Le Vieillard Gros

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (September 18 2012)

Gelii Korzhev, 1925-2012

My doctor wants me to live to be a hundred. During a recent check-up she asked me how long I want to live, probably as a way of telling me that I should listen to her more carefully. I said eighty, because that’s how long men in my family generally live (unless there is a revolution or a world war); the women live a bit longer than that. She then said that eighty used to be considered good longevity, but that one hundred is the new eighty. Well, that certainly explains all the old people I saw in her waiting room! I told her that I do not view aging as a competitive sport, and that I do not aspire to smashing any records in the longevity department. She seemed a bit confused by this response and changed the subject.

I had a neighbor once, who was perhaps just over a hundred years old, perhaps just under – it doesn’t really matter, because he himself probably couldn’t remember how old he was, so why should anyone else care? On warm sunny days he would sometimes stand on his porch, squinting at the sun through dark glasses, wobbling and shaking. The rest of the time he lurked inside, doing who knows what. Eventually I found out what he was doing there: he was growing mushrooms. He was growing mushrooms on his person. When he finally died and his possessions were disgorged onto the sidewalk in front of his house for the neighbors to pick through, there were boxes and boxes of antifungals (Miconazole, Clotrimazole, et cetera) – enough to treat an entire football team for both jock itch and athlete’s foot. I specifically don’t want to turn out to be like that man. I am much more afraid of becoming like that man than I am afraid of death.

I understand that there is a certain large number of people who aspire to being “forever young”. This seems like a truly bizarre aspiration. There is a certain symmetry between the young and the old: both tend to be stupid, the young – from inexperience, the old – from being old. In the bygone days when a spade was called a spade they were called “a young fool” and “an old fool”, respectively. These concepts could be dressed up with scientificky-sounding words like immaturity and senility, for the sake of the scientifcky-minded. Nowadays the term Alzheimer’s gets thrown around a lot, and is being researched at great expense in search of a cure. But it was previously well known that “There is no fool like an old fool”, and the treatment was to ignore him. That’s because a young fool might grow up and stop being a fool, whereas an old fool would eventually just stop being. The aspiration to be “forever young” is, to my mind, equivalent to wishing to remain “forever stupid” – to never grow up.

But if I am expected to reconcile myself to growing old and stupid, I might as well start now. I am already quite excellent at forgetting birthdays and anniversaries, with little room for improvement. I have also never been particularly good at remembering names, but I still remember a few, so I can improve on that. I’ll start asking “What’s your name again?” – of people whom I’ve known for years. I could also develop some annoying old man mannerisms, such as insisting on returning things I hadn’t borrowed while calling everyone “kid”. This may surprise them at first, but then later they won’t realize that my mind is gone, because I’ll just be acting as peculiarly as ever. It takes time to adjust to being stupid, and the older one is, the harder it becomes to make the adjustment, so I better start practicing while I still have my wits about me. “Hi mom, what’s your name again?” Now that is sure to produce a reaction!

I suppose I should also start thinking about a new career suitable for an old fool. Since retirement is quickly becoming a thing of the past, anyone who wants to live to be a hundred will also have to continue working all the way until death. But since people who are that old aren’t capable of much physical or mental exertion, the work would have to be dead (no pun intended) easy. Perhaps I could start a chain of fashion boutiques that cater to centenarians. It would sell specialty items such as rainbow-colored ear tufts and nose-hair extensions. While there, you could pick up a packet of liver spots, some pants that you can pull up all the way to your armpits, and, piece de resistance, a bottle of our special eau de cologne, Old Man Smell. There would be commemorative plaques for customers who dropped dead right inside the store. The chain would have to have a fashionable-sounding French name … how about Le Vieillard Gros?

But maybe, just maybe, none of this will be necessary. Just imagine, half a century from now: the fossil fuels are gone, the oceans are too acidic for shellfish, the icecaps have largely melted and coastal cities are under water, and the entire continental interior is a parched desert. It is unbearably hot and ridiculously stormy all the time, and the surviving humans, now numbering well under a billion, are all preoccupied with trying to gather or grow enough food to survive. And there I am, deep in my dotage, proudly mouldering with my rainbow-colored ear tufts and nose-hair extensions, smelling of Old Man Smell, calling everyone “kid” and trying to return a book I hadn’t borrowed? If that happens, then just bury me, preferably at sea. Put me in a dinghy, hand me a bottle of rum, and set me off on the tide. I promise I won’t protest.


Fair Trade or Free Trade?

They’re not the same.

Food for Thought (undated)

Ever ponder the difference between “Fair” Trade and “Free” Trade? They both sound appealing in their own way, but actually couldn’t be more different. Free Trade, and it’s parent, “Globalization”, represent the current trend in global trade whereby companies search the world for the cheapest labor and lowest bar with regards to labor and environmental regulation. Fair Trade, on the other hand, is a response to the shortcomings of Free Trade. In short, it’s an effort to bring some transparency to global trade by inserting standards of fairness into a system once dependent solely on the forces of the liberal free market. Both terms have entered the daily discourse of pundits, academics and the conversations of ordinary folks like us. Though they have very different meanings, they are often confused. Even seasoned journalists use them interchangeably to the detriment of an informed citizenry.

In this case “free” means free to do good and bad. As individuals our free choices are often kept in check because we are accountable for their ramifications by friends, family, our community and law enforcement. On the other hand, while a corporation is made up of people, it is not human by nature. When such an entity can make unhindered free choices, that freedom to choose can result in some universally negative consequences, from environmental degradation to outright human exploitation on a large scale.

