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Archive for February, 2014

Nuland: The Message Beneath the Vulgarity

by Patrick Smith

Foreign Policy in Focus (February 21 2014)

Every time we overhear US diplomats talking when we are not supposed to, the conduct of American foreign policy sounds less imaginative, more reckless, and astonishing in its fidelity to eras many of us thought would never come again. Who would have thought Obama’s conduct abroad would recall so closely Eisenhower’s  –  the years when the Dulles Brothers, Allen at the CIA and John Foster at State, made sheer havoc in the name of American security  –  and thus reproduce an eternal state of insecurity?

Allergic to history, American administrations can learn nothing from it. Einstein’s thought on insanity  –  doing the same thing incessantly and wanting a new result  –  is the default position. No wonder America’s relations in the Middle East and across both oceans have deteriorated since the Germans took down the Berlin Wall.

The latest lifting of the lid occurred earlier this month, when a covert recording was released via YouTube. The revelations are better than some in the unprecedented tidal wave of material that Wikileaks released in the summer and autumn of 2010.

This time we are in Kiev, and we get to hear two American diplomats talking about Washington’s plan, already in motion, to install a client regime in the Ukraine. The operational detail is astonishing. The incident has received no serious coverage in any American media, so it is another story of the Fourth Estate’s diseased relations to political power, too. With Kiev again erupting in violent confrontation, an understanding of the possible role of covert activities is essential to a complete picture.

The two State Department officials are Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary for European affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the Obama administration’s ambassador in Kiev. Both are foreign service careerists, and it shows that just prior to the wave of protests, they were  ready to disrupt the Ukrainian political process with subterfuge and manipulation that are of a fine Cold War vintage.

YouTube disseminated the four-minute audio clip {1} on February 6. It went briefly viral, mostly because of Nuland’s R-rated recommendation for the European Union, which also takes a lively interest in Ukraine these days. The Europeans, she told Pyatt, should be shoved aside with what in another context would be called the act of love.

“No, exactly”, the sycophantic Pyatt replies without missing a syllable.

Well, yes, exactly. The sailor’s language is surprising, and maybe a little fun to find in an exchange between a supposedly sophisticated diplomat and a bureaucrat  whose ignorance should have debarred her from policy formation. But anyone titillated by Nuland’s vulgar tongue more than very briefly misses the point entirely.

As the recording spread around the world, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski quickly tweeted, “Critics of @VictoriaNuland worldwide: let him who has never used strong language in private cast the first stone”. This is the point. Forget that stone. There are others to cast.

We do not know who recorded these remarks. It was almost certainly the Russians, though neither Moscow nor Kiev has had any comment. And it is unlikely, not to say ridiculous, that Moscow might have thought Nuland’s vulgarity was worth exposing. Sikorski was one with Russian President Vladimir Putin on this, though he did not intend to be. The clip is about meddling; this was Putin’s point (assuming it was Putin who ordered the point made).

Between Russia and Europe

As a republic in the old Soviet Union, Ukraine had been restless within its economic and geopolitical political confines since it declared independence in 1991. It desired to shake free of the ancien regime in favor of freer markets, a more liberal society, and so on.

Last year President Viktor Yanukovich was in negotiations with the European Union for an extensive trade agreement. With the economy flat at best and national debt large, it was to be signed in tandem with an International Monetary Fund bailout. It would have been the key moment of departure for Ukrainians: They would walk away from their post–Soviet inheritance and enter  –  tentatively at first, maybe more later  –  the West European orbit.

Yanukovich had been avowedly in favor of geopolitical and economic reinvention. Then he pulled an abrupt volte-face, turning back to Moscow and a $15-billion bailout dangled by Putin. And this is when protesters against the Yanukovich government, as seen and described in the world’s media daily, began to fill Kiev’s streets.

