Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Conservative policies transformed the United States from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation in just a few years, and it has only gotten worse since then:
Working people's share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sudden turn down:
This resulted in intense concentration of wealth at the top:
And forced working people to spend down savings to get by:
by Daniel Tencer
A New York Times report announcing the US has found $1 trillion-worth of mineral deposits in Afghanistan has some observers wondering if the news is part of a public-relations effort to bolster support for the Afghanistan war as the mission's death toll continues to climb.
An article in Sunday's New York Times announces that "previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe."
The article cites an "internal Pentagon memo" as saying Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium" — the mineral used in the production of rechargeable batteries, such as those found in cell phones and laptops. It cites "a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists" as having made the discovery.
While the dollar estimate — $1 trillion — may be new, it's hardly news that Afghanistan sits on rich mineral deposits. In a 2007 press release, the US Geological Survey announced that Afghanistan possesses "significant amounts of undiscovered non-fuel mineral resources." And, as Marc Ambinder reports on his Atlantic blog, the Soviet Union was aware of Afghanistan's mineral potential as early as 1985.
"The 'discovery' of Afghanistan's minerals will sound pretty silly to old timers," a "retired former senior US official" tells Politico's Laura Rosen. "When I was living in Kabul in the early 1970's the [US government], the Russians, the World Bank, the UN and others were all highly focused on the wide range of Afghan mineral deposits. Cheap ways of moving the ore to ocean ports has always been the limiting factor."
So why is this news now? To many, the story's timing suggests a Pentagon public relations campaign designed to extend public support for the war with the hope that, in time, Afghanistan may be able to raise itself out of abject poverty.
"Why the story broke in the NYT on Sunday could be linked to a desire by the Pentagon to create a reason why US troops might want to stick around in Afghanistan for some time to come," writes Paul Jay at the Huffington Post. "Things are not going very well on the ground and the promise of vast mineral riches would sound enticing."
Some "veteran Afghan hands detect an echo of [Gen. David] Petraeus' effort to 'put a little more time on the Washington clock' for the Afghanistan surge, as he once described his public relations strategy to buy time in the US for the Iraq surge," Rosen reports.
Indeed, the US military's need to shore up support for the war effort may be becoming critical.
The right showed once again that they have no allegiance whatsoever to the free market when House Republicans pushed through a bill that would prohibit the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) from insuring the mortgage of anyone who had "strategically defaulted" on an earlier mortgage. The intention was to punish people who had taken advantage of this option and, therefore, make it less likely that others would go this route in the future.
A strategic default is when a person stops paying a mortgage even when they can still afford it, and, instead, turns the house back to the lender. This can be a desirable move for borrowers if the price of the house has fallen below the value of the home due to the collapse of the housing bubble.
In many states, a mortgage is a nonrecourse loan. This means that, under the terms of the contract, the return of the home ends any commitment to the lender. Even in states where the loan is a recourse loan, it is unusual for lenders to pursue actions against borrowers after a foreclosure, even if they have not recovered the full amount of the mortgage by reselling the house.
For these reasons, a strategic default can often be a good option for homeowners. In fact, strategic default is a standard business practice. Businesses often default on a mortgage and turn the property back to the lender when they decide that this is the more profitable route to follow. For example, Morgan Stanley recently went this route with five office buildings in San Francisco, the value of which was considerably less than the outstanding mortgage.
But Republicans in Congress aren't interested in leaving things to the market. They were concerned that too many homeowners were acting in their own best interest and, thereby, hurting the banks. So, they decided to have Big Government step in and create an additional sanction for homeowners who strategically default.
By Jennifer Howard
The University of California system has said "enough" to the Nature Publishing Group, one of the leading commercial scientific publishers, over a big proposed jump in the cost of the group's journals.
On Tuesday, a letter went out to all of the university's faculty members from the California Digital Library, which negotiates the system's deals with publishers, and the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. The letter said that Nature proposed to raise the cost of California's license for its journals by 400 percent next year. If the publisher won't negotiate, the letter said, the system may have to take "more drastic actions" with the help of the faculty. Those actions could include suspending subscriptions to all of the Nature Group journals the California system buys access to67 in all, including Nature.
The pressure does not stop there. The letter said that faculty would also organize "a systemwide boycott" of Nature's journals if the publisher does not relent. The voluntary boycott would "strongly encourage" researchers not to contribute papers to those journals or review manuscripts for them. It would urge them to resign from Nature's editorial boards and to encourage similar "sympathy actions" among colleagues outside the University of California system.