Enter Fair Trade, which seeks to address the injustice of global trade by playing in the same arena of the free market, only by different rules. It’s an internationally recognized set of standards with the goal of returning more value to the farmer and his community. A good example is coffee. Like many internationally traded commodities, the majority of coffee beans are not grown on vast plantations, but rather on small family owned plots. In the globalization model those farmers are at the mercy of the commodities market represented by the many middlemen that stand between the farmer and the end user. It’s not uncommon for farmers to have little choice but sell their crop below cost. In the Fair Trade model, farmers join a “producer cooperative” of other small farmers that then sell to a Fair Trade “buyers cooperative”. The buying cooperative must adhere to four core principles:

1. Pay a price to producers that covers the cost of sustainable production and living;

2. Pay a ‘premium’ that producers can invest in community development;

3. Make partial advance payments when requested by producers;

4. Sign contracts that allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices.

When small farmers are organized in a cooperative they benefit from access to capital and business resources and because the middle-men are removed from the equation a larger percentage of cost of the cup of coffee goes to the producer and his or her community.

Does it work?

Yes. Of course it’s not perfect, but it is an excellent start. Working in the developing world in the 1980s convinced me that our global trading structure is inherently unfair to those with less power. There are clear winners and losers as the income gap between rich and poor countries continues to widen. Fair Trade was not an option at that time. Fast forward to 2007. While visiting a Fair Trade coffee producer cooperative it became obvious why Fair Trade offers a viable alternative. Chris and Jody Treter of Higher Grounds Trading Company, and members of a Fair Trade buyers cooperative, met with the leaders of their producer cooperative when Chris asked how they did the previous year. Optimism would best characterize their summary, however, their cooperative truck needed an expensive repair, and as a result, there wasn’t much of a surplus to invest in the community. Without missing a beat, Chris offered to pay them more and proceeded to discuss the idea that this increase in purchase price could be set aside for future truck and facility repairs as well as an emergency fund to keep members paid in the event of crop failure. This example of the mutually beneficial “relationship” characterizes the essence of the Fair Trade system.

Does this matter?

Perhaps not to some. But when more consumers know about the condition under which their food and products are created, the more empowered they will be to spend their dollars where their values are. Now instead of the old fashioned method of boycotting a company that offends your values, you can now use your grocery budget to reward those that share yours. The engine of this trading system is an enlightened consumer. While it increases every year, we now know that a rapidly growing percentage of consumers are willing to look beyond price and quality and actually pay a premium for goods and services that will bring some greater social value to their purchase. This trend, in part, accounts for the growth in organic and local food, Fair Trade products, as well as other green products rushing to meet this growing demand.

While Fair Trade brings a welcome level of transparency to this global trade, it is currently limited to imported commodities. As a result, there is a domestic fair trade movement happening in this country that seeks to bring fair trade standards to the production of food products grown and processed in this country. That will be a welcome relief to the many consumers who are trying to eat and purchase goods and services closer to home. I’m serving on the Steering Committee of the new Domestic Fair Trade Association and will update you on the progress in future postings. In the meantime, continue to shop with your values and your dollars and we’ll all contribute to a more human world.

Please share your thoughts …

For information on Domestic Fair Trade click http://www.foodforthought.net/learn-more/domestic-fair-trade.html

For more information on Food for Thought’s move to Fair Trade ingredients, click http://www.foodforthought.net/learn-more/fair-trade.html


Roots of Occupy

The Battle in Seattle, 1999

by Mickey Z

World News Trust (April 2012)

Photo Credit: Mickey Z.



In the present circumstances, I’d say that the only thing worth globalizing is dissent.

— Arundhati Roy



During a panel on animal liberation at the recent New York City Anarchist Bookfair, one of my co-presenters started a discussion about the World Trade Organization (WTO). Besides pointing out the crucial connections between such organizations/treaties and the global meat and dairy industries, he also reiterated the important role anti-WTO protests played in eventually inspiring Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

After that event, I was asked two questions that provoked this article. The first came from someone in the audience: “What are WTOs? I didn’t understand that part at all”.

Question #2 came from a fellow panelist who appeared baffled by my outspoken support for OWS throughout the event: “What is it that you like so much about Occupy?”

In the name of answering those questions, please allow me to cover way too much ground in a single article …

The WTO-OWS Connection

Created in 1995, the WTO describes itself as such:



The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.



Another take on the WTO from Global Exchange:



The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the most powerful legislative and judicial body in the world. By promoting the free trade agenda of multinational corporations above the interests of local communities, working families, and the environment, the WTO has systematically undermined democracy around the world.



In 1994, Ralph Nader offered $10,000 to any member of Congress who would read the 500-page treaty and answer ten questions about it. Colorado Senator Hank Brown took up the challenge. He passed the quiz and promptly announced that he would be voting against the WTO.

Brown’s vote was not nearly enough as others in Congress voted blindly in favor of corporate domination. Thus, when the truth about the WTO eventually became more widely known, the only vote left was to raise hell.

The organization’s decision to hold its annual meeting in Seattle in late 1999 provided activists with the stage from which they could heard by millions … and they made global headlines by essentially shutting down the meetings.

