Thursday, March 24, 2016

Today's links

Today's quote: "What drives Obama and the virtual army of CEOs and business lobbyists who accompanied him to Cuba is the ferocious struggle for markets and profits that underlies the worldwide eruption of American militarism." Bill Van Auken, WSWS

1--What killed the middle class?

Productivity has been slipping since around 2003

Inflation-adjusted household income has dropped back to levels first reached in the 1980s:

Income gains have all flowed to the top 10%, with most of the gains being concentrated in the top 5% and top 1%

If the middle class didn't receive any of the gains, who did? Corporate profits have soared to unprecedented levels:

Cause #2: all the gains in the economy have flowed to corporations and the top 10% of financiers, managers and technocrats

2--Yellen to workers: "We're just looking out for you"

"Proceeding cautiously in removing policy accommodation at this time will allow us to verify that the labor market is continuing to strengthen despite the risks from abroad," Yellen said.

"Such caution is appropriate given that short-term interest rates are still near zero, which means that monetary policy has greater scope to respond to upside than to downside changes in the outlook."

3--Hussman on the economy

As John Hussman points out, the market is poised to deliver nothing over the next decade, with a 40% to 55% “dip” in the foreseeable future. I wonder how many barely sentient, iGadget addicted, non-questioning, normalcy bias dependent zombies are prepared for a third Federal Reserve generated market collapse in the last 15 years?

From a long-term investment standpoint, the stock market remains obscenely overvalued, with the most historically-reliable measures we identify presently consistent with zero 10-12 year S&P 500 nominal total returns, and negative expected real returns on both horizons. From a cyclical standpoint, I continue to expect that the completion of the current market cycle will likely take the S&P 500 down by about 40-55% from present levels; an outcome that would not be an outlier or worst-case scenario, but instead a rather run-of-the-mill cycle completion from present valuations

4--Why you should have bought a home last year

5--CNBC analysis: Don't trust those GDP numbers

6--Isis, oil and Turkey

7--Kosovo: The war everyone loved

One Sanders aide, Jeremy Brecher, resigned in May 1999 arguing against the intervention as it unfolded, since the “goal of US policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.”

Trouble is there was no “destruction.” Contrary to NATO claims of 100,000 or more Albanians purportedly massacred by the Serbs, postwar investigators found fewer than 5,000 deaths – 1,500 of which happened after NATO occupied the province and the Albanian pogroms began.

Western media, eager to preserve the narrative of noble NATO defeating the evil Serbs, dismissed the terror as “revenge killings.” NATO troops thus looked on as their Albanian protégés terrorized, torched, bombed and pillaged across the province for years, forcing some 250,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and other groups into exile

8--Belgian authorities had “precise intelligence warnings” of Brussels bombings

Under these conditions, it is increasingly clear that ISIS serves US and European imperialism not only as a proxy force fighting for regime-change in Syria, but also as an instrument to press for anti-democratic and unpopular policies at home.

The ISIS attacks in Paris last January and again in November, and in Brussels this week, were all carried out by the same terror network. This network is well known to French intelligence and to its US and European counterparts. All of these forces are linked to the original Al Qaeda network that emerged from the collaboration between the CIA and Saudi and Pakistani intelligence to mobilize Islamist fighters against the USSR and the Soviet-backed Afghan regime in the 1980s....

Chérif Kouachi’s meeting with Melouk on April 11, 2010 was photographed, using telephoto lenses, by investigators of the French Anti-Terrorism Sub-Division (SDAT).

Arrested with other Al Qaida members in Belgium in 1998 for attempted murder, possession of arms and explosives and falsifying government documents, Melouk was in prison until 2004, when he was extradited to serve a second term in France until 2009. When released, he stayed in France, quietly establishing closer ties to ISIS. He managed to flee to Syria the day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Speaking to the Investigative Commission on Jihadist Networks of the French National Assembly last year, anti-terrorist investigating Judge Marc Trévidic declared, “The older ones are returning to activity. Farid Melouk, of whose presence in Syria I have now learned… I met him in 2000 when I was dealing with the first ‘Afghan’ network. He was at the head of a very big network that provided passage for jihadists… These older ones have a phenomenal number of contacts in Belgium and France.”

Such reports underscore that, over the course of decades, the jihadist networks have been investigated and mapped out in the greatest of detail by the European secret services, judiciary and police agencies.

9--US presidential candidates call for stepped-up war and police measures

10--US Hypocritical Lectures to Cuba

Economic, social and cultural rights comprise the rights to education, healthcare, social security, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, reduction of infant mortality; prevention, treatment and control of diseases; and to form and join unions and strike.

These human rights are enshrined in two treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United States has ratified the ICCPR.

But the U.S. refuses to ratify the ICESCR.

