Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly News of the Day

by Norman Markowitz

It looks like the rescue plan will go through, with significant but not crippling cuts (although we will have to look at the details to see if we can find a devil). The comical Republican media "anti-pork barrel" counter-offensive has apparently failed (comical in the sense that the term "pork barrel" goes back to good old 19th century U.S. politics in which both parties but especially the Republicans were legendary for turning the rivers and harbors bill and other federal legislation into money pots for their districts and the Republicans. Also through pensions for Civil War veterans and widows,they established the first continuous federal "welfare" program for people, as against the land grants, tariffs, leases to exploit minerals on public lands, and other federal and state aid to private businesses, which in land grants alone amounted to more territory(my liberal professors used to tell me long ago) than the country of France.

According to press reports, 110 billion will be removed from the 900 billion House bill, which was actually greater by billions than what was originally asked for, and will be spent in major increases for social benefit programs, aid to states and localities, a large increase in overall federal programs, and finally, "tax cuts" whose scope and beneficiaries will probably be the details where the devil comes in.

The bad news is that 598 jobs were lost in the U.S. in January and everyone, including the usual apologists for our system of corporate state monopoly capitalism expect worse to come. Unemployment is already approaching 8 percent and no one whom I have spoken to privately believes that it will not reach double digits.President Obama is on the brink of a significant victory, but his administration, will stand or fall on its ability to both ameliorate the crisis and also enact pro labor and social welfare legislation that will give working people greater security and a sense of empowerment even if their money incomes don't rise so rapidly. Under capitalism, the only real guarantee that workers money incomes will rise significantly in periods of "growth" is a strong labor movement. The fact that the Dow Jones Average of the New York Stock Market increased by 10 times over the last 30 years before the present collapse which has cost it around a third from its high while inequality mounted and real wages stagnated in the context of a weakened labor movement is a good example.

The Dow Jones average didn't fully regain its 1929 speculative high until the early 1950s. The fact that U.S. incomes and living standards had risen sharply from 1920s levels thanks to both progressive government policy re-enforced by a vastly more powerful labor movement is a good example of the opposite effect.

The ugly news concerns Vice President Joe Biden making "tough" foreign policy speech about U.S. missile shield plans which can only help to pick a fight with Russia at at time when it is becoming clear to many analysts, including those who don't have a progressive bone in their bodies or heads, that the U.S. may very well need Russia along with China and India as it seeks to find a solution to the disaster and potential military quagmire that is Afghanistan-Pakistan.

To add to the ugliness, Mr. Khan, the Pakistani "hero" who developed Pakistan's atom bomb (with U.S. assistance many Indians believe) has been freed from a luxurious house arrest in Pakistan, which the former government put him under when it was discovered that he had sold
nuclear technology and information to Iran, Libya and North Korea) Khan, who is contemptible egotist who constantly praises himself and invokes Islam as a defense of everything that he does, is an extreme example of the profoundly dysfunctional U.S. Pakistani relationship. Khan's actions have facilitated nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons are the weapons of mass destruction which can kill millions in minutes and still threaten human survival. The U.S. under Bush gave billions to Pakistan to "fight terrorism" which Pakistani authorities used, it is very widely believed, to promote terrorism against India in Kashmir and most recently Mumbai. At a time when the Pakistani government was aiding and abetting the U.S. in kidnapping and
capturing people whom the CIA later sent to Guantanamo or to other countries for "rendition," it was refusing to let the CIA interrogate Khan and getting away with it.

Khan is now "free to enjoy his wealth outside of his executive suite house arrest. He is making anti-U.S. statements to the effect that Americans don't like Islam so who cares what they say. One should remember that he previously said that he had sold this nuclear technology to help Muslim countries defend themselves, even though Korea, to the best of my knowledge, does not now nor has it ever had a Muslim population of any size.

Economic recovery and reform should be the first priority. The development of a consistent peace policy (which will bring major reductions in U.S. military spending which remains more than half of the world's official military spending) is the only rational foreign policy. Unless President Obama want to use Vice President Biden to play a game of "good cop, bad cop" with the world (that that wouldn't be too smart for a very smart President) Biden should avoid such statements, which both distract and detract from the administration's priorities.