The protests weren’t perfect, of course. Different factions within the demonstration feuded over goals, issues, and tactics. Even the mainstream media recognized that paradox, with the Los Angeles Times stating:



Leaders of the peaceful demonstrations have lashed out at the anarchists, accusing them of undermining their anti-globalism message by breaking windows and destroying property. The anarchists in turn accused the Seattle protesters of protecting the same private-property interests that the WTO represents.



Infighting aside, the November 1999 events in Seattle injected American dissidents into an internationalist movement. In their book, Five Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (2001), Jeffrey Saint Clair and Alexander Cockburn declared that the “street warriors” who were “initially shunned and denounced by respectable ‘inside strategists’, scorned by the press, gassed and bloodied by the cops and national guard” were able to:

* Shut down the opening ceremony.

* Prevent President Bill Clinton from addressing the WTO delegates.

* Get the corporate press to actually mention police brutality.

* Force the cancellation of closing ceremonies.

Activist and author Chuck Munson of the Infoshop website listed some of the many accomplishments of the movement, post-Seattle. These include:

* The international Indymedia network.

*  The return of a direct action, confrontational style of protest.

*  Putting organizations like the WTO, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the microscope.

* Establishing the Internet as an activist’s most valuable tool of communication.

Sound familiar? As with OWS, the Battle in Seattle was not single-issue – not even close – and owed much of its success to the role anarchists played in cultivating a non-hierarchical approach aiming at systemic change rather than incremental reform.

“Ours is a worldwide guerilla war of publicity, harassment, obstructionism”, wrote Saint Clair and Cockburn. “It’s nothing simple, like the ‘Stop the War’ slogan of the 1960s. Capitalism could stop that war and move on. American capitalism can’t stop trade and survive on any terms it cares for.”

As Michael Albert of ZNet added, the goal is to globalize equity not poverty, solidarity not anti-sociality, diversity not conformity, democracy not subordination, and ecological balance not suicidal rapaciousness.

So, what took so long? What happened between 1999 and 2011?

The Obama-OWS Connection

Dissent spreads slowly in a heavily conditioned society and the United States is as conditioned as any society in history. It would require a wake-up call – a betrayal – of epic proportions to get more people in the streets to create a movement with endurance.

Enter Mr Yes We Can.

In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign hypnotized far too many on the entrenched Left but – more significantly – energized and politicized a new generation of Americans. When the Pope of Hope inevitably exposed himself as just another corporate-funded war criminal – when “hope & change” became indistinguishable from “shock & awe” – it was both a profound deception and a powerful lesson: “Change we can believe in” is never top-down … real change starts with the 99%.

Enter Occupy.

By setting the bar so high, Obama inspired misguided but sincere hope in millions. By betraying those millions so swiftly, he broke a cardinal rule of marketing. He revealed to voters cum consumers that there was little or no difference between the products being offered and thus inadvertently helped launch a movement I see as our last, best chance.

Which brings me back to the second question I faced the other night: “What is it that you like so much about Occupy?” Inherent in the wording (and tone of voice) was distrust if not disdain for OWS.

Without enough time to offer more than a quick answer, I focused on how the 99% umbrella is creating a massive coalition instead of single-issue activists – the first time I’d seen this since Seattle in 1999, yet far more enduring than any singular event.

Choose Process Over Purity

I’m not sure how my brief reply sounded to my co-panelist but I am sure how his question sounded to me. It brought me back to the early days of OWS when I found myself writing stuff like this, over and over:

Occupation is imperfection. Whether you call it anarchist, socialist, democratic, or utopian – it will never be perfect. More importantly, even if the initial results don’t satisfy the majority, consider this: The results will still be far better than anything we have now.

Occupation does not end. Let’s not waste time imagining potential endgames when we all know that a successful movement must be an enduring process.

Say no to purists, say no to opportunists, but find reasons to say yes to occupation.

There has never been a better time to be an activist …

When future generations ask what you did to defend all life on earth, will you talk of how effortlessly you deconstructed the impure revolutionary theory of those on the front lines or will you simply and honestly reply: “I did my part”?

So, beware the more-radical-than-thou purists and remain vigilant in smoking out those activists seeking excuses to remain in-activists. No one knows how OWS will play out but without the committed support of a wide range of allies, it cannot grow, evolve, and realize its potential.

The choice is yours: Find fault or find common ground. The future is waiting upon your decision.

We are the 99%. Expect us. Join us …

#OccupyImperfection. #OccupyParticipation.


Mickey Z is the author of eleven books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green (2011). Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.

(c) WorldNewsTrust.com – Share and re-post this story. Please include this copyright notice and a link to World News Trust.


Free trade ain’t free

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

by Mickey Z

World News Trust (September 13 2012)

Photo credit: Mickey Z

TPP is Wall Street’s global power grab – a death sentence for people with AIDS, for endangered rainforests, family farmers, and US jobs.

— Adam Weissman

Free (sic) trade agreements have a way of altering our lives in unexpected ways. For example, thanks to something called the “trade-related intellectual property rights” section of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) – precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO) – when a human gene is introduced to a sheep’s mammary glands to produce a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin, a sheep is no longer a mere “sheep”.

Instead, that woolly object is now a legally patented corporate commodity known as a “mammalian cell bioreactor”.

Not a sheep, not a lamb, but a mammalian cell bioreactor. Try it out: “Mary had a little mammalian cell bioreactor”.

If you don’t like it, don’t blame me. Blame GATT. Hell, you can blame all these so-called trade agreements because they’re really all about investors’ rights anyway.