11--Obama opens old wounds in Argentina

“His arrival, forty years after the anniversary of the civic and military coup, is a provocation against those of us who have fought during decades against impunity. It is an insult to the memory of our 30,000 arrested and disappeared comrades to welcome to our country the president of the nation that promoted and supported the bloodiest military coup that Argentina ever experienced, as in other nations in this region. Many of us lost our sons, parents, family members and comrades, who were all victims of Plan Condor, operated by the United States, and out of which the activities of the armed forces and intelligence agencies of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay were coordinated, to assassinate thousands of militant workers and students that kept resisting the dictatorships. … Now, forty years after, the US announces that it will open the archives related to the Argentine dictatorship…but we all know that companies such as Ford that had clandestine detention centers in their plants will remain unpunished and no American official will ever be tried in court for participating in the Argentine genocide. … Now more than ever: We do not forget, we do not forgive, we do not reconcile.”....

March 24 is a day of remembrance in Argentina, marking the anniversary of the Videla coup that the US supported in 1976. Following the coup, it helped establish an alliance between the military regimes that ruled in Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s and assisted in the blood bath that followed. Under its Plan Condor, the CIA and US military intelligence trained the torturers and executioners and helped hunt down and disappear the workers and youth that Obama now honors in the name of human rights and transparency.

As in Cuba, where he cast over a half century of US aggression as ancient history, Obama is attempting to portray Washington’s support for coups as some long-gone era. But as recently as 2009, his own administration helped orchestrate the overthrow of the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya

12--The rich are revolting: Brazil

13--Brazil: Where liberalism went wrong

Once elected, Dilma shifted economic policies further away from neoliberalism. The government intervened in several sectors seeking to promote investment and output, and put intense pressure on the financial system to reduce interest rates, which lowered credit costs and the government's debt service, releasing funds for consumption and investment. A virtuous circle of growth and distribution seemed possible. Unfortunately, the government miscalculated the lasting impact of the global crisis. The U.S. and European economies stagnated, China's growth faltered, and the so-called commodity supercycle vanished. Brazil's current account was ruined. Even worse, the U.S., UK, Japan and the Eurozone introduced quantitative easing policies that led to massive capital outflows toward the middle income countries. Brazil faced a tsunami of foreign exchange, that overvalued the currency and bred deindustrialization. Economic growth rates fell precipitously.

The government doubled its interventionist bets through public investment, subsidised loans and tax rebates, which ravaged the public accounts. Their frantic and seemingly random interventionism scared away the internal bourgeoisie: the local magnates were content to run government through the Workers’ Party, but would not be managed by a former political prisoner who overtly despised them. And she despised not only the capitalists: the President had little inclination to speak to social movements, left organizations, lobbies, allied parties, elected politicians, or her own ministers. The economy stalled and Dilma's political alliances shrank, in a fast-moving dance of destruction. The neoliberal opposition scented blood....

The Coup

Why is this a coup? Because despite aggressive scrutiny, no Presidential crime warranting an impeachment has emerged. Nevertheless, the political right has thrown the kitchen sink at Dilma Rousseff. They rejected the outcome of the 2014 elections and appealed against her alleged campaign finance violations, which would remove from power both Dilma and the Vice-President – now, chief conspirator – Michel Temer (strangely enough, his case has been parked). The right simultaneously started impeachment procedures in Congress. The media has attacked the government viciously for years, the neoliberal economists plead for a new administration to ‘restore market confidence’, and the right will resort to street violence if it becomes necessary. Finally, the judicial charade against the PT has broken all the rules of legality, yet it is cheered on by the media, the right and even by Supreme Court Justices

14--Offshore Yuan Drops as PBOC Cuts Fix, Pimco Warns of 7% Decline

15--Obama in Cuba

It was Cuba that was on receiving end of an unrelenting campaign by successive US administrations, the CIA and the Pentagon to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leaders. It was Cuba that was the target of the abortive CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, along with countless acts of state terrorism made in the USA, from the 1976 bombing of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 that killed 78 people, to the bombing of hotels and restaurants in the 1990s. Obama speaks as if Washington’s use of armed violence in pursuit of regime change was something long relegated to the history books.

As for some Americans having seen “Cuba as something to exploit,” what exactly does the small army of American businessmen accompanying Obama have in mind, charitable contributions?

Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads,” declared Obama, president of a country where roughly one in three children lives in poverty, where 48 million people struggle with hunger and which is rated last among the so-called developed countries in terms of early child education.

“I believe that citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize, and to criticize their government,” he continued. Tell that to Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or others who have sought to expose the war crimes and wholesale spying of the US government only to be persecuted, jailed or hounded into exile.

He added his belief that “the rule of law should not include arbitrary detention;” this just one day after again rebuffing Cuba’s demand for the return of its territory occupied by the Guantanamo Bay naval base, where the US government has imprisoned and tortured hundreds who have never been charged, much less tried, by a court of law.