Along with its letter, the California Digital Library included a fact sheet with systemwide statistics for 2010 about the university's online journal subscriptions. The system subscribes to almost 8,000 journals online, at an average cost of between $3,000 and $7,000 per journal, depending on the publication and the field. The current average cost for the Nature group's journals is $4,465; under the 2011 pricing scheme, that would rise to more than $17,000 per journal, according to the California Digital Library.
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- DAVIES, one of the largest public affairs agencies in the country, today released the results of its third annual National Payor Survey of hospital executives. The survey measured hospital executives' perceptions of the nation's largest health insurance companies. It was coupled with the first National Payor Survey of employers, a new survey that targeted individuals responsible for selecting health plan coverage for employers of all sizes.
The only survey of its kind in the country, the National Payor Survey of health plan reputation targeted hospital leaders who negotiate contracts with major health insurance companies - hospital CEOs, CFOs and directors of managed care. Total responses represented more than 18% of the hospitals in the country, which is an increase of 78% from the 2007 survey.
Although health plans are rated poorly in a variety of other surveys - including JD Powers and Harris Poll - the DAVIES survey revealed two outliers in the health insurance community. For the first time, hospitals identified a preferred business partner in Aetna. And for the third straight year, UnitedHealthcare stood out dramatically as a bad actor in its ratings.
Aetna as Preferred Partner
For the first time, the survey revealed a preferred partner for hospitals and physicians. Aetna received a 64% favorable rating (compared to a 34% unfavorable rating), which was 9% better than CIGNA, the second-best rated plan and a full 48% better than the worst rated plan, UnitedHealthcare. The survey reveals a strong preference from hospitals based on trust, honesty, business practices and good faith negotiations.
By Chris Hedges
Orson Welles and John Houseman were preparing to mount a production in June 1937 in New York City called "The Cradle Will Rock," a musical written by Marc Blitzstein and set in "Steeltown USA." The musical followed the efforts of a worker, Larry Foreman, as he attempted to unionize steelworkers. His nemesis was the heartless industrialist Mister Mister, who owned the steel mill and controlled the press, the church, local civic groups, politicians, the arts and the local university, where, as a trustee, Mister Mister made sure the pliant college president fired professors who did not laud the manly arts of war and capitalism. "The Cradle Will Rock" spared no one, from Mister Mister's philanthropic wife and spoiled children to Reverend Salvation, who preached war in the name of Jesus, to feckless artists who devoted themselves to the cult of art. At one point the artists, along with Mister Mister's wife, sing:
And we love Art for Art's sake,
It's smart, for Art's sake,
To Part, for Art's sake,
With your heart, for Art's sake,And your mind, for Art's sake,
Be Blind, for Art's sake
And Deaf for Art's sake,
And dumb, for Art's sake,
They kill, for Art's sake,
All the Art for Art's sake.
The show was scheduled to open at the Maxine Elliott Theatre with an elaborate set and a 28-piece orchestra. But Washington, bowing to complaints, at the last minute announced that no new shows would be funded by the theater project until after the fiscal year. The theater was surrounded by armed guards since, the government argued, props and costumes inside were government property. Welles, Houseman and Blitzstein—who would later be blacklisted—rented the Venice Theater and a piano. They met the audience outside the shuttered Maxine Elliott Theatre and marched the theatergoers and the cast 20 blocks to the Venice. They invited onlookers to join them and filled the 1,742-seat house. Actor's Equity had forbidden the cast to perform the piece "onstage" so the actors stood in the audience singing across the seats. The poet Archibald MacLeish, who attended, thought it was one of the most moving theatrical experiences of his life.
"This was censorship by another form," the head of the Federal Theater Project, Hallie Flanagan, noted acidly at the time. By 1939 the Federal Theater Project was killed. It was the first of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects to be dismantled, "a reminder," the playwright Karen Malpede said, "of the power of the theater."
The corporate and government censorship—practiced in the name of sponsorship—that was imposed on "The Cradle Will Rock" is the censorship that has decimated the arts, the universities, the press and the church and destroyed the theater. These liberal institutions have been bought off. Corporate money, grants and government support reward those who stay on script, who do not challenge the cruel structures of American imperialism, our permanent war economy and unfettered capitalism. And those productions that break the rules are tossed aside. It is this kind of insidious censorship that takes cutting-edge productions, such as Malpede's fierce new anti-war play, "Prophecy," running at the Fourth Street Theater in the East Village in New York City until June 20, and relegates them to obscurity.