For more details on the infamous WTO, here’s an article I wrote in April of this year: “Roots of Occupy: The Battle in Seattle, 1999”: http://worldnewstrust.com/roots-of-occupy-the-battle-in-seattle-1999-mickey-z

Of course, there’s also the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which, since the time it was enacted in 1994, the US Labor Department has certified more than 2.5 million American jobs as “destroyed by either direct offshoring or displacement by imports”.

Mic Check: There’s a huge difference between “free trade” and fair trade: http://www.foodforthought.net/learn-more/blog/fair-trade-or-free-trade.html

All this backroom betrayal has led us right up to what has been called “NAFTA on steroids”, potentially the mother of all free (sic) trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

Free Trade ain’t free … and it ain’t even trade

TPP, as described by the Citizens Trade Campaign, is a



massive new international trade pact being pushed by the US government at the behest of transnational corporations. The TPP is already being negotiated between the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – but it is also specifically intended as a ‘docking agreement’ that other Pacific Rim countries would join over time, with Japan, Korea, China and others already expressing some interest.  It is poised to become the largest Free Trade Agreement in the world.



“Trade is only a minor part of the agreement”, add the folks at TPP Watch, who call it “a clever branding exercise” and “an agreement that guarantees special rights to foreign investors”.

“TPP is a sweetheart deal for corporations who profit from hydrofracking, toxic dumping, mining, and the destruction of rainforests and other endangered ecosystems”, explains Adam Weissman of the Occupy Wall Street Trade Justice Working Group …



It grants corporate environmental destroyers the power to sue governments for unlimited sums in international tribunals for enforcing their environmental laws. Outrageously, corporations can sue not only to recoup their investments, but can demand compensation for all the money they might have made if they weren’t stopped from damaging the environment.



How will all this – and more – be possible? Under TPP, details Public Citizen, corporations would gain an array of privileges, for example:

* Rights to acquire land, natural resources, factories without government review.

* Risks and costs of offshoring to low wage countries eliminated.

* Special guaranteed “minimum standard of treatment” for relocating firms.

*  Compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor, and environmental, laws (indirect or “regulatory” takings compensation).

*  Right to move capital without limits.

* New rights cover vast definition of investment: intellectual property, permits, derivatives.

In addition:

* A major goal of US multinational corporations for TPP is to impose on more countries a set of extreme foreign investor privileges and rights and their private enforcement through the notorious “investor-state” system. This system elevates individual corporations and investors to equal standing with each TPP signatory country’s government – and above all of us citizens.

* Under this regime, foreign investors can skirt domestic courts and laws, and sue governments directly before tribunals of three private sector lawyers operating under World Bank and UN rules to demand taxpayer compensation for any domestic law that investors believe will diminish their “expected future profits”.

Such an agreement would also give animal agribusiness the opportunity to pressure countries to eliminate import safety standards and eliminate tariffs on US meat, dairy, and egg exports.

Translation: More animals suffering on factory farms, more climate change and factory farm pollution, more destruction of rainforests for livestock feed, more diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in the global South, more countries shifting to factory farming to stay competitive, and more outbreaks of deadly diseases like bird flu and swine flu.

As one might imagine, Wall Street is licking its chops over provisions like: prohibitions against limiting the size of financial institutions (that is, safeguards against “too big to fail”); prohibitions against firewalls between different types of financial institutions (that is, reinstating the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act); prohibitions against bans on specific financial products (that is, banning the sale of toxic assets); and prohibitions against capital controls (that is, tools designed to stabilize the flow of money into and out of a country).

To add insult to injury, under the auspices of TPP, the United States. is actively seeking to cut access to medicine in the name of boosting Big Pharma profits.

Those of you in the “lesser (sic) evil” crowd please note that both wings of the one American corporate party are swooning over TPP.

“President Obama is slamming Mitt Romney for refusing to release his taxes and for offshoring jobs at Bain Capital”, Weissman adds, “but the Obama administration is negotiating and refusing to release the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an eleven-country international outsourcing agreement that makes Bain look like a bunch of amateurs by comparison”.

Translation: You ain’t gonna stop TPP by voting.

You down with TPP?

All right, now that you’ve heard some (key word: some) of the sordid details, you might be wondering what – if anything – can stop TPP from becoming a rapacious reality.

Well, here’s the good news …

If you think NAFTA and GATT were the stuff of nightmares, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was a plot, cloaked in secrecy, designed to essentially eliminate those pesky nation-to-nation boundaries that stop our poor, neglected multinational corporations from competing in the global marketplace.

US CEO at the time, Bill Clinton, failed in his effort to fast-track MAI in 1997, but it was back on the table a year later. If implemented, the MAI would’ve granted trans-national corporations a unique brand of sovereignty that superseded national borders.

However, by April 1998, MAI had been soundly defeated thanks to perhaps the first ever Internet activist campaigns – a campaign that mobilized some twenty million people to speak out against and stop this global nightmare.

(Subsequently defeated by sustained public action: the “Millennial Round” of the WTO in 1999 and The Free Trade Area of the Americas [FTAA] in 2003.)

Like all battles against the one percent, the odds are long and the game is tilted in their favor, but it’s powerful to remember that:

1. As stated above, agreements like TPP have been defeated when the response was immediate, informed, broad-based, and sustained.

2. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has helped bring corporate malfeasance into the public’s awareness as never before.