Obama acknowledged that there are “still enormous problems in our society,” quickly adding that democracy was the way in which “we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.” The effectiveness of this “democracy” as an instrument of the ruling oligarchy is reflected in the fact that 95 percent of all income gains under Obama’s presidency have gone to the richest 1 percent.

16--Two faced Obama visits Cuba

No one would suspect that this great humanitarian is the same president responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in US-orchestrated wars for regime-change in Libya and Syria—a man who has personally directed a drone assassination program that has murdered thousands of innocent civilians, who directs a covert spying operation against the people of the planet, and who pursues US interests by supporting bloodstained clients and allies ranging from the semi-feudal monarchy in Saudi Arabia to the death-squad regime in Honduras.


What drives Obama and the virtual army of CEOs and business lobbyists who accompanied him to Cuba is the ferocious struggle for markets and profits that underlies the worldwide eruption of American militarism....

the Cuban government appears to desire nothing so much as to emulate China in terms of its state forms, its economic setup and its relations with imperialism. It has already created a “special economic zone” for foreign capitalist investors at the new port facility of Mariel, offering itself as a labor contractor guaranteeing a cheap and state-disciplined workforce. The inevitable outcome will be the enrichment of a thin layer of bureaucrats and “entrepreneurs,” together with soaring social inequality and an explosive growth of class struggle.

17--Political prisoners in Cuba? It depends who you ask

under Obama, the United States has continued to fund pro-US groups in Cuba in violation of Cuban law. This history of aggression, which is ongoing, has been largely ignored by the US mainstream media, which has instead chosen to focus on the “political prisoners” in Cuba’s jails....

The Ladies in White are not unique, the US government has supported and funded many anti-government groups in Cuba in its efforts to replace socialism with capitalism in that country. Consequently, the Cuban government claims that many of the so-called political prisoners in its jails are Cubans who have received funding from a foreign government that is intent on achieving regime change. One such foreign program was conducted by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which, under the guise of “democracy promotion,” distributed Internet and satellite communications equipment to Cuban opposition groups in direct violation of Cuban law. The project came to light when US aid worker Alan Gross, under contract to USAID, was arrested by the Cuban government in 2009. Such activities make it clear that it is the United States that has failed “to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.”

One can only imagine the outcry in the United States if a foreign government such as the Soviet Union or China were funding anti-capitalist organizations in the United States during the Cold War in an effort to bring down the US government and overthrow capitalism. ...

The United States currently holds 93 political prisoners in its internment camp in Guantanamo, most of whom have been held for more than 13 years without being charged with a crime or having their day in court. More than 50 of them have been cleared for release but there is nowhere for them to go because they are now, effectively, stateless. Perhaps Obama should have been more focused on living up to his campaign promise to remove these political prisoners from Cuba during his visit to Havana rather than lecturing the Cuban government about human rights....

A liberal democracy almost inevitably results in major political parties serving the interests of economic elites, which means corporations and their owners—the one percent. The result is gross inequality as the rich get richer and the poor struggle desperately with minimum wage jobs and under-funded social programs. In contrast, Cuba’s democracy is a socialist democracy in which citizen’s vote for individual candidates because political parties are not allowed to participate, thereby limiting the influence of private sector wealth to influence political policymaking. So the problem for Obama and corporate America is not a lack of democracy in Cuba, but the lack of a liberal democracy that serves corporate interests....

The 2002 US-supported coup of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez failed when millions of Venezuelans took to the streets demanding that their democratically-elected leader be returned to power. The Venezuelan military capitulated and returned Chávez to office three days after his ouster. In 2004, the US military—with Canadian and French support—ousted Haiti’s democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide because he dared to raise taxes on foreign corporations and double the minimum wage in the hemisphere’s poorest country. The new US-installed regime then proceeded to ban Aristide’s political party—by far the most popular in the country—from participating in future elections. And in 2009, under Obama’s presidency, the United States supported a military coup that ousted Honduras’ left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya and turned that country into the worst human rights disaster in the Americas. These examples are further evidence that it is the United States that cannot leave behind the ideological battles of the past whenever capitalist interests are threatened in Latin America...

The dominant human rights model under capitalism prioritizes individual rights—particularly the right to private property to establish corporations—to the degree that they cannot be significantly infringed upon in order to ensure that the collective—social and economic—rights of everyone in society are protected. This is why there is no right to food, housing or healthcare for citizens of the United States where, according to a 2009 Harvard University study, 45,000 people die annually due to a lack of access to the latter. But when a country such as Cuba defends the collective rights of all of its citizens with regard to access to food, housing, education and healthcare against the threats posed by those who seek to prioritize individual rights in a manner that violates the country’s socialist constitution, the Cuban government is portrayed as a major violator of human rights.


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