It is plain what happened. And demonizing Yanukovich is a distraction. Many in his opposition are oligarchs of the new Russian model, in it for the opportunity, wishing to replace corruption under Yanukovich with a variant more beneficial to themselves. No heroes here. While Yanukovich, elected in 2010, was all for the break with Moscow, he finally reckoned Ukraine could not afford it. The EU’s offers came with too many conditions and amounted to a small fraction of Putin’s; they did not adequately address an economy in critical trouble.

As the protests escalated, Moscow announced that it would release a $2-billion tranche of the bailout via purchases of Ukrainian bonds. It had earlier spent $3 billion on Kiev’s sovereign paper, but Putin had suspended funds late last month after the resignation of Yanukovich’s Moscow-tilted Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. The resumption of funding is plainly a setback for the Europeans and Americans, even as protests in the capital intensified dramatically in apparent response.

It is difficult to read these disturbances now. Several leaders in the fight against Yanukovich do not enjoy the allegiance of some of the more confrontational opposition factions. Equally, the Nuland audio tape is suggestive when one keeps history in mind. We cannot possibly know if the intervention Nuland and Pyatt described included street-level provocations. But neither can we ignore the striking similarities between these disturbances and the social and political mayhem Allen Dulles ordered repeatedly when undermining undesired leaders during the 1950s and 1960s.

That same week, and on the other side of the world, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered three US diplomats expelled, charging them with cultivating students to act against the government. This is the third set of expulsions Caracas has ordered in the past year. Venezuela has faced incessant US attempts to subvert it covertly since the late Hugo Chavez was elected in 1999. The thought that we are witnessing the same in Ukraine now simply can’t be dismissed.

A Reuters correspondent, Elizabeth Piper, produced a superb blow-by-blow {2} account of Ukraine’s predicament late last year. In it she quoted Volodymyr Oliynyk, a close ally of the president. “We go one way to Russia and we get hit”, he said. “We go the other way, to Europe, and we get hit. We stand still, and we get hit.” And then, referring to the turn back to Moscow: “But it will hurt less this way”.

It is persuasive. Look at the numbers Piper cites. Read the EU conditions, some of which were spiteful and had no intent other than to cultivate euro-tilted political tendencies. And, as always, the IMF’s conditionality reeked of ideological bias.

We saw this repeatedly after the Wall came down. There is a tendency among the East European nations to idealize the West, as if westernizing is the solution to all problems. I see this among the Kiev demonstrators. It is a mistake. Disillusion is never far when people follow this line of thought to its end.

The East-West contention on the Ukraine question has produced an essentialism that works entirely against the interest of Ukrainian citizens. The way out of this  –  unlikely as it may prove  –  is to repudiate the thought that their choice lies in choosing one side or the other. In a better world, Ukrainians would decide how best to be Ukrainian and let other nations interact as they will on this basis.

The Essence of Nuland’s Remark

The Europeans and the Americans share a goal in Ukraine. The West unites around the thought of undermining Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions and pushing institutions such as NATO up to his doorstep. But there’s a difference, too. The EU proposes doing this by enticing Kiev westward with a carrot surrounded on the dish with sticks. They prefer negotiation  –  tough, calculated negotiation  –  to intervention, remaining within international law, while the Americans want to go in directly to exert covert influence in the political process.

Nuland’s language interests me only to the extent that it reveals the extraordinary limitations of an influential representative of the United States. Repeat the infamous phrase a few times, think of who said it and at what moment, and you are forced to recognize it is actually supposed to stand as a policy judgment.

More interesting by far are the machinations Nuland and Pyatt describe. The American plot revolves around manipulating various figures in the opposition, backing the fortunes of some, keeping others from the table, and thereby inducing a friendly, post–Yanukovich government of one kind or another, compromised from its very conception.

On the YouTube segment, we are present for a brief four minutes of a months- long conversation. But the undertaking is clear in outline and apparently not far from getting under way. “I think we’re in play”, Pyatt offers. And:  “We’ve got to do something to make it stick … We want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing.”