We can begin by educating ourselves and the general public about the avaricious agenda of the one percent. Let’s spread the word that TPP isn’t an arcane exercise in DC double-talk. It will directly affect us – from access to medicine, a lack of food safety, more jobs lost, a faster rate of climate change, and too many more ways to list here.

Some resources:

Trade Justice
Citizens Trade Campaign
Trade Watch
Flush the TPP
Occupy the TPP
Stop TPP

Of course, we can and should go the usual route, the methods that beat back MAI, FTAA, et cetera – letters, petitions, et cetera – but I think if we also occupy a major effort towards public outreach, we stand a better chance.

If we can relentlessly and effectively expose how this deceptive design is whitewashing our past, oppressing our present, and jeopardizing our future, it would not only help us defeat TPP but also inspire others to more easily recognize the big connections.

In 1998, one activist said MAI was “like a political Dracula” which “simply cannot survive sunlight”. It’s our job, our duty to the future, to let the sun shine brightly on TPP and collectively drive a stake through its gluttonous heart.

So … I’ve laid out some of the details above and now I put it to you: What can and should we do about TPP? What are you willing to do and how soon will you do it? Post comments here or e-mail me (mickey@mickeyz.net) with your ideas.

I’d say it’s now or never …

But then again, what do I know? I’ve always been the black mammalian cell bioreactor in my family.


The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains several links not included here.

Mickey Z is the author of eleven books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green (2011). Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.

(c) WorldNewsTrust.com – Share and re-post this story. Please include this copyright notice and a link to World News Trust.


This Presidential Race Should Never Have Been This Close

by Matt Taibbi

Rolling Stone (September 25 2012)

The press everywhere is buzzing this week with premature obituaries of the Romney campaign. New polls are out suggesting that Mitt Romney’s electoral path to the presidency is all but blocked. Unless someone snags an iPhone video of Obama taking a leak on Ohio State mascot Brutus Buckeye, or stealing pain meds from a Tampa retiree and sharing them with a bunch of Japanese carmakers, the game looks pretty much up – Obama’s widening leads in three battleground states, Virginia, Ohio and Florida, seem to have sealed the deal.

That’s left the media to speculate, with a palpable air of sadness, over where the system went wrong. Whatever you believe, many of these articles say, wherever you rest on the ideological spectrum, you should be disappointed that Obama ultimately had to run against such an incompetent challenger. Weirdly, there seems to be an expectation that presidential races should be closer, and that if one doesn’t come down to the wire in an exciting photo finish, we’ve all missed out somehow.

Frank Bruni of The New York Times wrote a thoughtful, insightful editorial today that blames the painful, repetitive and vacuous campaign process for thinning the electoral herd and leaving us with only automatons and demented narcissists willing to climb the mountain:


Romney’s bleeding has plenty to do with his intrinsic shortcomings and his shortsightedness: how does a man who has harbored presidential ambitions almost since he was a zygote create a paper trail of offshore accounts and tax returns like his?

But I wonder if we’re not seeing the worst possible version of him, and if it isn’t the ugly flower of the process itself. I wonder, too, what the politicians mulling 2016 make of it, and whether, God help us, we’ll be looking at an even worse crop of candidates then.


The Times, meanwhile, ran a house editorial blaming Romney’s general obliqueness, his willingness to stretch the truth and his inability to connect with ordinary people for his fall. David Brooks ran a column suggesting that Romney’s overreliance on a message of strict market conservatism, ignoring the values message of “traditional” conservatism, was what killed him in the end.

All of these points of view have merit, I guess, but to me they’re mostly irrelevant. The mere fact that Mitt Romney is even within striking distance of winning this election is an incredible testament to two things: (a) the rank incompetence of the Democratic Party, which would have this and every other election for the next half century sewn up if they were a little less money-hungry and tried just a little harder to represent their ostensible constituents, and (b) the power of our propaganda machine, which has conditioned all of us to accept the idea that the American population, ideologically speaking, is naturally split down the middle, whereas the real fault lines are a lot closer to the 99 to one ratio the Occupy movement has been talking about since last year.

Think about it. Four years ago, we had an economic crash that wiped out somewhere between a quarter to forty percent of the world’s wealth, depending on whom you believe. The crash was caused by an utterly disgusting and irresponsible class of Wall Street paper-pushers who loaded the world up with deadly leverage in pursuit of their own bonuses, then ran screaming to the government for a handout (and got it) the instant it all went south.

These people represent everything that ordinarily repels the American voter. They mostly come from privileged backgrounds. Few of them have ever worked with their hands, or done anything like hard work. They not only don’t oppose the offshoring of American manufacturing jobs, they enthusiastically support it, financing the construction of new factories in places like China and India.

They’ve relentlessly lobbied the government to give themselves tax holidays and shelters, and have succeeded at turning the graduated income tax idea on its head by getting the IRS to accept a sprawling buffet of absurd semantic precepts, like the notions that “capital gains” and “carried interest” are somehow not the same as “income”.

The people in this group inevitably support every war that America has even the slimmest chance of involving itself in, but neither they nor their children ever fight in these conflicts. They are largely irreligious and incidentally they do massive amounts of drugs, from cocaine on down, but almost never suffer any kind of criminal penalty for their behavior.

