Friday, November 11, 2011

Do the bomb Iran shuffle By Pepe Escobar

Do the bomb Iran shuffle 
By Pepe Escobar 

Get ready for a flurry of fuzzy satellite ''intelligence'' of generic warehouses all across Iran frantically described as segments of a nuclear bomb assembly line (Remember a famous ''secret nuclear facility'' in Syria not long ago? It was a textile factory.) 

Get ready for a flurry of crude diagrams depicting suspect devices, or the containers that hide them, all capable of reaching Europe in 45 minutes. 

Get ready for a flurry of ''experts'' on Fox, CNN and the BBC endlessly dissecting all this extended black ops dressed up as ''evidence''. For instance, former UN weapons inspector David Albright, now at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), has already pulled his return of the living dead stunt, displaying his ''bomb Iran'' credentials complete with diagrams and satellite intel. 
Forget Iraq - it's sooo 2003. Hit the new groove; hyping overdrive for the war on Iran. 

Turning Japanese
First of all, ditch common sense. 

If Iran were developing a nuclear weapon, it would be diverting uranium for it. The report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week - as politicized as it may be - flatly denies it. 
If Iran were developing a nuclear weapon, UN inspectors working for the IAEA would have been thrown out of the country. 

Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program in 2002. And yet it was shocked and awed. The same rationale applies to Iran. 

What Tehran may have conducted - if the compromised intel used in the IAEA report is to be believed - is a bunch of experiments and computer simulations. Everybody does it - for instance countries which have renounced the bomb, such as Brazil and South Africa. 

What the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) - in charge of the civilian nuclear program - certainly wants is a deterrent. 

That is, the possibility of building up a nuclear bomb in case they face an unequivocally established threat of regime change, provoked, most likely, by a US attack and invasion. 

Doubts swirl about the competence - or the impartiality - of the new IAEA head, the meek Japanese Yukya Amano. The best answer is in this WikiLeaks cable

As for the origin of most of the IAEA's self-described ''credible'' intel, even the New York Times was forced to report that ''some of that information came from the United States, Israel and Europe.'' Gareth Porter offers the definitive debunking of the report. 

Moreover, expect major pressure on the CIA to renege the crucial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which established - irrefutably - that Tehran had ditched a nuclear weapons program way back in 2003. 

All this dovetails with the dogs of war already barking. 

European minions may be incompetent enough to win a war in Libya (they did it only when the Pentagon took over satellite intelligence). 

They may be incompetent enough to manage Europe's financial disaster. But France, Germany and the UK have already started barking - calling for further stringent sanctions on Iran. 

In the US, Democrats and Republicans alike are calling not only for sanctions; in the case of wacko Republicans, which of course, is an oxymoron, they're calling for a new version of Shock and Awe. 
It's never enough to repeat how things work in Washington. The Banjamin Netanyahu government in Israel tells the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee what to do, and the AIPAC orders the US Congress what to do. 

That's how the House Foreign Affairs Committee is considering a bipartisan bill that is essentially a declaration of war. 

According to the bill, neither President Barack Obama, nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, nor in fact any US diplomat can engage in any kind of diplomacy with Iran - unless Obama convinces the ''appropriate congressional committees'' that not talking would mean an ''extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States''. 

''Appropriate congressional committees'' happens to define exactly the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which gets its martial marching orders from Bibi in Israel via AIPAC in Washington. 

Try telling any of these Israeli-firsters at the United States Congress what are the real immediate consequences of an attack on Iran; the Strait of Hormuz closed within minutes, at least 6 million barrels of oil out of the world economy (already in recession in the industrialized North), a barrel of oil hitting $300 or $400. 

It doesn't matter; they're incapable of doing the math. 

Prep well, and stick to the agenda 
Rumors swirl about the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) recently claiming, according to the Fars news agency, that only four Iranian missiles can deter Israel. 

These missiles might - or might not - be Soviet Kh-55 nuclear cruise missiles from the Ukraine and Belarus, with a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers, that Iran may have bought years ago in the black market. 

The IRGC, of course, is mum. That only feeds the fog of (pre)war - as nobody exactly knows how well defended Iran is. 

It's an open secret in Washington that regime change in Iran is being war-gamed by the Pentagon since at least 2004. 

The favorite neo-con 2002 road map still applies, the targets being Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan - all key nodes in the Pentagon-coined ''arc of instability''. 

