and content.  All will be right with the world. Capitalism will be stable, secure, and the economic system of free enterprise will endure. Only the underlying principles of Democracy will be lost. What a small price to pay.

References for Recession and Reason . . .’

Common Sense Health Care; Individualism or the Commonweal

CmmnSns

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Democrats dance in the streets and declare success.  An ABC News-Washington Post poll released on October 18, 2009, found that only twenty percent of the population defines themselves Republican.  Progressive assert this result will work in the their favor if the public option is to pass.  However, the now ecstatic portion of the electorate discounts the “disconnect” discussed in the aforementioned study and also addressed in a Pew Research Center report published only a week earlier.  The overjoyed overlooked the Independents (42%), the leaner’s, Left and Right (39%), and the less than inspirational number who proclaim themselves proud Democrats (33%).   For these individuals, the topic of health care reform is a complex issue.  Trust in Congress is near nil.  People are engaged in the subject, albeit a bit overwhelmed.  Sixty-six percent (66%) say they do not understand the proposed policies.  Personal matters move most people, more so than Party politics does.  Possibly, that is the problem, or the predicament that precludes authentic medical insurance reform in America.

Health care concerns consume every American and $1 out of every $6 [six dollars] citizens and the country spends.  Currently, in the United States, 17.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) is devoted to medical costs.  In 2007, a national study, revealed more than sixty-two percent of bankruptcies were the result of expenditures related to illness and injury.  This total reflects a twenty percent increase in financial defaults due to medical bills since 2001.   Eighty percent of the persons who filed insolvency claims had health insurance.

Nevertheless, countless citizens cry our; our current health care coverage system is the “best in the world.”   Several of those who think medically speaking, the American people are not well-served say reform would make matters worse.  All crave what they believe to be common sense.  However, there are as many definitions of good judgments as there are people, politicians, pundits, and regular people.  Personal preferences have power over our opinions.  Perchance that is why so many believe “common sense” in the health care coverage debate is crucial.

When Senator Max Baucus, and the Finance Committee he chairs, unveiled their version of a Bill, they titled the remedy a common sense cure.  However, hours before the measure passed, uncommonly candid assessments appeared.  “Unfortunately, the bill would leave 17 million citizens and legal residents without insurance in 2019.”  Authentic appraisals frequently conflict with assertions.  Consider the notion called common sense.

For months, in town halls, tea parties, and at kitchen tables nationwide talk of health care reform triggers cries for “common sense.”  America’s Chief Executive asserts a need for it.  Cable News Correspondents and Commentators, such as Glenn Beck calls for it.  Magazine Publisher Larry Flynt offered his thoughts on the topic. Columnists Peggy Noonan states, “Common Sense May Sink ObamaCare.”

Entrepreneurs’ enter the fray. Whole Foods Chief Executive Officer, John Mackey addressed the common sense axiom as it relates to our wellbeing.  “Every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.””  Then, there are the American people.  They too are very familiar with what passes for lucid logic.  However, few ponder the variance in veracities.  The subject that supersedes sound judgment is the slant, “Individualism or the Commonweal.”  The two contradictory “ideals” together in a single mind cause conflict, or cognitive dissonance.

Recent Realities

Still, some “truths” remain solid.  Statistics show the rise in health care costs is steady.  Those families and individuals unable to acquire insurance for medical treatments has also increased.  Only two short years ago, measured data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that there were 46 million Americans without health insurance in 2007.  Newer research released by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine stated that in January 2009 almost 52 million Americans were uninsured.  These numbers do not take into account the persons with inadequate coverage or those whose policies are canceled retroactively.  .  Recission is profitable and the preferred practice for many insurers.

Cancelation of policies is a popular notion. Employers consider personal compensations to be of greater value than the health of their personnel or the wellbeing of the common folk.  Perhaps the philosophy in practice explains why, in late 2007, Employer-provided insurance continues to decline.  Poverty is on the rise.  The median income is less than in the past.  Job-based health insurance has become but a dream.

Employee contracts are also now easily eliminated.   In a fifteen-month span, from February 2008 through May 2009, employers have shed 5.1 million jobs.  Many of these laborers cannot expect to be re-hired.  Professionals and business personnel are not exempt from these numbers.  In what was once the most prosperous country on the globe, the losses are great.

Only six months ago, Americans learned, in a single month “more than 320,000 Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance.”  This “amounts to approximately 10,680 workers a day.”  The authors of an investigation analysis avow, “Middle Class families, frequently collapse under the strain of the health care system that treats physical wounds, but inflicts fiscal ones.”   Possibly, that is why in Common Sense 2009 Larry Flint argues, “Wall Street, the mega-corporations and the super-rich . . . decide our fate.”

Thus, the average American struggles with a sense of destiny.  Those who think themselves stable and secure, gainfully employed and covered, are happy with the current health care system.  For the few who believe they are solid citizens, the uninsured as merely careless.  Their thought is, control is best when it is in the hands of commoners with common sense.  Hence, with posters held high in their hands countless have chosen a path of civil disobedience.  Protesters rally.  Everyday people rant.  Collectively, throngs of citizens who oppose the “ObamaCare” chant words first penned by writer Thomas Paine.  However, much is lost in the translation.

Thomas Paine; Reflections From the Past

Essayist, Pamphleteer, Radical, Inventor, and intellectual Philosopher Paine, some say, is the only voice of reason. Voters resolve Paine speaks to the rights of individuals.  He understood and addressed the necessary apprehension for Administrative rule.  Rarely remembered or recited is the founder’s resolve to embrace an elected Legislative and Executive Branch.

In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest, they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought.

A thousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labor out the common period of life without accomplishing any thing.  This necessity . . . will point out the necessity, of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.