That last thing I would say is probably appropriate, except for the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor (and mostly black and Hispanic) kids get tossed by cops every year (would you believe 684,000 street stops in New York alone in 2011?) in the same city where Wall Street’s finest work, and those kids do real time for possession of anything from a marijuana stem to an empty vial. How many Wall Street guys would you think would fill the jails if the police spent even one day doing aggressive, no-leniency stop-and-frisk checks outside the bars in lower Manhattan? How many Lortabs and Adderalls and little foil-wraps of coke or E would pop out of those briefcases?

For all this, when it came time to nominate a candidate for the presidency four years after the crash, the Republicans chose a man who in almost every respect perfectly represents this class of people. Mitt Romney is a rich-from-birth Ivy League product who not only has never done a hard day of work in his life – he never even saw a bad neighborhood in America until 1996, when he was 49 years old, when he went into some seedy sections of New York in search of a colleague’s missing daughter (“It was a shocker”, Mitt said. “The number of lost souls was astounding”).

He has a $250 million fortune, but he appears to pay well under half the maximum tax rate, thanks to those absurd semantic distinctions that even Ronald Reagan dismissed as meaningless and counterproductive. He has used offshore tax havens for himself and his wife, and his company, Bain Capital, has both eliminated jobs in the name of efficiency (often using these cuts to pay for payments to his own company) and moved American jobs overseas.

The point is, Mitt Romney’s natural constituency should be about one percent of the population. If you restrict that pool to “likely voters”, he might naturally appeal to two percent. Maybe three percent.

If the cliches are true and the presidential race always comes down to which candidate the American people “wants to have a beer with”, how many Americans will choose to sit at the bar with the coiffed Wall Street multimillionaire who fires your sister, unapologetically pays half your tax rate, keeps his money stashed in Cayman Islands partnerships or Swiss accounts in his wife’s name, cheerfully encourages finance-industry bailouts while bashing “entitlements” like Medicare, waves a pom-pom while your kids go fight and die in hell-holes like Afghanistan and Iraq and generally speaking has never even visited the country that most of the rest of us call the United States, except to make sure that it’s paying its bills to him on time?

Romney is an almost perfect amalgam of all the great out-of-touch douchebags of our national cinema: he’s Gregg Marmalaard from Animal House mixed with Billy Zane’s sneering, tux-wearing Cal character in Titanic to pussy-ass Prince Humperdinck to Roy Stalin to Gordon Gekko (he’s literally Gordon Gekko). He’s everything we’ve been trained to despise, the guy who had everything handed to him, doesn’t fight his own battles and insists there’s only room in the lifeboat for himself – and yet the Democrats, for some reason, have had terrible trouble beating him in a popularity contest.

The fact that Barack Obama needed a Himalayan mountain range of cash and some rather extreme last-minute incompetence on Romney’s part to pull safely ahead in this race is what really speaks to the brokenness of this system. Bruni of the Times is right that the process scares away qualified candidates who could have given Obama a better run for all that money. But what he misses is that the brutal campaign process, with its two years of nearly constant media abuse and “gotcha” watch-dogging, serves mainly to select out any candidate who is considered anything like a threat to the corrupt political establishment – and that selection process is the only thing that has kept this race close.

Barack Obama is hardly a complete Wall Street stooge. The country’s most powerful bankers seem genuinely to hate his guts, mainly because they’re delusional and are sincerely offended by anyone who dares to even generally criticize them for being greedy or ethically suspect, as Obama has with his occasional broadsides against “fat cat bankers” and so on.

On the other hand, Obama’s policy choices in the last four years have made it impossible for him to run aggressively against the corruption and greed and generally self-obsessed, almost cinematic douchiness that Romney represents.

With 300 million possible entrants in the race, how did we end up with two guys who would both refuse to bring a single case against a Wall Street bank during a period of epic corruption?

How did we end up with two guys who refuse to repeal the carried-interest tax break?

How did we end with two guys who supported a vast program of bailouts with virtually no conditions attached to them?

Citigroup has had so many people running policy in the Obama White House, they should open a branch in the Roosevelt Room. It’s not as bad as it would be in a Romney presidency, but it comes close.

If this race had even one guy running in it who didn’t take money from all the usual quarters and actually represented the economic interests of ordinary people, it wouldn’t be close. It shouldn’t be close. If one percent of the country controls forty percent of the country’s wealth – and that trend is moving rapidly in the direction of more inequality with each successive year – what kind of split should we have, given that at least one of the candidates enthusiastically and unapologetically represents the interests of that one percent?

To me the biggest reason the split isn’t bigger is the news media, which wants a close race mainly for selfish commercial reasons – it’s better theater and sells more ads. Most people in the news business have been conditioned to believe that national elections should be close.

This conditioning leads to all sorts of problems and journalistic mischief, like a tendency of pundits to give equal weight to opposing views in situations where one of those views is actually completely moronic and illegitimate, a similar tendency to overlook or downplay glaring flaws in a candidate just because one of the two major parties has blessed him or her with its support (Sarah Palin is a classic example), and the more subtly dangerous tendency to describe races as “hotly contested” or “neck and neck” in nearly all situations regardless of reality, which not only has the effect of legitimizing both candidates but leaves people with the mistaken impression that the candidates are fierce ideological opposites, when in fact they aren’t, or at least aren’t always. This last media habit is the biggest reason that we don’t hear about the areas where candidates like Romney and Obama agree, which come mostly in the hardcore economic issues.