Imagine PhDs in warmongering examining the chessboard. Iraq was duly shocked and awed (even though the US is now being booted out). Syria is too hard to crack for incompetent North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Lebanon (Hezbollah) can only be captured if Syria falls first. Libya was a victory (forget about a protracted civil war). Somalia is containable with Uganda and drones. And South Sudan is in the bag. 

That leaves - for hardcore practitioners of Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine - the enticing possibility of a successful attack on Iran as the ultimate creative destruction move, reshuffling all the cards from the Middle East to Central Asia. The ''arc of instability'' terminally destabilized. 

How to accomplish it? So simple - as the warmongers see it. Convince Obama that instead of being whacked around, conservatives will kiss his brogues and he'll be canonized as the re-energizer of the US economy if he just went to fight another war. 

Anyone for Occupy Iran - literally? 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cops request "non-lethal" crowd control systems from Pentagon

Department of Homeland SecurIty sources have told WMR that police departments across the United States are requesting the Pentagon to provide Active Denial Systems to immobilize, through "non-lethal" means, large crowds at Occupy Wall Street and other mass demonstrations. The Obama White House and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are said to be considering the police request. Homeland Security supports the deployment of the systems to the police.

The Active Denial System (ADS) is a directed energy weapon that sends a microwave beam that causes human bodies to heat up, much as a microwave oven cooks food, but at a lower intensity. The targets of ADS have the sensation that they are on fire. However, the energy pulse weapon, manufactured by Raytheon, causes discomfort and results in targeted groups of people running away from the beam's targeted area. In addition, severe injuries can be caused to individuals wearing jewelry or metallic body piercings, as well as people wearing metal-framed eyeglasses or with metallic implants.

ADS was used by the Pentagon in Afghanistan but was rejected for use in Iraq because it could have been considered a form of torture.

There has also been interest by some police departments in using a new generation of Pentagon ultra-sound weapons. Targeted on a mass group of people, such weapons result in vertigo, nausea, sudden defecation and urination, and breathing problems. For high-risk targets such as the elderly, asthmatics, and young children, ultra-sound weapons could be lethal.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A bad case of nuclear Iranophobia By Pepe Escobar