Perhaps, in our shared hours of physical and fiscal pain we might wish to recall the words Paine penned when the New World was young, rather than rely on what in recent years has become the New World Order.  Our forefather, Thomas Paine stated a need for government,.  He understood; human frailties, such as greed, necessitate rules and regulations.  The role access to authentically adequate medical treatments plays in the broader community, would not have been lost on a man who recognized we all share responsibility for societal ills.

Paradigm of Perception; Thomas Paine Text Transformed

Today, those who rant against an official health care policy reason that in this republic elected officials are the enemy.  A person has rights, they shout. People who rage in opposition to plans that would transform the insurance cartel frequently quote Thomas Paine as though he would have supported their contentions, “We are all responsible for our own lives.”

Individuals intolerant of government have a great support system.  The Press, who loves to stir the pot, pours out prose to incite.  Glenn Beck, who thinks himself inspired by the original work of Thomas Paine makes “A Case Against an Out-of-Control Government.” This independent maverick ignores the words written by the man he, and other anti-Administration protagonists, thinks a prophet.   Perchance, the Broadcaster missed the passage,

“Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested., is the Author.”

A fondness for one’s fellow man is rarely found in Mister Beck’s rhetoric.  Indeed, he has arguably fueled the flame of fury, divided the people, and contrary to the case for a central government, Glenn Beck has ignited a fire in defiance of the Paine doctrine.  In the name of a need to preserve and protect the public’s rights, the modern Author misconstrued Paine’s original text.  Announcer Beck has chosen individualism. He ensured that his economic future is secure and rejected the reality of the commonweal.

Writer Peggy Noonan, on the other hand while not a supporter of causes that advocate for the common welfare, did at least speak of the public as a whole.  She muses; American’s are reluctant to accept reforms.   “Resistance” explains the disdain for a policy change.  Countrywide the mood has been altered.  “The crash gave everyone a diminished sense of their own margin for error. It also gave them a diminished sense of their country’s margin for error. Americans are not in a chance-taking mood.” Perhaps, Ms Noonan is [politically] correct.  Ostensibly, it would seem the former Ronald Reagan speechwriter is “right.”

Today, few Americans have faith.  What they once thought was common sense has proven not to be the case.  The people trusted what earlier Administration’s proclaimed.  However, contrary to what a past President and authoritative candidates said, all was not well in the United States. The Economy (was not) Strong Enough to Handle Turmoil.   The number of uninsured Americans increased by nearly 8 million during the Bush Administration.  Perhaps, cognitive dissonance is contagious.

The Commonweal Crumbles As Individualist Chide

Citizens live in a country.  The American people reside in communities, and yet, most are concerned with only me, myself, and I.  People ponder their personal circumstances, and those of their corporations.  What is truth for persons in the business world affects us all.

No longer willing to believe in government, let alone a new Administration, proprietors who invested in smaller companies think to save themselves from Federal control.  Shop owners say they do not want Uncle Sam to oversee or own insurance options.  For these tycoons, competition in the private insurance industry is preferred.  As individuals these Chief Executives ignore the veracity that they too will pay for the pain they reap onto the public and their personnel.  The cost to companies will be nearly $2.4 trillion dollars for workers health care costs in the next decade.

The decision to emphasize earnings will have other effects. The Congressional Budget Office concluded “Employers who offer to pay for health insurance pay less in wages and other forms of compensation than they otherwise would, keeping total compensation about the same.”

The phenomenon known as “job lock” is also often lost in critical conversations related to health care reform.  The American people, supervisors, and subordinates are disconnected from the details until the day when thy suddenly are affected or afflicted.  A healthy staffer rarely thinks of the time when he or she might become ill or be injured and feel imprisoned by a job that provides health care benefits.   Professional passageways may be closed when insurance coverage becomes more important than the quality of life.  Nor, does a vigorous staffer remember medical care coverage can be retroactively removed.

Recipients Receive Government Medical Care and Reject Reform

Recipients of Medicare also disregard associations.  Rather than think of the generations they gave birth to people who benefit from the Federal plan speak loudly of their opposition to government managed health care programs. This seems contrary to common sense,, since these same individuals are joyous with what they receive.  This dichotomy offers little but a larger puzzle.  Where is the Common Sense? Many love what they have and loathe the possibility that others may profit from a similar or identical program.  

In America, our countrymen have adopted an alternative democracy, one devoid of universal concerns.  Unlike centuries ago, when a now popular Pamphleteer professed the need for a collaborative collective, in recent decades, by design, Americans have come to think of “me” first. Citizens are critical of the text that advocates for the commonweal, while they embrace its original author, Thomas Paine.

How might this have occurred?  Children in the “United” States no longer study civics. The subject has been removed from schools curriculums..  The cost of such classes was thought too high. The lessons were not learned at home.  Parents had to pay the price for a culture that does not cultivate a strong sense of community.  Much of our common history, and perchance, common sense has been lost.

Awareness for the predicament of our fellow Americans is absent.  Frequently,, people in this “affluent” country are detached from what they rather not believe exists.    Prosperous people, those who are, for now, content with their health care coverage, believe that those who lack medical insurance are impoverished.  The general public presumes people who do not work are by choice without coverage. Few can fathom what occurs when a free clinic opens its doors for a day.  In Houston, thousands of employed individuals turned out in search of medical treatment that they could afford.

Salvage Common Sense

If Americans are to embrace common sense as they say they wish to, we, the people must decide.  Does duplicity define us?  Will we choose to work as one; or we once again serve only our self-interest.  

Reform can expand the options for all and sacrifice none.  If Americans again hold dear the notion of the social equality, some citizens could state, I am happy with my employer-provided health care plan.  Others may prefer to opt for a government program.  A few could conclude, I will cover myself, eat well, exercise regularly, and escape most every illness.  It matters not which plan individuals choose.  When we work together we serve the commonweal and act on the axioms Thomas Paine set forth.

In America, should we decide to conserve the commonweal, retain consumption as the rule, establish that indeed we are rugged individualists, or reform our ways.   Will Americans waste not and want not?  Could the original thought transcribed in Common Sense once again be our greater truth? What will 2009 bring; more rants, rallies, or reason?  Only the approved insurance reform Bill will reveal which common sense approach Americans are willing to adopt.