"Prophecy," which has a superb cast including veteran stage actors Kathleen Chalfant and George Bartenieff, as well as the versatile Najla Said, examines the hollowness of our own imperial virtues. It explores the psychic and physical pain of war. Malpede's play is perhaps too ambitious in its sweep, encompassing Vietnam, the wars in Lebanon and the occupied territories in Israel and Iraq. The writer in me would edit it down to focus on the war-tossed relationship between Hala, a Muslim woman; her former lover, Alan; Alan's wife, Sarah; and Alan and Hala's daughter, Mariam. But "Prophecy" goes to places most modern theater productions will not. It has a conscience. And "Prophecy" keeps alive the tenuous link with productions, including "The Cradle Will Rock," that prize truth. It speaks in the unfamiliar language of justice.
"What happened?" Malpede asked when we spoke. "The Vietnam War finally ended, but the peace movement persisted in large numbers through the dirty wars in South America and the growing anti-nuclear movement. Yet, it became more and more difficult to produce socially conscious, poetic theater. The old dogma of the 1950s reasserted itself: Art and politics don't mix. When Ronald Reagan was elected [as president] in 1980, he immediately ordered National Endowment of the Arts grants to small—read leftist—theaters be abolished. Reaganism eroded the public perception that a great democracy deserves great art."
"Without government support for funding innovation and the non-commercial, the theater began to institutionalize and to censor itself," Malpede went on. "The growing network of regional theaters became ever more reliant upon planning subscription seasons which would not offend any of their local donors, and the institutional theaters began to function more and more as social clubs for the wealthy and philanthropic. Sometimes, there was a breakthrough. 'Angels in America' was one—the result, too, of an aggressive gay activist movement. But to a large degree, the theater no longer wanted to shake people up.
You know that something strange is happening when the usual crew of neocon critics takes out after Turkey -- yes, Turkey! -- a country that, as Inter Press Service's Jim Lobe points out, they long cultivated and supported as a key ally and supposedly model democracy in the Islamic world. Of course, that was then. Now, Turkey's involvement in a nuclear deal with Tehran and its prime minister's outrage over the Israeli attack on a convoy bringing aid to Gaza that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks has soured them considerably on the country. In fact, the strength of the Turkish reaction -- essentially a breach with Israel, once a close ally -- sent the Obama administration scrambling awkwardly for a way to mollify the Turks without condemning the Israeli attack.
And don't think it's just the usual suspects on the right blaming Turkey either. The Washington Post editorial page denounced its government for "grotesque demagoguery toward Israel that ought to be unacceptable for a member of NATO," while the Christian Science Monitor typically declared it "over the top," raised the specter of "anti-Semitism," and swore that its leaders now ran "the risk of further undermining Turkey's credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver." In a news story, the New York Times offered a classic statement of the problem from Washington's perspective: "Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as 'running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want,' said Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations. The question being asked, he said, is 'How do we keep the Turks in their lane?'"
And which lane might that be, one wonders? It looks ever more like the passing lane on the main highway through the Middle East. Talk about a country whose importance has crept up on us. It's a country that, as John Feffer, co-director of the invaluable Foreign Policy in Focus website and TomDispatch regular, indicates, has been in that passing lane for some time now (whatever Washington may think), whether in its relations with Iran, Russia, or Iraq, among other countries. And what surprising relations they turn out to be. If one thing is clear, it's that, as American power wanes, the global stage is indeed being cleared for new kinds of politics and new combinations of every sort. The future holds surprises and, as Feffer makes clear, it will be surprising indeed if Turkey isn't one of them. Tom
How Turkey Is Chasing China to Become the Next Big Thing
By John Feffer
The future is no longer in plastics, as the businessman in the 1967 film The Graduate insisted. Rather, the future is in China.
If a multinational corporation doesn't shoehorn China into its business plan, it courts the ridicule of its peers and the outrage of its shareholders. The language of choice for ambitious undergraduates is Mandarin. Apocalyptic futurologists are fixated on an eventual global war between China and the United States. China even occupies valuable real estate in the imaginations of our fabulists. Much of the action of Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, for example, takes place in a future neo-Confucian China, while the crew members of the space ship on the cult TV show Firefly mix Chinese curse words into their dialogue.
Why doesn't Turkey have a comparable grip on American visions of the future? Characters in science fiction novels don't speak Turkish. Turkish-language programs are as scarce as hen's teeth on college campuses. Turkey doesn't even qualify as part of everyone's favorite group of up-and-comers, that swinging BRIC quartet of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Turkey remains stubbornly fixed in Western culture as a backward-looking land of doner kebabs, bazaars, and guest workers.