A bad case of nuclear Iranophobia 
By Pepe Escobar 
As the climax to a leaking frenzy in Western corporate media that bordered on - literally - nuclear hysteria, United Nations inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally released a report essentially charging that Tehran had tried to design a nuclear weapon to fit in a missile warhead until as late as last year. 
According to the report, Iran worked "on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components". 
Besides the effort to redesign and miniaturize a Pakistani nuclear weapon, Tehran is also accused of trying to develop a covert operation to enrich uranium - the "green salt project" - that could be used "in an undisclosed enrichment program". 
All this leads the IAEA to express "serious concerns" about research and development "specific to nuclear weapons". 
The report sells the notion that while the IAEA has tried for years to monitor declared Iranian stockpiles of uranium ore and processed uranium - currently 73.7 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium in Natanz plus 4,922 kg of uranium enriched to less than 5% - Tehran, in secret, has been trying to build a nuclear weapon. 
Dodgy intel 
The IAEA insists is relying on "credible" intelligence - over 1,000 pages of documentation - from more than 10 countries, and has drawn on eight years of "evidence". 
Yet the IAEA has no independent means to confirm the enormous mass of information - and disinformation - it receives from mostly Western powers. Mohammad ElBaradei - who was the predecessor of the Japanese Yukya Amano as the head of the IAEA - said so, explicitly, many times. And he always disputed what passes for "Iran intelligence" - knowing it was politicized to the extreme, and trespassed by waves of rumor and speculation. 
No wonder ultra-conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan had reason to ask whether that was a IAEA report or an American diktat to the meek, easily pressured Amano. 
There's nothing even remotely earth-shaking about the report - satellite images and speculation by "diplomats" being sold as irrefutable "intelligence". If this looks like the build-up towards the war on Iraq, that's because it does. Essentially, it's regurgitation of a four-year-old farce, known as the "laptop of death". [1] 
The scenario closer to reality - even taking into consideration the existence of a covert program, which is not substantiated - spells out that building a nuclear warhead, for Tehran, is counter-productive. 
Yet the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) - in charge of all high-level military programs - may certainly keep the option of building a nuclear warhead as fast as lightning, as a deterrent in case they were absolutely sure the US would invade, or even launch an extended "shock and awe". The undisputed true consequence of Iran eventually holding a nuclear weapon is to end once and for all with the ever-present threat of an American attack. Any doubts, please consult the North Korean dossier. 
The Tehran regime may be ruthless, but they're no amateurs; to build a nuclear weapon - either in secret or in full view of the IAEA - and go bang, would lead them nowhere. The regime - which is already embroiled in a vicious, complex internal battle between the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the faction of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad - would be totally isolated geopolitically. 
The Iranian population is way more concerned with inflation, unemployment, corruption and the yearning for more political participation to be plunged inside a global nuclear controversy. There is ample positive consensus in Iran about a civilian nuclear program. But there's no guarantee even a minority would endorse an "Islamic bomb". 
Calling Israel's bluff
What does rattle the nerves not only of Israel but the powerful array of US interests who 32 years later are still in denial about losing their prized gendarme of the Gulf (the shah of Iran) is that Tehran keeps them guessing, forever. 
Predictably, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel will keep barking to deafening levels, while trying by all ruses necessary to wag the (American) dog. 
The same Netanyahu that neither US President Barack Obama nor French President Nicolas Sarkozy can stand anymore has a single-minded strategy; to draw Washington and a few minions, from the Brits to the House of Saud - and this has nothing to do with "international community" - to exercise maximum pressure on Tehran. Otherwise, Israel will attack. 
This is nonsense, because Israel can't attack even a stray poodle. All its crucial military hardware is American. It needs special permission to cross Saudi or Iraqi airspace. It needs a green card from Washington from A to Z. The Obama administration may be accused of everything - but it's not suicidal. 
Only those non-entities at the US Congress - despised by the overwhelming majority of Americans, according to any number of polls - can possibly believe in the martial marching orders they get from Netanyahu via the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby. 
So what's left is the possibility of even more sanctions. Four rounds of harsh UN Security Council sanctions already target Iran's imports and banking and finance. But that's the end of the line. 
Russia is not convinced by the IAEA report, and already said so explicitly. China is not impressed; the IAEA simply did not have enough evidence to flatly accuse Iran of conducting an active nuclear weapons program. 
So forget about Russia and China accepting another US-imposed round of sanctions at the UN - which would be literally nuclear; a de facto boycott of Iran's sales of oil and gas. 
Only a bunch of clowns can assume that China would vote against its national security interest at the UN Security Council. Iran is China's third-largest oil supplier, after Saudi Arabia and Angola. China is importing around 650,000 barrels of oil a day from Iran - 50% more compared to last year. That's over 25% of Iran's total oil exports. 
Even the Obama administration had to admit publicly that a boycott is unimaginable; it would deprive the depression-bound global economy of no less than 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, with the barrel probably hitting $300 or even $400. 
Tehran has - and will continue to find - ways to bypass financial sanctions. India has paid Iranian oil imports via a Turkish bank. Tehran is starting to use a Russian bank as well. 
This also proves that Israel's mantra of the "international community" isolating Iran is a monumental bluff. Key actors such as BRICS members Russia, China and India keep close commercial relations. 
On top of it, amid all the Iranophobic hysteria, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - China, Russia and four Central Asian "stans" - engaged in their latest summit in St Petersburg. Iran - which enjoys observer status - was there, via Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Sooner or later Iran will be admitted as a full member. 
If even before Iran joining the SCO China and Russia considered an attack on Iran as an attack on both of them - as well as on the idea of Asian energy integration - it will be very enlightening to watch Israel trying to convince the US to conduct an attack on Asia. 
1. See here
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 
He may be reached at

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The War Against the Poor Occupy Wall Street and the Politics of Financial Morality By Frances Fox Piven

        Tomgram: Frances Fox Piven, The War on the Home Front
It was a beautiful, sunlit fall morning when the patrol, many in camouflage jackets, no more than 40 of them in all, headed directly into enemy territory.  Their ranks included one sailor in uniform, three women, and a small child named Viva in a stroller.  Except for Viva, all of them were vets, a few from the Vietnam era but most from our more recent wars.