Health Care Reform References . . .

Let the Bailouts Begin



Bush’s Billion-Dollar Bail Out

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Tis true.  For days, if not weeks, months, or years the country has been in a state of financial crisis.  Americans experience what it means when the President of the United States says he will act boldly.  Economically, he has been brazen.  Our current Chief Executive unabashedly embraces businesses, just as he had in his private pursuits before he entered the Oval Office.  Bush policies allow corporations to run free.  If need be, he says, as he did early on in his Administration, Let the bailouts begin.  

Today the need to extend financial relief to American corporations is far more dire than it had been in the past.  Estimates place the figure at 1.8 Trillion dollars; that is trillion.  with a “T.”  

Conservative calculations state the amount needed as $700 billion.  However, several say that appraisal only refers to an aspect of the aid, the shaky assets now on the books of financial firms.  As he reflected on the exact amount to be paid out and the delicate balancing act of bailouts, Thomas A. Renyi, former chairman of Bank of New York Mellon, said, “Psychologically, it’s very, very important.”  What is said and done must be amenable to the people, big and small.

What George W. Bush and his Administration have done was in accord with the desires of the few; the millionaires and billionaires were pleased.  Enterprise has always been the way of entrepreneurs.  The others, the masses did not realize how the decisions might matter to them.  As long as the plebs worked as economic slaves had for eons, no questions would be asked.  Workers believed in the American dream.  Doubt rose only when the size of bailouts grew.  Now, in September 2008, what began as a bailout or two has emerged.  Americans are faced with an enormous nightmare.  However, this need not be a surprise.  Citizens of this country might instead inquire, are they willing to compromise the future.  Americans could also consider the question; can the United States economy continue to survive on credit.

As of last week, people pondered as they had not before.  Countless considered American history and how each Administration altered financial stability.

It seemed the poor, the wage earners, and the salaried associates poured their hearts and souls into work.  None realized substantive reward.  Nonetheless, for the most part the populace was content.  Everyday people paid taxes.  Yet, the public received few services.  Under the direction of President Bush, the blood sweat and tears of American labor went mostly to the levies that were and perhaps will be lent to those who earned billions in profits.

In recent years, rich business owners manufactured only liabilities.  Still, their securities were preserved by a business friendly President Bush.  

For decades, as deregulation flourished, more so since Bush, the American people lived on credit, as did the conglomerates.  The difference being, with George Walker Bush in the Oval Office, businesses had a friend on Pennsylvania Avenue who would help them out.  Those who reside on Main Street did not.  There was no one to turn to if you were among the working people.  Yet, a conversation has begun.  Recent talk of greater bailouts for bankrupt businesses reminds Americans of what they hoped would pass without fanfare; recession, depression, financial despair.

Since George W. Bush and his corporate cronies came into power, average Americans have experienced one economic catastrophe after another.  Budgetary surpluses realized in the 1990s were depleted.  Monetary gains for the Middle Class are but a myth.  Perchance, in the past an individual could realize an increased income.  However, that was then, pre-President George W. Bush.  Today, economically, the United States has failed.  Earlier in the year, a Los Angeles Times poll concluded 75% blame Bush’s policies for an economy gone badly.  The American Research Group, Incorporated states, at present, George W. Bush’s Overall Job Approval is at an all time low.  Eighty-two percent (82%) say the national economy is getting worse.  Countless cannot imagine that is possible.

As President Bush and his appointees protect the nation from monetary doom, banks file for bankruptcy.  Bear Sterns, one of the largest global investment banks and brokerage firms, finally buckled under pressure, after two brushes with near death.  Billions of dollars in toxic mortgage-backed debt could no longer be erased from the books.  Liabilities could not be hidden from view.  Arrears ultimately appear, if not in ledgers, in the effect it has on an affluent culture gone wild with irrational exuberance.  The corporate love of cash has created what America now experiences as a crash.

Businesses benefited from the Bush budget.  Decrees of deregulation allowed for imbalance.  Income inequity became common.  The public struggled to save greenbacks.  Most, in what was once the Middle Class had adequate access to the dollars they needed.  

Currently, Americans can barely count on a regular paycheck.  Permanent employment is thought to be a luxury of the past.  Companies are strapped for cash as are employees.  Some, in the richest nation on the planet, are barely able to survive.  The common folk are fearful of what might happen if the economy sinks further into a doldrums.  People run to banks only to withdraw their holdings.  They sense the fiscal boom has gone bust.  

In July 2008, there was little time to indulge.  The lazy days of summer did not calm those with substantive concerns.  Only George W. Bush, his family, and friends found solace in the statement, “The fundamentals are strong.”  Presidential candidate, John McCain’s use of the words only hours ago did nothing to quell the concern citizens in this country have felt for too long.  A Nobel laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz, envisions a generation will be lost in the struggle to recover.  He writes in the The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush, The next president will have to deal with yet another crippling legacy of George W. Bush: the economy.

Average Americans understood this.  They knew they could not rest.  The poor and those far from prosperous realized they had reason to act.  In droves, people ran to retrieve their assets.  IndyMac, a large mortgage bank, was seized by Federal regulators.  The second-largest bank failure in United States history occurred after anxious customers attempted to claim their deposits.  A massive run on the bank left the financial institution short of reserves.  George W. Bush sat tight, safe in the sanctuary of the Oval Office.

One business after another collapsed.  Conglomerates crumbled.  Corporations tumbled.  The people in the middle were taxed.  Most of the news coverage focused on the fiscal devastation companies felt.  Men and women without jobs, people who were fearful of an eminent foreclosure read of the monster mortgage firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Federal Reserve pledged to provide as much as $100 billion for each of these ill-fated establishments.  Stunned, John and Jane Does said nothing.  They only wondered why no one made funds available to them.  Few thought the President would come to their aid.  Visions of the victims of (name a recent calamity) raced through the heads of those hurt by an economic crisis.

