Heroic Americans — citizens of the land of the free, home of the brave

Journalist Eyal Press, during his report on dissent, whistleblowing and elite opposition to both in Obama’s America, makes this remarkable but unsurprising claim:

Despite the lore of the whistleblower that pervades popular culture, Americans turn out to be less sympathetic to such dissenters than Europeans. Drawing on data from the World Value Surveys and other sources over multiple years, the sociologist Claude Fischer has found that U.S. citizens are “much more likely than Europeans to say that employees should follow a boss’s orders even if the boss is wrong.” They are also more likely “to defer to church leaders and to insist on abiding by the law,” and more prone “to believe that individuals should go along and get along.”whistleblower

Whistleblowers may often be praised in the abstract and from a distance, but Americans have a tendency to ignore or even vilify them when they dare to stir up trouble in their own workplaces or communities.

Stirring up trouble. Right here in River City. We can’t have that. Nosiree. We can’t have any of that.

Whistleblowers have walked hard road during Obama’s tenure (see, for instance, this, this and this), the ever-hopeful, sunshine President. They often lack a sympathetic ear in government, a lack which enables grifters on Wall Street and security apparatchiks in Washington to work their black magic on the weak. Crimes undetected are not really crimes! They’re smart business deals or realistic acts of sober G-men. And the powerful are always innocent until proven guilty.

Since Americans do not like to listen to discouraging words about important things, things on which they depend, it so happens that the fate of these whistleblowers obliquely mirrors the fate of the Occupy Movement: Like the Occupiers, whistleblowers are ignored when they are not harassed and denigrated. They, like their Occupy cousins, sometimes face prison terms for their efforts. They lose their jobs and their homes for exposing the powerful to critical scrutiny. It is fortunate that America’s whistleblowers in an out of government are not beaten or assaulted with caustic chemicals, although I would be negligent if I were to fail to point out that whistleblower Bradley Manning has had to endure mental and physical torture inflicted on him by the Pentagon. He stands before the world as an object lesson for anyone tempted to blow the whistle on America’s empire. The Occupiers have felt the baton and the pepper spray. The whistleblowers have been spared those methods. Yet, the powerful seek the same goal when confronting a whistleblower or an Occupation. They want to quash dissent.

It is sad that Americans typically advocate following the path of the witless and craven servant. For one thing, it is sad because the powerful are to remain unmolested even when they deserve close judicial scrutiny. It seems as though Americans prefer their authority figures to remain inscrutable and free. This condition creates a moral hazard problem for the country. For another, the beliefs which inform this advocacy comprise the social cement which binds together the elements that compose America’s security-surveillance government and its financial plutocracy. These institutional complexes could not operate as they have and want to without the passive and active consent of most Americans. Common Americans collude in the domination exercised by the elite. We might have a functioning democracy if it were not for these beliefs and the collusion they sponsor. We have instead what Sheldon Wolin called an inverted totalitarian system (see this and this). America’s politics are as vacuous as its plutocrats are rich and its war-makers are violent.

The antidote for minimal democracy remains strong democracy.

Bradley Manning: Before, After

Gasoline prices increase because of speculative investing

Some of the explanations for America’s current relatively high gas prices contain a kernel of truth. Countries have hoarded petroleum in order to have enough of it on hand if Israel and the United States attack Iran and thereby disrupt the flow of crude oil from the region. There have been incidental disruptions to the global production of gasoline that do account for local price increases. But the speculative trading of crude oil is the primary mechanism for the price increases seen by consumers at the pumps over the past year. Rentier capital now dominates the commodity market for crude oil, according to a McClatchy report:

Historically, financial speculators accounted for about 30 percent of oil trading in commodity markets, while producers and end users made up about 70 percent. Today it’s almost the reverse.

A McClatchy review of the latest Commitment of Traders report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates oil trading, shows that producers and merchants made up just 36 percent of all contracts traded in the week ending Feb. 14.

That same week, open interest, or the total outstanding oil contracts for next-month delivery of 1,000 barrels of oil (about 42,000 gallons), stood near an all-time high above 1.486 million. Speculators who’ll never take delivery of oil made up 64 percent of the market.

Speculators are motivated only by profit-taking. Thus:

Not surprisingly, big Wall Street traders on Tuesday projected oil will rise above $112 a barrel; some such as Swiss giant Vitol even suggested $150-a-barrel oil is coming soon. When they dominate the market, as they do, speculators’ bids can make their prophecies self-fulfilling.

Austerity is for the “have-nots,” Alan Simpson’s “little people.” Times are fat for the “haves,” who have the means and the will to profit well from the misery of others.

Re: The State of the Union

There are so many nits to pick, foolish claims to debunk, neoliberal hooey to ridicule…. I shall limit myself to three points the President failed to address last night:

  • Weakening the dollar
  • Dismantling America’s empire
  • Planned reindustrialization

A strong dollar cheapens the price of America’s imports. It also feeds Wall Street with foreign capital. It is, in other words, the chief reason the United States has a service economy dominated by the FIRE sector.