As they headed for Wall Street, several carried signs that said, “I am still serving my country,” and one read, “How is the war economy working for you?”  Many wore Iraq Veterans Against the War t-shirts under their camo jackets, and there was one other thing that made this demonstration unlike any seen in these last Occupy Wall Street weeks: there wasn’t a police officer, police car, or barricade in sight.  As they headed out across a well-trafficked street, not a cop was there to yell at them to get back on the curb.
In the wake of the wounding of Scott Olsen in the police assault on Occupy Oakland last week, that’s what it means to be a veteran marching on Zuccotti Park.  Scott Kimbell (Iraq, 2005-2006), who led the patrol, later told me: “Cops are in a difficult position with vets.  Some of them were in the military and are sympathetic and they know that the community will not support what happened to Scott Olsen.”  Just before Broad Street, a line of waiting police on scooters picked up the marchers, for once feeling more like an escort than a gang of armed avengers, while media types and photographers swarmed in the street without police reprimand.

Suddenly, the patrol swiveled right and marched directly into the financial heart of the planet through a set of barricades. (“Who opened up the barrier there?” shouted a policeman.)  It was aiming directly at a line of mounted police blocking the way.  In front of them, the march halted.  With a smart “Left face!” the platoon turned to the Stock Exchange and began to call out in unison, “We are veterans!  We are the 99%!  We swore to protect the Constitution of the United States of America!  We are here to support the Occupy Movement!”

Then, the horses parted like the Red Sea, like a wave of emotion sweeping ahead of us, and the vets marched on triumphantly toward Zuccotti Park as a military cadence rang out (“...corporate profits on the rise, but soldiers have to bleed and die!  Sound off, one, two...”)

The platoon came to attention in front of Trinity Church for a moment of silence for “our friend Scott Olsen,” after which it circled the encampment at Zuccotti Park to cheers and cries of “Welcome Home!” from the protesters there.  (One of the occupiers shouted to the skies: “Hey, police, the military’s here and they’re on our side!”)  And if you don’t think all of it was stirring, then you have the heart of a banker.
Soon after, veterans began offering testimony, people’s mic-style, at the top of the park. Eli Wright, 30, a former Army medic in Ramadi, Iraq (2003-2004), now on military disability and Viva's dad, parked her stroller when I asked him why he was here.  “I came out today to march for economic justice," he responded.  "I want a future for my daughter.  I want her to have an education and a job.  I served seven years for our country to defend our constitution only to see it being dismantled before my eyes.  I think it’s time for vets and others to stand up and fight back.” As for two-year-old Viva, “This,” he said, “is the introduction to democracy that she needs to see.”  As a matter of fact, amid the tumult, Viva was soundly and peaceably asleep.

Joshua Shepherd, in the Navy from 2002 to 2008, told me that, during those years, he came to realize "it wasn’t about protecting anyone, it was about making money.” Now a student, he was holding up a large poster of his friend Scott Olsen.  He had been with Olsen when he was hit, possibly by a beanbag round fired by the police, and had flown in from San Francisco for this march.  “It’s important that the people at Wall Street know that we support them.  For the life of me I’m not sure why the police escalated the way they did [in Oakland], but the powers that be are threatened.  Income disparities have never been higher and they want to keep it that way.  It’s my intention to raise my voice and say that’s not right.”

T.J. Buonomo, 27 and unemployed, a personable former Army military intelligence officer, told me that he had come up from Washington specifically for the march.  “Seeing what happened to Scott Olsen made me feel like we had to stand up for Americans getting their democracy back.  If this country keeps going like this, we’re going to look like Latin America in the 1970s.”

Of course, as with so much else about Zuccotti Park, there’s no way of knowing whether these vets were a recon outfit preparing the way for a far larger “army,” possibly (as in the Vietnam era) including active-duty service people, or whether they were just a lost American patrol.  Still, if you were there, you, too, might have felt that something was changing in this country, that a larger movement of some kind was beginning to form.

And speaking of such movements, if you’ve read the final essays in the remarkable new book Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?, an essential guide to the writings of the activist and professor “Glenn Beck loves to hate,” then you know that no one came closer than her to predicting the rise of OWS.  Having covered the fate of the poor memorably for almost half a century, Piven, whom Cornel West calls “a living legend,” has a bead on the “war” these vets are now facing on the American home front. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Piven discusses Glenn Beck’s bizarre fascination with her click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
The War Against the Poor
Occupy Wall Street and the Politics of Financial Morality

By Frances Fox Piven
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.