Then, security firms stepped into the mix of mergers and mega-moneyed bailouts.  Lehman Brothers, another global investment bank declared itself in a state of crisis.  This firm also concluded they would file for bankruptcy.  On this occasion, historians affirmed, this liquidation was the largest in United States history.  The company founded in 1850 had flourished.  Now, it was said to have perished.  However, as death waited at the door, some associates did not feel they could rest in peace.

The staff in Britain was furious when they learned Lehman Brothers’ colleagues in the New York office were expected to share in a $2.5 billion bonus bonanza. Associates in the United Kingdom were told they  would be paid just until the end of the month.  Perhaps, wealth is not meant for everyday workers.  A spokesman for the Trade Union Congress, the national trade union centre in the Great Britain, which represents the vast majority of organized workers surmised: “It looks like those that will suffer the most from the Lehman Brothers collapse are those at the bottom of the corporate chain while many of those at the top will be looked after.”  

The Union representative went on to reflect; junior staffers would suffer.  “Few may have sympathy for the red braced bonus receivers but there will be many more lowly staff facing real hardship.”  A British employee of Lehman Brothers mused only those in the United States are saved from financial ruin; however, in truth, even in America, those without remain without.  

For ages, personnel did not prosper whether they lived here in the States or abroad.  Ordinary people feel the pain corporations complain of.  If the cost of doing business climbs, the consumer is required to pay the price.

Health care premiums have increased by over 80 percent. . . .  Premiums are rising twice as fast as wages and inflation.  . . .  The number of uninsured Americans has increased every year since President Bush took office, from 39.8 million in 2000 to a record high of 46.6 million in 2005.  (1) . . .

Gas prices have climbed over $3 a gallon.  Prices at the gas pump have jumped 107 percent from $1.47 per gallon the week President Bush took office in January 2001 (3) to $ 3.05 in the latest week of energy price data.  (4)  . . .

Housing affordability has reached a 15-year low.  In 2006, housing affordability reached its lowest level since 1991.  (9)  According to the Washington Post, “the scarcity of affordable housing is a deepening national crisis, and not just for inner-city families on welfare.  The problem has climbed the income ladder and moved to the suburbs, where service workers cram their families into overcrowded apartments, college graduates have to crash with their parents, and firefighters, police officers and teachers can’t afford to live in the communities they serve.” (10)

The tragedies did not end.  On September 15, 2008, Merrill Lynch, expressed a fear.  Might this company suffer the same fate as Lehman.  Merrill Lynch tycoons moved quickly.  The company sold itself to Bank of America for $50 billion.  Many mused; the transaction was quite a steal.  However, few were relieved.  Americans, now savvy soothsayers said, what would be next.

Less than twenty-four hours passed before there was news.  September 16, 2008, was a typical day for Americans.  However, that changed when The Federal Reserve agreed to rescue the American International Group.  The United States government was slated to control an 80 percent stake in the insurer.  Yes, even Insurers seek assurance from the Administration when they cannot pay their bills.  Only citizens cannot come to the White House with claims.  

The American people are the Insurer under George W. Bush.  The people are expected to bailout every business, and they do.  Yet, now, the load, the loans have become too great a burden to bear.  Americans are angry.  Most feel powerless.  For too long they have stayed silent.  No one seems to know what to say anymore.  Perhaps it is too late to protest or proclaim.  Yet, fortunately some one has.

Senator Bernie Sanders reflected upon the Hard Truths About the Bailouts, or the ultimate bailout.  This week, the Bush Administration pledged to pay seven hundred billion to one trillion in taxpayer dollars to businesses that engaged in dubious credit practices, and the Vermont Senator voiced his trepidation.

Sanders Op-Ed: Billions for Bailouts!  Who Pays?

By Senator Bernie Sanders

September 19, 2008

The current financial crisis facing our country has been caused by the extreme right-wing economic policies pursued by the Bush administration.  These policies, which include huge tax breaks for the rich, unfettered free trade and the wholesale deregulation of commerce, have resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the very wealthy.  

The middle class has really been under assault.  Since President Bush has been in office, nearly 6 million Americans have slipped into poverty, median family income for working Americans has declined by more than $2,000, more than 7 million Americans have lost their health insurance, over 4 million have lost their pensions, foreclosures are at an all time high, total consumer debt has more than doubled, and we have a national debt of over $9.7 trillion dollars.

While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s.  The top 0.1 percent now earns more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.  The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president.  In the midst of all of this, Bush lowered taxes on the very rich so that they are paying lower income tax rates than teachers, police officers, or nurses.

Now, having mismanaged the economy for eight years as well as having lied about our situation by continually insisting, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong,” the Bush administration, six weeks before an election, wants the middle class of this country to spend many hundreds of billions on a bailout.  The wealthiest people, who have benefited from Bush’s policies and are in the best position to pay, are being asked for no sacrifice at all.  This is absurd.  This is the most extreme example that I can recall of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.

In my view, we need to go forward in addressing this financial crisis by insisting on four basic principles:

(1) The people who can best afford to pay and the people who have benefited most from Bush’s economic policies are the people who should provide the funds for the bailout.  It would be immoral to ask the middle class, the people whose standard of living has declined under Bush, to pay for this bailout while the rich, once again, avoid their responsibilities.  Further, if the government is going to save companies from bankruptcy, the taxpayers of this country should be rewarded for assuming the risk by sharing in the gains that result from this government bailout.

Specifically, to pay for the bailout, which is estimated to cost up to $1 trillion, the government should:

a)  Impose a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year for couples and over $500,000 for single taxpayers.  That would raise more than $300 billion in revenue;

b) Ensure that assets purchased from banks are realistically discounted so companies are not rewarded for their risky behavior and taxpayers can recover the amount they paid for them; and

c) Require that taxpayers receive equity stakes in the bailed-out companies so that the assumption of risk is rewarded when companies’ stock goes up.