It’s obviously simplistic to say that in a country where the wealth divide is as big as it is in America, elections should always be landslide victories for the candidate who represents the broke-and-struggling sector of the population. All sorts of non-economic factors, from social issues to the personal magnetism of the candidates, can tighten the races. And just because someone happens to represent the very rich, well, that doesn’t automatically disqualify him or her from higher office; he or she might have a vision for the whole country that is captivating (such a candidacy, however, would be more feasible during a time when the very rich were less completely besotted with corruption).

But when one of the candidates is Mitt Romney, the race shouldn’t be close. You’ll hear differently in the coming weeks from the news media, which will spend a lot of time scratching its figurative beard while it argues that a 54-46 split, or however this thing ends up (and they’ll call anything above 53% for Obama a rout, I would guess), is evidence that the system is broken. But what we probably should be wondering is why it was ever close at all.


The TPP: A Quiet Coup for the Investor Class

by Hilary Matfess

Foreign Policy in Focus (September 25 2012)

It would be a relief to report with any certainty that the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a massive proposed free-trade zone spanning the Pacific Ocean and all four hemispheres – are definitely empowering corporations to the detriment of workers, the environment, and sovereignty throughout the region. Unfortunately, the secretive and opaque character of the negotiations has made it difficult to report much of anything about them.

What can be confidently reported about the TPP is that, in terms of trade flows, it would be the largest free-trade agreement yet entered into by the United States – and, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, that the ministers negotiating the agreement “have expressed an intent to comprehensively reduce barriers in goods, services, and agricultural trade as well as rules and disciplines on a wide range of topics” to unprecedented levels. Yet despite these grandiose ambitions, details of the negotiations and drafts of the text have been purposefully withheld from Congress and American citizens.

The secrecy surrounding the negotiations is breathtaking. In July, 134 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk requesting that the appropriate congressional committees be consulted and that a draft of the text be released. The members reminded Kirk that draft texts were circulated and congressional committees consulted throughout the NAFTA negotiations in the early 1990s. Their letter received no response. A month later, House members petitioned Kirk to allow a congressional delegation to observe the negotiations – as in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the launch of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization, and numerous NAFTA rounds. Despite its persistence, Congress has not been granted any significant oversight or insight regarding the negotiations.

While Congress, the press, and the public have had to make do with leaked chapters of negotiations, Just Foreign Policy reports that 600 corporate lobbyists were granted access to the negotiated text. American democracy is in a sorry state when corporations are granted more access to even the text of sweeping government agreements than the public and its elected officials. Although corporate influence on US trade policy is hardly a new phenomenon, the simultaneous waning of congressional oversight is all the more unsettling.

In May, Democratic Representatives Barney Frank and Sander Levin wrote to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to express their concern about the TPP’s provisions entrenching capital mobility. Their letter requested “an official written statement of the US policy” concerning the ability of parties to the agreement to deploy capital controls in the face of a financial crisis. If the leaked drafts accurately reflect the direction of the negotiations, countries that instituted capital controls could be taken to court by private corporations and could be held liable for damages. Hundreds of economists signed letters in January and February 2011 opposing these provisions, yet the investment chapter leaked in June suggests that neither their concerns nor Frank’s and Levin’s were taken into consideration.

Other troubling trends have emerged in the leaked chapters. According to Citizen.org, the negotiations thus far have given corporations the right to avoid government review when acquiring land, natural resources, or factories. They have also banned corporate performance requirements, guaranteed compensation for the loss of “‘expected future profits’ from health, labor, [or] environmental” regulations, and included stunning provisions concerning the right to “move capital without limits”. If these are indeed terms of the TPP, then the agreement would make it nearly impossible for countries to hold corporations accountable for their conduct – and would in fact hold governments liable for any “damage” incurred by corporations due to the institution of regulations.

Many progressives had hoped that President Barack Obama would shift US trade policy away from staunch free-marketeering. But according to Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, the leaked chapters of the TPP “sent shock waves through Congress because it showed that US negotiators had totally abandoned Obama’s campaign pledges to replace the old NAFTA trade model and in fact were doubling down and expanding the very Bush-style deal that Obama campaigned against in 2008 to win key swing states”.

The struggle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership reveals a disturbing trend in American politics. The much discussed Citizens United ruling granting corporations personhood has given way to a trade negotiation process in which corporations are granted more rights than American citizens, their elected representatives, or foreign governments impacted by the deal. That trade negotiations with such an immense potential impact on numerous sectors of the American economy have been conducted in secret is troubling enough. To consider that those negotiating the treaty have willfully ignored experts and elected representatives in favor of corporate interests calls into question the sustainability of American democracy.


The original version of this, at the URL below, contains several links to further information not included here.


Hilary Matfess is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus.

Recommended Citation:

Hilary Matfess, “The TPP: A Quiet Coup for the Investor Class” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, September 25 2012)


Suicidal Services

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (September 11 2012)

Members of the US military, both officers and enlisted, are dying at a record pace – not at the hands of the enemy (although revenge killings of US servicemen by aggrieved Afghanis do feature prominently) but at their own hands. Suicide rates across all the branches – Army, Navy, Air Force, even the Coast Guard – are all registering large increases. More US servicemen die at their own hands than from any other cause.

The Army’s suicide rate last year stood at 24 per 100,000; this year it is higher. The rate of suicide for all American men is nineteen per 100,000, which is significantly lower, if computed over the entire lifetime. Taking into account the average Army length of enlistment of just under fifteen years and the US life expectancy of 78 years gives us an effective Army suicide rate of 125 per 100,000 – five times the US suicide rate, and three times the national suicide rate of any country on earth.