Being Poor By the Numbers
A moral economy for our own time would certainly take on the unbridled accumulation of wealth at the expense of the majority (and the planet).  It would also single out for special condemnation the creation of an ever-larger stratum of people we call “the poor” who struggle to survive in the shadow of the overconsumption and waste of that top 1%.

Some facts: early in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 14.3% of the population, or 47 million people -- one in six Americans -- were living below the official poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19 million people are living in what is called extreme poverty, which means that their household income falls in the bottom half of those considered to be below the poverty line.  More than a third of those extremely poor people are children.  Indeed, more than half of all children younger than six living with a single mother are poor.  Extrapolating from this data, Emily Monea and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution estimate that further sharp increases in both poverty and child poverty rates lie in our American future. 

Some experts dispute these numbers on the grounds that they neither take account of the assistance that the poor still receive, mainly through the food stamp program, nor of regional variations in the cost of living.  In fact, bad as they are, the official numbers don’t tell the full story.  The situation of the poor is actually considerably worse. The official poverty line is calculated as simply three times the minimal food budget first introduced in 1959, and then adjusted for inflation in food costs.  In other words, the American poverty threshold takes no account of the cost of housing or fuel or transportation or health-care costs, all of which are rising more rapidly than the cost of basic foods. So the poverty measure grossly understates the real cost of subsistence.

Moreover, in 2006, interest payments on consumer debt had already put more than four million people, not officially in poverty, below the line, making them “debt poor.”  Similarly, if childcare costs, estimated at $5,750 a year in 2006, were deducted from gross income, many more people would be counted as officially poor.

Nor are these catastrophic levels of poverty merely a temporary response to rising unemployment rates or reductions in take-home pay resulting from the great economic meltdown of 2008.  The numbers tell the story and it’s clear enough: poverty was on the rise before the Great Recession hit.  Between 2001 and 2007, poverty actually increased for the first time on record during an economic recovery.  It rose from 11.7% in 2001 to 12.5% in 2007.  Poverty rates for single mothers in 2007 were 49% higher in the U.S. than in 15 other high-income countries.  Similarly, black employment rates and income were declining before the recession struck.

In part, all of this was the inevitable fallout from a decades-long business mobilization to reduce labor costs by weakening unions and changing public policies that protected workers and those same unions.  As a result, National Labor Board decisions became far less favorable to both workers and unions, workplace regulations were not enforced, and the minimum wage lagged far behind inflation.

Inevitably, the overall impact of the campaign to reduce labor’s share of national earnings meant that a growing number of Americans couldn’t earn even a poverty-level livelihood -- and even that’s not the whole of it.  The poor and the programs that assisted them were the objects of a full-bore campaign directed specifically at them.

Campaigning Against the Poor
This attack began even while the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s was in full throttle.  It was already evident in the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater, as well as in the recurrent campaigns of sometime Democrat and segregationist governor of Alabama George Wallace.  Richard Nixon’s presidential bid in 1968 picked up on the theme. 

As many commentators have pointed out, his triumphant campaign strategy tapped into the rising racial animosities not only of white southerners, but of a white working class in the north that suddenly found itself locked in competition with newly urbanized African-Americans for jobs, public services, and housing, as well as in campaigns for school desegregation.  The racial theme quickly melded into political propaganda targeting the poor and contemporary poor-relief programs.  Indeed, in American politics “poverty,” along with “welfare,” “unwed mothers,” and “crime,” became code words for blacks.

In the process, resurgent Republicans tried to defeat Democrats at the polls by associating them with blacks and with liberal policies meant to alleviate poverty.  One result was the infamous “war on drugs” that largely ignored major traffickers in favor of the lowest level offenders in inner-city communities.  Along with that came a massive program of prison building and incarceration, as well as the wholesale “reform” of the main means-tested cash assistance program, Aid to Families of Dependent Children.  This politically driven attack on the poor proved just the opening drama in a decades-long campaign launched by business and the organized right against workers.

This was not only war against the poor, but the very “class war” that Republicans now use to brand just about any action they don’t like.  In fact, class war was the overarching goal of the campaign, something that would soon enough become apparent in policies that led to a massive redistribution of the burden of taxation, the cannibalization of government services through privatization, wage cuts and enfeebled unions, and the deregulation of business, banks, and financial institutions.