America’s empire absorbs capital and labor power, it wastes both on non-consumable goods, it drives the growth of the security-surveillance apparatus, it directly and indirectly undermines the Constitution and it creates political and military debacles which produce blowback. It must go as quickly as it can be safely dismantled.

Education and training will do Americans little good if they fail to find jobs which make use of their cultural capital. In fact, an educated and trained work force that fails to make good on its talents is one that wastes resources. To avoid wasting these resources, the United States ought to institute an industrial planning agency with the capital resources and legal means to develop an ecologically sound industrial sector. It makes no sense to demand a low rate of employment for a well-educated workforce when those workers will work at service sector jobs that pay little.

These reforms are radical with respect to the social system now in place. If achieved,they would decisively change the identity of that system. But they are not comprehensive and do not touch on so many related problems that would also need to be addressed. These include reforming the tax code, making it strongly progressive; developing public transportation; reforming the campaign-finance laws; etc. But the three points listed above would be one place to start.

Inequality illustrated

NPR hack apologizes for Wall Street

Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer takes the ‘liberal’ network and Adam Davidson to task for their myopia and, perhaps, opportunism.

Quote of the day

Janie Lober of Roll Call reported that:

A planned meeting today between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Occupy Wall Street activists was scuttled late Tuesday after Roll Call inquired about it, highlighting increasing tensions between Democrats and the movement.

While Democrats are adopting the movement’s “99 percent” language, they are increasingly retreating from the protesters themselves and their anti-capitalist rhetoric. Some in the party view the Occupy activists — camped out in grubby tent cities around the country — as a potential liability in 2012.

“Democrats should reject Occupy Wall Street as the spokesmen for the 99 percent,” said Kelly Bingel, who served as former Sen. Blanche Lincoln‘s (D-Ark.) chief of staff until 2005 and is now a partner with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. “The chance of those guys going out and voting or encouraging anyone else to vote is very low.”

Another Democratic lobbyist and early supporter of President Barack Obama agreed. “I think Democrats need to stay away from embracing OWS. We can acknowledge their frustrations without embracing their movement,” he said. “They are too fringe-y and don’t play well in middle America. Let the Republicans be the party of the angry right. We need to be the party where moderates feel welcomed.”

That tension was on display Tuesday as an attempt to bring Occupy activists together with lawmakers devolved into a controversy over who was using whom for a public relations ploy. The meeting between members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and 10 protesters from New York City was canceled late Tuesday afternoon.

To be sure, lobbyists have every reason to despise the Occupy Movement. Whereas the Occupy Movement promotes democratic and public accountability, a rational lobbyist will oppose any political entity which diminishes her influence. She will oppose it because, as a lobbyist, she sell private access and private accountability to those who can pay for it.

Quote of the day

Writing for TomDispatch, The inimitable Francis Fox Piven points to a few of the political achievements rightly attributable to the Occupy Movement:

We’ve been at war for decades now — not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but right here at home. Domestically, it’s been a war against the poor, but if you hadn’t noticed, that’s not surprising. You wouldn’t often have found the casualty figures from this particular conflict in your local newspaper or on the nightly TV news. Devastating as it’s been, the war against the poor has gone largely unnoticed — until now.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has already made the concentration of wealth at the top of this society a central issue in American politics. Now, it promises to do something similar when it comes to the realities of poverty in this country.

By making Wall Street its symbolic target, and branding itself as a movement of the 99%, OWS has redirected public attention to the issue of extreme inequality, which it has recast as, essentially, a moral problem. Only a short time ago, the “morals” issue in politics meant the propriety of sexual preferences, reproductive behavior, or the personal behavior of presidents. Economic policy, including tax cuts for the rich, subsidies and government protection for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and financial deregulation, was shrouded in clouds of propaganda or simply considered too complex for ordinary Americans to grasp.

Now, in what seems like no time at all, the fog has lifted and the topic on the table everywhere seems to be the morality of contemporary financial capitalism. The protestors have accomplished this mainly through the symbolic power of their actions: by naming Wall Street, the heartland of financial capitalism, as the enemy, and by welcoming the homeless and the down-and-out to their occupation sites. And of course, the slogan “We are the 99%” reiterated the message that almost all of us are suffering from the reckless profiteering of a tiny handful. (In fact, they aren’t far off: the increase in income of the top 1% over the past three decades about equals the losses of the bottom 80%.)

The movement’s moral call is reminiscent of earlier historical moments when popular uprisings invoked ideas of a “moral economy” to justify demands for bread or grain or wages — for, that is, a measure of economic justice. Historians usually attribute popular ideas of a moral economy to custom and tradition, as when the British historian E.P. Thompson traced the idea of a “just price” for basic foodstuffs invoked by eighteenth century English food rioters to then already centuries-old Elizabethan statutes.
But the rebellious poor have never simply been traditionalists. In the face of violations of what they considered to be their customary rights, they did not wait for the magistrates to act, but often took it upon themselves to enforce what they considered to be the foundation of a just moral economy.