According to an article in Army Times, the military is responding to the epidemic of suicides in a number of ways:


Since 2008, the Defense Department has invested $110 million into its Military Suicide Prevention Program, including $50 million from the Army for a large-scale study of mental health, resilience and suicide risk.

The Army also has launched numerous initiatives to prevent suicide, including force-wide resilience training to help soldiers handle stress and mandatory mental health screenings.


What seems to elude them is the root cause of the high suicide rate in the military. Yes, there are accompanying risk factors such as drug use and various mental health issues, but none of these explains either the specifically high rate or the large recent increases. And yet the information they have been looking for has been available for over a century now, at any good research library. I am referring to the 1897 book Le Suicide by the pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim. In it he compiles tables of prevalence of suicide in various militaries around the world and finds that there is just one correlate so unmistakable that it would be folly not to ascribe significant causation to it. And that correlate is … length of military service. That’s right, the risk of suicide goes up with every year of active service and every deployment.

Durkheim probed deeper into the causes of military suicide, and argued that it is the result of a process of depersonalization, because military culture specifically values individuals in terms of their service to the group, and does not regard individuality as something valuable in and of itself. As a result, a soldier’s sense of self-worth erodes over time. This process begins right at induction: it generally takes a new recruit some 24 hours to realize that “Uncle Sam owns his ass” – from that point on his body and his time are government property. Gone is the special and unique snowflake cultivated by grade school teachers, replaced with a cog in a wheel in a military machine. And once that cog wears out and is replaced with a newer one, what reason is there left for it to live on?

If the Army wished to save lives lost to suicide, it could do it most effectively by reducing the number of deployments and reenlistments. Note that this also explains the recent sudden increase in the suicide rate for the US military: it tracks with the increased number of deployments. Also note that the increased risk of suicide incurred during active service is a lifelong increase which also translates into higher suicide rates among the veterans.

The number of deployments seems likely to fall in the coming years simply because the US is exhausted financially. In the meantime, a large demographic bulge of suicidal or near-suicidal former servicemen – several million of them – will attempt to reintegrate into society at a time of scarce jobs and economic dislocation. Although some money is likely to be thrown specifically at suicide prevention, it must be understood that suicide is just the most extreme in a wide range of possible negative outcomes, all of which result from psychological damage suffered during military service. It is just that other effects – destroyed families, destroyed personalities – are harder to quantify, but they are present nevertheless.

During the recent Republican and Democratic national conventions there was the usual lip service paid to “men and women in uniform” who were said to “defend our freedom”. While it is difficult to detect any positive effect of increased military action on “our freedom”, another effect is rather blatantly obvious: the increase in deployments correlates strongly with an increase in foreign arms sales:


Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.


Indeed, beyond bumping up the numbers for foreign arms sales, it is hard to see any other tangible benefit from the costly and protracted campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. But even if we overlook the ethical problem with ordering people into battle in order to fatten up the arms dealers, even with the arms sales numbers up dramatically, the investment still doesn’t pay off: the Iraq war cost well over a trillion dollars; in comparison, $20 to $30 billion is small potatoes. In business terms, this is pure suicide and a direct path to national bankruptcy. Maybe this is why a corporate raider like Mitt Romney is running for president: the US government seems ripe for a hostile takeover and a forced reorganization. Maybe Romney could hire Donald Trump to say “you’re fired” to Washington policy wonks and military brass (although he is quite good at that himself).

Of course, Romney could also double down on the failed militarist policy and attack Iran. And then when that gambit also fails (with catastrophic consequences) Romney, remaining true to his character, will claim that he didn’t have anything to do with it, he was just the President (as he did with Bain Capital), have his staff shred all the documents (as he did when leaving the Massachusetts State House) and then retreat to his lakeside mansion in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and play with his etch-a-sketch. And if the electorate finds Romney a little too obvious a scoundrel and Obama wins reelection, then the whole thing will remain on autopilot – until it crashes. America, the choice is yours.


The following comment from username Luciddreams is being promoted for its obvious excellence.

I was in the Arabian Sea on 9/11 on the USS Carl Vinson as a nuke [nuclear technician]. I hated my life … every second of every day. We were at sea for 115 days, each of which was a workday. You come to the conclusion rather quickly that fluorescent lights are bad for the soul. Combine that with that circulating fart/oil smell that pervades the ship and you have a recipe for miserable toiling. While we were out there, some dude on the Kityhawk threw himself off of the hanger bay and into the ocean. A dude on our ship crawled in a bilge and refused to come out all while starving himself. Me and my buddy told the navy we were gay in hopes we could go home. Some people repeatedly pissed their bed … and some people just killed themselves.

The point is, and I can speak with authority here having experienced it myself, military service sucks. Everybody is miserable; even the ones who continually reenlist hate their lives. They just do it because they know they have lost the ability to make it as a civilian. In the civilian world it’s easy to get shitcanned. In the military any dumbass can hang on long enough and eventually make rank. They usually do, so you end up with complete retards as bosses, further adding to the misery.

Simply put, the reason for higher suicide [rate] in the military, beyond the unique conditions for breeding misery, is the loss of individuality. Those of weak mind forget how to be individuals beyond their military role. Shooting women and babies in the face at point blank range probably doesn’t help matters much either. All for what? Oil? Profit for the military industrial complex? I think the causality for this is rather obvious.