The poor -- and blacks -- were an endlessly useful rhetorical foil, a propagandistic distraction used to win elections and make bigger gains. Still, the rhetoric was important.  A host of new think tanks, political organizations, and lobbyists in Washington D.C. promoted the message that the country’s problems were caused by the poor whose shiftlessness, criminal inclinations, and sexual promiscuity were being indulged by a too-generous welfare system.

Genuine suffering followed quickly enough, along with big cuts in the means-tested programs that helped the poor.  The staging of the cuts was itself enwreathed in clouds of propaganda, but cumulatively they frayed the safety net that protected both the poor and workers, especially low-wage ones, which meant women and minorities. When Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office in 1980, the path had been smoothed for huge cuts in programs for poor people, and by the 1990s the Democrats, looking for electoral strategies that would raise campaign dollars from big business and put them back in power, took up the banner. It was Bill Clinton, after all, who campaigned on the slogan “end welfare as we know it.”

A Movement for a Moral Economy
The war against the poor at the federal level was soon matched in state capitols where organizations like the American Federation for Children, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Institute for Liberty, and the State Policy Network went to work.  Their lobbying agenda was ambitious, including the large-scale privatization of public services, business tax cuts, the rollback of environmental regulations and consumer protections, crippling public sector unions, and measures (like requiring photo identification) that would restrict the access students and the poor had to the ballot.  But the poor were their main public target and again, there were real life consequences -- welfare cutbacks, particularly in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, and a law-and-order campaign that resulted in the massive incarceration of black men.

The Great Recession sharply worsened these trends.  The Economic Policy Institute reports that the typical working-age household, which had already seen a decline of roughly $2,300 in income between 2000 and 2006, lost another $2,700 between 2007 and 2009.  And when “recovery” arrived, however uncertainly, it was mainly in low-wage industries, which accounted for nearly half of what growth there was.  Manufacturing continued to contract, while the labor market lost 6.1% of payroll employment.  New investment, when it occurred at all, was more likely to be in machinery than in new workers, so unemployment levels remain alarmingly high.  In other words, the recession accelerated ongoing market trends toward lower-wage and ever more insecure employment.

The recession also prompted further cutbacks in welfare programs.  Because cash assistance has become so hard to get, thanks to so-called welfare reform, and fallback state-assistance programs have been crippled, the federal food stamp program has come to carry much of the weight in providing assistance to the poor.  Renamed the “Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program,” it was boosted by funds provided in the Recovery Act, and benefits temporarily rose, as did participation.  But Congress has repeatedly attempted to slash the program’s funds, and even to divert some of them into farm subsidies, while efforts, not yet successful, have been made to deny food stamps to any family that includes a worker on strike.

The organized right justifies its draconian policies toward the poor with moral arguments.  Right-wing think tanks and blogs, for instance, ponder the damaging effect on disabled poor children of becoming “dependent” on government assistance, or they scrutinize government nutritional assistance for poor pregnant women and children in an effort to explain away positive outcomes for infants.

The willful ignorance and cruelty of it all can leave you gasping -- and gasp was all we did for decades.  This is why we so desperately needed a movement for a new kind of moral economy.  Occupy Wall Street, which has already changed the national conversation, may well be its beginning.

Frances Fox Piven is on the faculty of the Graduate School of the City University of New York.  She is the author, along with Richard Cloward, of Regulating the Poor and Poor People’s Movements.  Her latest book, just published, is Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven? The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate (The New Press).  To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Piven discusses Glenn Beck’s bizarre fascination with her click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Frances Fox Piven

Fear and loathing in the Cannes debt festival

Fear and loathing in the Cannes debt festival
By Pepe Escobar

Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.
- Aeschylus, Agamemnon

Words, once pronounced, are like mountains.
- Manchu proverb

Cannes is world-famous for its annual film festival that pulls all stops between glam and trash. That's qualification enough for this Club Med resort as the perfect setting for a monster financial horror movie - a sort of drowning-by-numbers version of the Odyssey on crack. Some have called it the G-20 meeting. Others have called it The Slow and the Furious.

The apparent leading couple in this otherwise porno flick has been what some Parisian wits dubbed Merkozy - that camera-unfriendly cross-pollination of German Prime Minister Angela "Dear Prudence" Merkel and neo-Napoleonic French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the initial scenes, straight out of a crappy episode of Friends, Merkozy are in total panic; the (invisible) God of the Market is angrier than Zeus, threatening by lightning bolt to reduce Fortress Europe to sub-Saharan poverty - without the benefit of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization-imposed no-fly zone.