(2) There must be a major economic recovery package which puts Americans to work at decent wages.  Among many other areas, we can create millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and moving our country from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.  Further, we must protect working families from the difficult times they are experiencing.  We must ensure that every child has health insurance and that every American has access to quality health and dental care, that families can send their children to college, that seniors are not allowed to go without heat in the winter, and that no American goes to bed hungry.

(3) Legislation must be passed which undoes the damage caused by excessive de-regulation.  That means reinstalling the regulatory firewalls that were ripped down in 1999.  That means re-regulating the energy markets so that we never again see the rampant speculation in oil that helped drive up prices.  That means regulating or abolishing various financial instruments that have created the enormous shadow banking system that is at the heart of the collapse of AIG and the financial services meltdown.

(4) We must end the danger posed by companies that are “too big too fail,” that is, companies whose failure would cause systemic harm to the U.S. economy.  If a company is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.  We need to determine which companies fall in this category and then break them up.  Right now, for example, the Bank of America, the nation’s largest depository institution, has absorbed Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, and Merrill Lynch, the nation’s largest brokerage house.  We should not be trying to solve the current financial crisis by creating even larger, more powerful institutions.  Their failure could cause even more harm to the entire economy.

The words ring so true.  Several, too many, or most have not spoken of what caused them great distress in recent years.  The public accepts and allows this Administration to run rampant.  The electorate acknowledges what is reality for them only when in seclusion.  American people have become apathetic.  However, the statistics scream out and a Senator shrieks.  Perhaps it is time to ask, can citizens of this country permit this latest proposed policy to stand.  Might it be time to face the financial crisis, or will more days, weeks, months, or years go by.  Will the people remain passive and agree to another bailout, bigger than any other has been?

Might Americans again adopt the refrain, “Let the Bailout begin,” or will the people ponder their own fate first and declare it is time for a complete change.  Could it be time to embrace other than a free market mentality and the plans of a President who put us into this precarious situation.  Will the commoner and the conglomerate submit to the counsel of Senator Bernie Sanders and say, we must no longer rely on credit to survive.  The United States is at a turning point.  Might the average American chose to state, “Let the Bailouts end!”  “Lets us balance our books!”

Sources For Financial Security and Strife . . .

The Reality of Recession, Depression, Dollars, and No Sense

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copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

He is ninety years young.  Born in 1918, Alexander recalls the Great Depression.  He understands why some thought the Bush Forty-One years were worse than the days after the crash in 1929, although no one ever admitted to that.  Now, near two decades later, denial of economic despair remains intact.  Alex wonders if only history paints a truer picture.  Possibly, when he was but a boy, people did not accept that the crash was the big one.  In retrospect do we realize . . . Alex wonders aloud; for in recent months, each evening he dreams of realities that were during what was defined as the most dramatic, worldwide economic downturn.

As an adult, perchance, life looks different.  Alex remembers back in the day of George Herbert Walker Bush the economy crawled.  Records showed an annual growth rate of a mere one percent (1%).  Unemployment steadily rose.  Homelessness was prevalent.  While Americans experienced an economic crisis, former President Bush remained resolute.  He promised to be fiscally prudent   Miser Bush’s commitment  to caution served colossal corporations and affluent stockholders well  Alexander, was among the latter.  He appreciated the cautious demeanor of a President dedicated to business.  For Alex and others invested in the market economy under Bush 41, life was good.  

Today, however, with Bush 43 in the White House, Alex worries.  He reads the newspaper, and realizes how unsettled he feels.  The current President declares the State of the Union is strong,  The stimulus package  has helped to fuel fiscal stability.  Americans need not fret.  Yet, Alexander does.  Words printed on a page in a noted periodical do not reassure this long time investor.  As a citizen, Alexander is not confident that all is well.  He believes a crisis is imminent.  In truth, Alex thinks America, is already immersed in a financial free fall.

This life-long investor sees the price of stocks plummet,  The Dow Jones Industrial Average slips daily.  Alex muses of how the current President tells him the economy is strong.  Alexander is no longer elated by a bump in returns.  Nor is he reassured when the President or his people tell the nation there is no inflation.  A quick glance at the front page of any day’s newspapers tells Alex we are already in a recession, or worse.

Woes Afflicting Mortgage Giants Raise Loan Rates, Losses Mount, and Airlines Plan Steeper Spending Cuts.  Mortgage Crisis Reverses Tide of Urban Renewal.  Yet, none disturbed  Alex, or perhaps made more sense to him than the article that appeared on July 23, 2008, Bank Investors Redefine Bad News.

Can the bad news for banks get any worse?

After the last week brought another round of woeful quarterly results from the industry, capped by news on Tuesday of multibillion-dollar losses at the Wachovia Corporation and Washington Mutual, that question is nagging banking executives and their investors.

Kenneth D. Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, insisted this week that the industry was turning the corner, after his company reported a mere 41 percent drop in profit.  Many investors seem to see signs of hope in red ink that once would have shocked them.

Alexander sighed.  He thought of how, terms are given new meaning,  Money lost can be considered a gain.  Alex marveled.  As a shareholder, the frequent depositor is well aware of how psychology moves a market.  He also comprehends the role of reverse psychology.  Nonetheless, when a deficit, huge, and unprecedented becomes a expansion, the way financial institutions use words seems ridiculous.

But it has now been a year since the credit crisis erupted, and, so far, the optimists have been proven wrong time and again.  Skeptics say it could take years for banks to recover from the worst financial crisis since the Depression.  And even when things do improve, the pessimists maintain, banks’ profits will be a fraction of what they were before.

There are many reasons for caution.  Home prices continue to decline, and defaults are accelerating on a wide range of loans.  As lenders struggle, loans are becoming even more scarce for hard-pressed consumers and companies.  That, in turn, could slow any recovery in the broader economy.