On this last point, Nuland thinks Vice President Biden is the man, and she is pleased to have twisted Ban Ki-moon’s much-twisted arm to get some good UN cover in the meantime. “That would be great”, she remarks, “to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, f –  the EU”.

Media Coverage

There are a couple of good guides through this important audio clip  –  interestingly but unsurprisingly in the foreign media. The best was by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, who gives us an annotated transcript {3} explaining what we hear (or read). The US coverage, such as it was, was unusually craven, even by the standards of the American press and broadcasters. The New York Times is a good enough example, especially given the extent to which other media take it as a guide to the acceptable.

The Times reported the story dutifully and austerely when it broke. It offered no description of the tape’s content beyond the vulgar language, no analysis of the recording’s evidence of intervention. Then Mark Landler, the Times’ State Department correspondent, pitched Nuland a disgraceful softball {4}, referring to the recording as a “salty peek at Trans–Atlantic strains”. Again, the subject was limited to the indiscretion. With stunning credulousness, Landler quoted Nuland  –  defended as “a competent, experienced, well-briefed diplomat”  –  as she spun the gaffe. “Part of my charm, and my liability, is that I call it like I see it”, she said.

It is remarkable that a newspaper of the Times’ prominence would reproduce this thought without questioning it. Nuland may call it as she sees it, but she does not see at all broadly. To be as fair to Landler as one can be, his intent appears to have been limited to assuring his future access at State. He wrote a one-source story. This is how Times correspondents customarily cover Washington.

Lessons to Learn

Look at a map. What good could possibly come of an attempt to install a client government on Russia’s doorstep? How could anyone judge this wise  –  or to hold even a smidgeon of promise? Look also at history. Have Nuland and Pyatt and those above them reflected on how sixty-odd years of these kinds of operations have worked out? It’s not a pretty record.

I hear a disturbing inability to think or see the world as it is or alter course in those four minutes. Foreign policy is pure function now. There is no need to consider the why or the wisdom of it in response to a new era. Ambitious apparatchiks will simply get it done as it has been done before.

In Ukraine, two US policymakers debate the fate of a nation. In Washington, policymakers should be considering instead the fate of their own, a country that seems incapable of change in a world busy changing.

Links:

{1} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QxZ8t3V_bk

{2} http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/19/us-ukraine-russia-deal-special-report-idUSBRE9BI0DZ20131219

{3} http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26079957

{4} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/world/europe/from-least-diplomatic-diplomat-salty-peek-at-trans-atlantic-strains.html?_r=0

_____

Patrick Smith was a correspondent abroad for many years and now writes foreign affairs commentary. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (2013). He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

http://fpif.org/nuland-message-beneath-vulgarity

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave Ukraine Alone!

2014/02/28 1 comment

by Ron Paul

http://ronpaulinstitute.org (February 23 2014)

Last week Ukraine saw its worst violence since the break-up of the Soviet Union over twenty years ago. Protesters occupying the main square in the capitol city, Kiev, clashed with police leaving many protesters and police dead and many more wounded. It is an ongoing tragedy and it looks like there is no end in sight.

The current conflict stems from a divide between western Ukraine, which seeks a closer association with the European Union, and the eastern part of the country, which has closer historic ties to Russia.

The usual interventionists in the US have long meddled in the internal affairs of Ukraine. In 2004 it was US government money that helped finance the Orange Revolution, as US-funded NGOs favoring one political group over the other were able to change the regime. These same people have not given up on Ukraine. They keep pushing their own agenda for Ukraine behind the scenes, even as they ridicule anyone who claims US involvement.

A recent leaked telephone conversation between two senior government officials made it clear that not only was the US involved in the Ukrainian unrest, the US was actually seeking to determine who should make up the next Ukrainian government!

Senator John McCain, who has made several trips to Ukraine recently to meet with the opposition, wrote last week that the US must stand up to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.