The photogenic Great Barack Obama - the leader of the free world - is about to descend in Cannes, and Merkozy gotta do their best to show their humble abode - Europe - is in order, the (debt) trash at least swept under the (made in China) carpet.

And worse, the Almighty Chinese President Hu (Jintao) - the leader of the universe - will also show up, and they gotta use all their Brangelina charm to seduce the Chinese Almighty into disbursing some pocket money for charity out of his US$3.2 trillion reserves.

But then the Furies intervene - in the unlikely form of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, more besieged than Leonidas at the vThermopylae. He decides to ritually invoke democracy, via a popular referendum - so the Greek populace decides about their debt-ridden future. The whole eurozone, like a chorus of Harpies, shrieks in horror.

Merkozy then concoct a plot to put Aeschylus to shame. They rule that the Greeks are not allowed to decide on a bailout Merkozy - or their Franco-German banks - are imposing; the poor Greeks can only decide on whether Greece will remain in the eurozone. To add insult to injury, the bureaucratic vultures at the European Commission thunder that Greece should be expelled from the European Union if it leavest the euro.

Neo-Napoleonic Sarkozy at last finds a reason to beam, pronouncing the fateful words, "We cannot accept the break up of the euro, that would mean the break up of Europe."

So in this subplot at least, Merkozy and the European Harpies seem to have blackmailed the Greek masses into submission. Who among the masters cares about the Greek people living under a de facto protectorate and losing over 50% of their standard of living so foreign banks can be repaid? Who cares about Greece still buried under an - unsustainable - debt of 120% of their gross domestic product still by 2021?

Certainly not Mario Draghi, the new president of the European Central Bank (ECB), the successor of Jean-Claude Trichet. Dragon Draghi was a Goldman Sachs partner when the US giants were "helping" the then right-wing Greek government to mask their debts. It's all in the (too big to fail) family.

So Merkozy win against democracy - and "Europe" as we know it is no more. What's left is a giant prison B-movie, where the masters are Merkozy and zombies such as Draghi, European Commission head Joao Manuel Barroso, European council president Herman van Rompuy, and Franco-German banks, and the slaves are virtually the whole population of Club Med countries.

That thing called EFSF
The plot thickens. In disaster movie mode, the (invisible), wrathful God of the Market has to be appeased should a country even flirt with defaulting on their debt. The Hail Mary pass - the solution of last resort - is in theory the International Monetary Fund's firepower, currently at a paltry $380 billion.

So the movie may have started as a fractious eurozone summit; but suddenly morphs into an even more fractious, protracted, Oliver Stone-style International Monetary Fund (IMF) shareholder's meeting. IMF-sponsored mini-horror movie spin-offs are already in effect in no less than 53 countries - including three of the "PIGS", Portugal, Ireland and Greece. The IMF cannot possibly say the word out loud - "We need money". So they whisper among themselves how much they need a monster "firewall" in Washington should the eurozone bail-out collapse (and it will).

Time to call Alfred Hitchcock. There's a McGuffin in da house, and it goes by the Orwellian name of European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). This thing is supposed to be the "firewall" - the life jacket in case Italy, for instance, is about to go the Titanic way. The EFSF thing should be worth an astounding $1.4 trillion. But where the hell is the money?

Audiences are excused for being startled. No Euro-screenwriter could possibly explain the EFSF without dragging the action to the mud. So here's a very un-cinematic flashback. Time to get a Coke refill.

Germany adamantly refuses to use the ECB to help submerging countries. So "Europe" (as in Merkozy and assorted minions) invented the EFSF. How to run a fund with no cash? Simple - you go the Goldman Sachs (racket) way.

The EFSF is a shell company based in that dull financial haven - Luxembourg. There's no money there - just "guarantees". First there was a guarantee of 440 billion euros (US$607.9 billion), most of it Franco-German. You can extend them; Germany's goes up to 211 billion euros, and France's to 158 billion euros. That's a lot of (non-existent) euros, but not enough to threat France's triple A rating. Remember, there's no money, this is just blah blah blah.
So with this blah blah blah secured, the Europeans ask the rating agencies for a notation. The EFSF gets an instant Triple A. Then they hit the markets to get loads of money loaned. This means more debt. The new debt is then used to help the super-indebted - such as Greece, or Ireland.