For now, at least, some investors seem to have become so inured to the bad news that results that would have once been viewed as disastrous are now seen as good, or even great.  The sober phrase often used on Wall Street to describe solid corporate results – “better than expected” – has been replaced by “not as bad as feared.”

Not as bad or indeed worse.  As Alex pondered the news in the paper, as he assessed his own portfolio, the reveries flowed as a quickly as water in a river might.  Thoughts of his youth flash through his mind.  Alexander could not forget the bank crashes, the limited amounts of cash on hand, the confusion, and all the troubles a lack of currency caused.  One phrase from today’s paper rolled around in his head.

“We are resetting expectations for bank profitability, and we are re-exploring what our expectations should be going forward,” said Christopher Whalen, managing partner of Institutional Risk Analytics.  “We are redefining bad.”

Still and reflective, Alexander contemplated what he thought awful as a child.  Once prominent professionals, are now beggars on the street.  Factory doors bolted shut.  Suicides, or talk of hopelessness, and helplessness, in a society once gleeful have become normal.  Alex reflected on the realization he had in his youth.  He understood the more things change the more they stay the same.  

When Alex was a young man, people believed, in America, the avenues were paved in gold.  They were not.  Filth filled each boulevard.  Today, in the land of milk, honey, and opportunity, the same is true.  Roads are riddled with words that paint a picture of prosperity.  Yet, on Wall Street and Main Street, in 2008, people suffer.  The public is economically and perhaps emotionally down in the dumps and dejected.  Financially people are low on funds; feelings are lower.  Citizens in this “affluent” country have few real resources.  Indeed, recent reports state, Most Americans will outlive savings. Alexander knows this to be true.  He has watched as many of his friends turned from prosperous to paupers.  This ninety-year young man, with his pulse on the market muses.  The people are as the economy and still no one is willing to say we are beyond a Recession; we are in a Depression.

Sources for Documentation on Dollars and No Sense . . .

31 Days to Total Financial Hell – Gas Up Now!

© copyright 2008 Storm Bear.  Town Called Dobson


To view the original, travel to a Town Called Dobson.  31 Days to Total Financial Hell – Gas Up Now!

A friend of mine manages a multi-million dollar fund and sometimes I think he is afraid to admit the truth to himself. Days like today wring him out like a dishrag. We have previously discussed what happens when days like today happen. What happens when you get two in a row? Three? Five? After five days, other feedback loops might kick in because that is a 2000 point loss in 5 days, other fears and factors are put in the mix which all put downward pressure on the market.

A clip from today’s disaster:


Stocks tanked Friday, with the Dow industrials shedding 395 points, after oil, prices spiked more than $11 a barrel, and the May jobs report showed a big jump in the unemployment rate.

Bond prices surged, as investors sought safety in government debt, while the dollar tumbled versus the yen and euro.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 395 points, or 3.1%, its biggest one-day decline on both a point and percentage basis since February of 2007, at the start of the subprime mortgage crisis.

My friend was unwilling to speculate when you are faced with more than a week of downturns. Other than “full economic collapse,” you can’t really project how bad it will be.

I see these guys on CNBC still reading rosy days ahead in their financial tealeaves so I did the math. With a drop like today’s, you only need 31 in a row for the Dow to hit zero. With so much of the government in debt, I don’t think a collapse will be a pretty picture.

Special Request to Town Called Dobson Fans: The San Francisco Chronicle is pondering the addition of new cartoons for their paper – a process that seems to be initiated by Darren Bell, creator of Candorville (one of my daily reads – highly recommended). You can read the Chronicle article here and please add your thoughts to the comments if you wish. If anything, put in a good word for Darren and Candorville.

I am submitting Town Called Dobson to the paper for their consideration. They seem to have given great weight to receiving 200 messages considering Candorville. I am asking TCD fans to try to surpass that amount. (I get more than that many hate mails a day, surely fans can do better?)

This is not a race between Darren and I, it is a hope that more progressive strips can be represented in the printed press of America.

So if you read the San Francisco Chronicle or live in the Bay Area (Google Analytics tell me there are a lot of you), please send your kind comments (or naked, straining outrage) to David Wiegand at his published addresses below. If you are a subscriber, cut out your mailing label and staple it to a TCD strip and include it in your letter.

candorcomment@sfchronicle.com

or

David Wiegand

Executive Datebook Editor

The San Francisco Chronicle

901 Mission St.

San Francisco, CA 94103

Recession and the Iraq War; A Soldier’s Story

A soldier’s story is our story.  On this April afternoon, I attended a memorial.  Americans in my local community, as well as those in every other region of the country, mourned the recession. People pondered the reality; this war affects our daily lives and our fiscal stability.  In my neighborhood, Michael Prysner, an Iraq War veteran offered his theory on the theme, Recession and the Iraq War; A Soldier’s Story.  I share an introduction to his tale and an invitation.  Please peruse the musings of Michael Prysner.

Twas the day before any other day in the lives of average Americans.  It was April 24, 2008.  Countless people traveled about in late model luxury automobiles.  A few could not afford such finery.  Still, those of lesser means were able to retain a vehicle of sorts.  In the United States, a motorized metal chariot is considered a must.  In many nations, car ownership is thought lavish.  Certainly, those with money enough to drive from place to place have not a care in the world.  Yet, here most individuals in carriages are stressed.  

In every neighborhood, numerous persons are now out on the street.  Some only have a car to count on.  They do not have the money to purchase the petroleum needed to run the vehicle.  The price of fuel is high and steadily climbing.  Rates of unemployment have increased.  Job security decreased.  The value of homes has dropped.  However, few citizens can afford to remain in what was once their shelter.  Foreclosures are frequent.  Mortgage brokers and a lack of reasonable banking regulations have helped to create a meltdown within the marketplace.

In America, there is an economic crisis.  The government cannot assist the common folk.  All available funds are spent on wars in the Middle East.  Residents in the richest country in the world are worried.  Will they survive?