Why are US government officials so eager to tell the Ukrainians what they should do? Has anyone bothered to ask the Ukrainians? Perhaps the ongoing violence could be alleviated if Ukrainians decided to re-make the country as a looser confederation of regions. Perhaps Ukraine engaged in peaceful trade with countries both to the west and east would benefit all sides. But outside powers seem to be fighting a proxy war, with Ukraine suffering the most because of it.

If you asked most Americans how they feel, my bet is that you would discover they are sick and tired of the US government getting involved in every crisis that arises. Certainly the American people want none of of this intervention in Ukraine. They understand, as recent polls have shown, that our interventionist foreign policy is only creating more enemies overseas. And they also understand that we are out of money. We could not afford to be the policemen of world even if we wanted to be.

And I bet if we asked the Ukrainians, a vast majority of them would prefer that the US – and Russia and the European Union – stay out their affairs and respect their sovereignty. Is it so difficult to understand why people resent being lectured and bribed by foreign governments? All we need to do is put ourselves in the place of the Ukrainians and ask ourselves how we would feel if we were in the middle of a tug-of-war between a very strong Canada on one side and a very strong Mexico on the other. We would resent it as well. So let’s keep our hands off of Ukraine and let them solve their own problems!

http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2014/february/23/leave-ukraine-alone!.aspx

Categories: Uncategorized

As growth slows …

… Bank of Japan “opens spigot” to the rich

by John Watanabe

World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org (February 26 2014)

The Japanese economy slowed markedly in the final quarter of 2013, pointing to an unraveling of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-vaunted “Abenomics”. Statistics released last week revealed that GDP grew by only 0.3 percent (1.2 percent annualised) for the quarter – less than half the expected 0.7 percent. Overall growth for 2013 was just 1.6 percent. The slowdown reflected weakening exports, private consumption and corporate capital spending.

After coming to office in December 2012, Abe proclaimed that his economic policy, dubbed Abenomics, had three “arrows”. The first was an unprecedented monetary easing policy to double Japan’s monetary base over 21 months, from its initiation in April 2013. As with the US “quantitative easing” program, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) pumps sixty to seventy trillion yen ($585 to $680 billion) annually into the economy, mainly through government bond-buying. The central bank is aiming to achieve two percent inflation and end more than a decade of deflation. The second “arrow” involved a modest stimulus spending program.

The final “arrow” consisted of anti-working class “structural reforms”. These are yet to be announced in detail, but the general aim is to further dismantle job security and undermine wages and working conditions while cutting corporate taxes. At the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Abe indicated that this was in store when he boasted of carrying out pro-market reforms previously thought impossible. A “new dawn [is] … breaking over Japan”, he declared, promising that “companies … will find Japan among the most business-friendly places in the world”.

The first two “arrows” produced limited economic growth during the second and third quarters of last year. However, as in the US, this was largely based on rising stock market prices, fueled by easy money. The latest slowdown points to the limitations of such economic activity, yet the official response was more of the same.

The day after the worsening GDP data was published, the central bank announced what Bloomberg termed “opening the lending spigot”. Last Tuesday, the BOJ decided to keep unchanged the pace of its expansion of the country’s monetary base. The bank also extended for one year a lending program previously set to expire in March, and doubled the amount it lends virtually for free to banks.

While funding costs for the nation’s lenders average 0.97 percent, the BOJ will now provide seven trillion yen ($68 billion) in fiscal 2014 – which starts in April – to financial institutions at only 0.1 percent interest. The central bank also relaxed the rules, to allow individual banks to borrow twice as much as before.

The markets celebrated the BoJ announcement, with Tokyo stocks rallying 3.13 percent the same day. The decision was what the financial elite had been demanding.

Japanese Bankers Association chief Takeshi Kunibe told a press conference the previous week: “The BOJ’s lending program is a very useful and meaningful tool to secure the Japanese economy’s growth and allow banks to provide funds with companies aggressively … We’d like the BOJ to extend the facility”. Kunibe is also a president of the lending unit of the Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, one of several financial trusts dominating the world’s third largest economy.