But the real problem will come when there are not enough funds to save Italy (1.8 trillion euros) if Italy goes under (bond yields on Italian debt are skyrocketing). So they need a "firewall" of at least 1 trillion euros. It's really hard to suck up more loans using the same guarantees; it's gonna cost more. When the going gets tough, who're you gonna call?

Almighty Hu, of course. Or, as back up, those paragons of democracy - the Persian Gulf monarchies.

It's still not real money. It's debt. And it all depends on convincing China - and in the worst scenario, the petromonarchies - that if they help with their not so virtual cash they will make some kind of profit.

But is the Almight Hu - and China - convinced? Not really.

Yellow peril no more
When it comes to the crunch, the "global" economy is all about national protectionism. A viable Plan B to counter all sorts of crisis would be the Tobin Tax, also known as FTT (as in financial transactions tax), the Robin Hood tax or even Wall Street tax - essentially a sales tax on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other "products". The key target happens to be the mega banks that caused the current, never-ending economic crisis.

It's quite enlightening to see who's against it. The Obama administration. US Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner - a Wall Street 1% if there ever was one - who has fiercely lobbied the Europeans to drop it. The Brits (because they would pay a whole lot more due to the enormous volume of trading at the City of London).

It's also enlightening to see who's for it. Bill Gates, who in a report to the G-20 said the tax was "clearly technically feasible". To his credit, Sarkozy ("technically possible"). The governments of Germany, Brazil and Argentina.

As for the Almighty Hu, he's been inscrutable on the subject. As a matter of fact, inscrutability is his middle name. Arriving in Cannes, the Almighty Hu inscrutably said he encouraged "the stability of the eurozone and the euro". And that's it.

Everyone remembers a previous movie where the BRICS emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) were mulling whether to rescue the eurozone by buying eurobonds. That went nowhere. Now the talk of the town is China entering the EFSF.

The Chinese know well enough that two-bit European governments simply cannot appease the God of the Market. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao actually told Van Rompuy that Europe needs a structural reform. Two weeks ago, China's vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao was more lenient, saying that China shelling out cash was "under discussion", but Beijing wanted to know what the EU was really up to.

But then this Thursday Guangyao said it's "too soon" for China to discuss the EFSF. And Zhang Tao, the director general of the Bank of China, essentially said that no one still has a clue what's going on.

With all these no-clue subplots developing, we reach the end of the movie. That's when the audience finally figures out how much of a monster schizophrenic Merkozy really is. Merkel - who was never accused of being a Cameron Diaz - sports a cheap "cash under the mattress" mentality; that's why she's opening the door for the Chinese to enter Europe via the EFSF.

As for Sarkozy - who thinks he's as hot as Alain Delon - his megalomania defies Napoleon's. For over two years, he's been promising non-stop to "re-found capitalism". After posing as the Great Liberator of Libya, he thought Cannes would be the crowning of a larger than life president - perfect public relations for next year's election. But hubris intervened - straight out of Greece, of all places.

That leaves us with the real stars of this story - the Almighty Hu and Premier Wen. What they really want is hidden by words that don't look like mountains. "Mutual advantages." A "win-win" situation. Translation: China does the EFSF shuffle if it gets a "market economy status" - something that will allow it to eschew strict European Union anti-dumping legislation. The bureaucratic vultures at the European Commission refuse it - because they argue the EU is swamped by made-in-China products. According to the World Trade Organization, China will only get the status in 2016.

China also wants the end of an EU embargo over weapons sales. And most of all China wants way more decision power at the IMF and the World Bank, something shared by fellow BRICS members Brazil and India.

So the ball is in the European court. The bottom line is that if Beijing decides to help the EU - what an earth-shaking historical reversal - it may be more in symbol than in real substance. No one accumulates $3.2 trillion in foreign reserves by acting like an emir's wife at Harrods.

At the same time, as much as Beijing essentially sponsors consumption in the US, it knows it doesn't hurt to support Fortress Europe enough so it keeps consuming. It also makes sense to place some reserves in euros; geostrategically, it's priceless PR.

So the point of the whole The Slow and the Furious movie experience - how to convince the Almighty Hu to shell out some cash - remains open-ended. Time for a sequel. But if only we had Brangelina instead of Merkozy.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

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