This was the question asked at vigils throughout the nation.  In conjunction with MoveOn.org people in this country spoke of how the Persian Gulf wars have affected the economy.  Recession and the Iraq War were the themes.  In Boca Raton, Florida Mike Prysner, an Iraq war veteran spoke of his experience in country and how those relate to the fiscal calamity Americans face.

May I introduce Michael Prysner and his Winter Soldier testimony.  With permission from the informed, informative, and inspirational author, it is my great honor to present  . . .



Winter Soldier Mike Prysner testimony, Pt1

A soldier’s story?

© copyright 2008 Michael Prysner.  Party for Socialism and Liberation

Originally published on Friday, March 21, 2008

Michael Prysner’s Winter Soldier testimony

The following statement was delivered at the Winter Soldier event, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and held in Washington, D.C. from March 13 through March 16. The event featured the testimony of numerous Iraq war veterans about their personal experiences. The author is an Iraq war veteran and the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s congressional candidate in Florida’s 22nd District.

When I first joined the army, we were told that racism no longer existed in the military. A legacy of inequality and discrimination was suddenly washed away by something called “Equal Opportunity.” We would sit through mandatory classes, ensuring us that racism had been eliminated from the ranks, and every unit had its own EO representative to ensure no elements of racism could resurface. The Army seemed firmly dedicated to smashing any hint of racism.

And then Sept. 11 happened. I began to hear new words like “towel head,” “camel jockey” and-the most disturbing-“sand n*gg*r.” These words did not initially come from my fellow soldiers, but from my superiors-my platoon sergeant, my company first sergeant, my battalion commander. All the way up the chain of command, viciously racist terms were suddenly acceptable.

I noticed that the most overt racism came from veterans of the first Gulf War. Those were the words they used when they were incinerating civilian convoys. Those were the words they used when this government deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure, bombing water supplies knowing that it would kill hundreds of thousands of children. Those were the words the American people used when they allowed this government to sanction Iraq-and this is something many people forget. We’ve just learned that we’ve killed over 1 million Iraqis since the invasion; we had already killed a million Iraqis before the invasion throughout the 90s through bombings and sanctions.

‘Haji’ was the enemy

When I got to Iraq in 2003, I learned a new word-“Haji.” Haji was the enemy. Haji was every Iraqi. He was not a person, or a father, or a teacher, or a worker. But where does this word come from? Every Muslim strives to take a pilgrimage to Mecca, called a Haj. A Muslim who has completed that pilgrimage is a Haji. It is something that, in traditional Islam, is the highest calling in the religion-essentially, the best thing for a Muslim made into the worst thing.

But history did not start with us. Since the creation of this country, racism has been used to justify expansion and oppression. The Native Americans were called savages. The Africans were called all sorts of things to excuse slavery. A multitude of names were used during Vietnam to justify that imperialist war.

So Haji was the word we used on this mission. We’ve heard a lot about raids during Winter Soldier, kicking down people’s doors and ransacking their homes. But this mission was a different kind of raid. We never got any explanation for these orders, we were only told that this group of five or six houses were now property of the U.S. military. We had to go in and make those people leave those houses.

So we went to these houses and told the people that their homes were no longer their homes. We provided them no alternative, no place to go, no compensation. They were very confused and scared, and would not leave-so we had to remove them from their houses.

There was one family in particular that stands out: a woman with two young daughters, an elderly man who was bed-ridden and two middle-aged men. We dragged them from their houses and threw them onto the street. We arrested the men for not leaving and sent them to prison with the Iraqi police.

At that time I didn’t know what happened to Iraqis when we put a sandbag over their head and tied their hands behind their back; unfortunately, a couple months later, I had to find out. Our unit was short interrogators, so I was tasked to assist with interrogations.

A detainee’s ordeal

First, I’d like to point out that the vast majority of detainees I encountered had done nothing wrong. They were arrested for things as simple as being in the area when an IED went off, or living in a village where a suspected insurgent lived.

I witness and participated in many interrogations; one in particular I’d like to share. It was a moment for me that helped me realize the nature of our occupation.

This detainee who I was sent to interrogate was stripped down to his underwear, hands bound behind his back and a sandbag on his head-and I never actually saw his face. My job was to take a metal folding chair, and as he was standing face-first against the wall, I was to smash the chair next to his head every time he was asked a question. A fellow soldier would yell the same question over and over, and no matter what he answered, I would smash the chair next to his head.

We did this until we got tired, then I was told to make sure he stayed standing facing the wall. By this time he was in an extremely broken state-he was shaking uncontrollably, he was crying, and he was covered in his own urine.

I was guarding him, but something was wrong with his leg-he was injured and kept falling to the ground. My sergeant told me to make sure he stayed standing, so I would have to pick him up and slam him against the wall. He kept falling down so I’d have to keep picking him up and forcefully putting him against the wall.

My sergeant came by, and was upset that he was on the ground again, so he picked him up and slammed him against the wall several times-and when the man fell to the ground again I noticed blood pouring down from under the sandbag.

So I let him sit, and whenever my sergeant starting coming I would warn the man and tell him to stand. It was then that I realized that I was supposed to be guarding my unit from this detainee, but what I was doing was guarding this detainee from my unit.

I tried hard to be proud of my service. All I could feel was shame.

Face of occupation is laid bare

Racism could no longer mask the reality of the occupation. These were people. These were human beings. I have since been plagued by guilt-anytime I see an elderly man, like the one who couldn’t walk, who we rolled onto a stretcher and told the Iraqi police to take him away. I feel guilt anytime I see a mother with her children, like the one who cried hysterically, and screamed that we were worse than Saddam as we forced her from her home. I feel guilt anytime I see a young girl, like the one I grabbed by the arm and dragged into the street.

We were told we were fighting terrorists. The real terrorist was me. The real terrorism is this occupation.

Racism within the military has long been an important tool to justify the destruction and occupation of another country. It has long been used to justify the killing, subjugation, and torture of another people. Racism is a vital weapon employed by this government. It is a more important weapon that a rifle, or a tank, or a bomber, or a battleship. It is more destructive than an artillery shell, or a bunker buster, or a tomahawk missile.

While all those weapons are created and owned by this government, they are harmless without people willing to use them. Those who send us to war do not have to pull a trigger or lob a mortar round; they don’t have to fight the war, they merely have to sell us the war. They need a public who is willing to send their soldiers into harm’s way, and they need soldiers who are willing to kill and be killed, without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb-but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow the orders to use it. They can send every last soldier anywhere on earth, but there will only be a war if soldiers are willing to fight.

The ruling class-the billionaires who profit from human suffering, who care only about expanding their wealth and controlling the world economy-understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince us that war, oppression, and exploitation is in our interest. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to die and kill is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior.

Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen have nothing to gain from this war. The vast majority of people living in the United States have nothing to gain from this war. In fact, not only do soldiers and workers gain nothing from this occupation, but we suffer more because of it. We lose the limbs, endure the trauma, and give our lives. Our families have to watch flag-draped coffins lowered into the earth. Millions in this country without health care, jobs, or access to education must watch this government squander over $400 million a day on this war.

The real enemy is here

Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country, to make the rich richer. Without racism, soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires who send us to war. I threw people onto the street in Iraq, only to come home and find families here thrown onto the street in this tragic and unnecessary foreclosure crisis that is already leaving hundreds of Iraq war veterans homeless.

We need to wake up and realize that our real enemies are not in some distant land; they’re not people whose names we don’t know and whose cultures we don’t understand. The enemy is people we know well and people we can identify-the enemy is the system that sends us to war when it’s profitable; the enemies are the CEOs who lay us off from our jobs when its profitable; they’re the insurance companies who deny us health care when it’s profitable; they’re the banks that take away our homes when it’s profitable.

Our enemies are not 5,000 miles away. They are right here at home, and if we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers we can stop this war, stop this government, and create a better world.



Winter Soldier Mike Prysner testimony, Pt2

Pondering Change

copyright © 2007 Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

Change is defined in the dictionary as the following:

to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone

Every politician on the trail today bandies the word, change, about as though we could expect to see real progress tomorrow if that person is elected.  This candidate or that one will make a difference.  With so many saying the same things what are we to expect?  Can a politician today bring about real change?  If so, by what means?  Might we think a real difference is forthcoming when intellectually we know most major politicians are entrenched in the system or backed by the same money influences that already rule the day?  

American stands at a crossroads today.  We see the world  does not have a high opinion of America.  There is a lot of news about how far the nation has fallen from grace.  The stock market tells a tale of woe in the past several months.  There is real volatility these days.  In the US the housing market is an unmitigated disaster.  The Federal Reserve is pumping money into the system to avoid a recession.  What can we expect in the future?

For the near future any real difference is unlikely no matter what the politicians continue to say.  The inertia of the system will not be moved quickly.  Even worse, not one of the major candidates today is offering substantive ideas for the future.  We hear lots of words, but most of the talk has more to do with personality and entertainment than about the major issues that concern America today.

Real change in terms of our nation will require serious attention.  We need leaders at all levels of elected office to stand in front the people and tell the truth about the state of affairs.  Only by facing the absolute truth can we hope to find ways to accomplish the changes needed for a successful tomorrow.  

I for one am sick to death of hearing people talk about change and continue to offer the same tired expositions we have heard for years.  We need new ideas as the old ones are failing.  We need a new direction for America, one which acknowledges the intent of the Founders.  In the America we should desire, a true democracy, government is of, by, and for the people, and one in which the people are the government.  If we are to survive into the future, we must change from a government directed by money and corporate greed to an establishment that serves the common interests of all.

How do we achieve the authentic change the nation needs today?  I may not have all the answers but for a start we must learn to think in a different way.  Every person in the nation must begin to think of themselves as one member of a greater society and must begin to act in ways that benefit all of society.  We cannot survive the current culture of “me, me, me” for much longer.

If every person in the country today began to look for the similarities between all of us humans instead of focusing on the differences we’d be a long way ahead in this world.  We are all human beings no matter our sex, skin color, or living condition.  The sooner we begin to look to the welfare of one another the sooner we may find a way to turn our nation around.

In years past government served to provide a social safety net in order to catch people who are in need and are not being served some other way.  We need to restore that net as soon as possible.  We cannot afford to have a nation with millions facing health issues while uninsured and millions more grossly underinsured.  We cannot allow homelessness and poverty to continue to rule so many lives in this country today.  We cannot afford to let our veterans continue to suffer the failures of a medical system that is overwhelmed today.  We cannot allow torture to be used as a means of interrogation of any person in American custody.  We must not allow ongoing government surveillance of our private communications in direct and open violation of the laws of the land.  We can no longer allow money to be the primary ruling force for government at the expense of people’s lives and health.  We must take immediate and drastic steps to protect our environment.  We must find alternative energy sources if we are to continue our consumption into the far future.  

We as a nation deserve better than we find today.  We the people are worth more to ourselves and to our society.  Yet, currently, we allow our government to diminish our value.  The actions of those “in charge”, some of the same individuals who promise change, demonstrate by their actions that they do not care about us.  Personal greed among “government” officials disavows the notion that as Americans we are part of a local, state, national, and global community.

Beginning today and extending for the remainder of each of our lives we must work to see we to the election of leaders who represent real leadership.  Our nation depends on our finding and putting into office people who are willing and able to face the truth and take the necessary steps to bring about real differences in our tomorrows.  If we fail to push for substantive change and fail to do so very soon we stand to lose the nation we all loved once upon a time.

Let us create change with this in mind; transformation begins with us.  As Gandhi said so very well, “be the change you wish to see.”