However, the banks are not using the money to lend to companies. They are hoarding it and diverting it into stock speculation. Bloomberg noted “growing stockpiles of cash” that the banks “aren’t deploying for loans”, citing data showing “financial institutions’ reserves … almost tripled over the past year”.

As far as the corporate elite is concerned, these expansionary policies are boosting the international competitiveness of Japanese export industries against their global rivals by lowering the yen, and shifting the economic burden onto the working class through inflation.

The yen declined by some eighteen percent in 2013, while Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei index soared 57 percent, its best performance in decades. At the same time, the working class is facing rising prices and falling wages, and will suffer disproportionally from the coming sales tax hike, from five to eight percent starting from April, and ten percent next year.

Reflecting the BOJ’s inflationary policies, consumer prices were already up last year, for the first time in five years. They rose by 1.6 percent, with fresh food prices soaring by 13.6 percent, and electricity 8.2 percent.

On the other hand, wages fell 0.6 percent in November from a year earlier, the eighteenth consecutive monthly drop. The Associated Press noted that “Japan’s median household income of 3.8 million yen ($38,700) in 2012 was down from 4.5 million yen in 1997”, and concluded: “Today’s workers are worse off than their parents and their incomes continued to fall in 2013 …”

Asked by the Associated Press about Abenomics, retiree Takeshi Onodera commented: “Up to now, it’s all been a minus. I don’t see any signs it’s made a difference. Really, it hasn’t reached us.”

Especially hard hit are non-regular – part-time and temporary workers – who now account for 37 percent of the Japanese workforce. Not only are they paid about a third of what regular employees make, they are most often not covered by health insurance, pensions or unemployment benefits.

What the Associated Press referred to as the “already Spartan social safety net” is also under attack. Welfare benefits were cut ten percent last August, with further reductions planned.

The sales tax hike – the first since 1997 – will also affect economic growth, with economists predicting a 3.9 percent decline in the quarter from April. The tax rise was urged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and pushed through parliament by the previous Democratic Party of Japan government, with support from the now-ruling Liberal Democrats and New Komeito.

The doubling of the sales tax rate will have a major impact on domestic demand, but do little to address the huge public debt, which stands at some 240 percent of GDP. Japan used to be able to balance this through trade surpluses. Since 2012, however, Japan has had record trade deficits. Last year, the deficit swelled to $112 billion, the biggest since comparable data started in 1979.

Abe’s economic policies amount to currency warfare against Japan’s global competitors, and are reminiscent of beggar-thy-neighbor policies of the major powers during the 1930s. Then, as now, such economic policies both feed off heightened global geo-political tensions, and in turn further inflame them, while deepening the assault on the living standards of the working class at home.

Copyright (c) 1998-2014 World Socialist Web Site – All rights reserved

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/26/japa-f26.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The Good Life

Mobility, Anonymity, Freedom

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (February 18 2014)

The recent advances in networked mobile computing has made it rather unnecessary for a large class of people – ones who use computers for work – to maintain a fixed abode: it is now possible to do all the same things, via the Internet, from any place in the world that has a wifi signal.

If your work involves designing, writing and testing, or simply running software, then all you really need is a laptop, with a way to charge it. (In a sunny place, 200 watts of solar panels plus a couple of six volt golf cart batteries, a charge controller, and an inverter are all you need.) If you are doing research, then it turns out that a lot of libraries have gone electronic too, and that there is less and less reason to clamber around the dusty stacks, looking for a call number that of course isn’t there because the book is either checked out, misplaced, or lost altogether. In short, showing up is no longer important; all that matters is being able to get online.

What’s more, such mobility has become a definite plus, as more and more businesses have become virtual, relying on contractors that do their work remotely. Most such employers hardly ever have reason to see you in person; however, most of them really, truly, deeply care where you are physically. They want you to be nearby, just in case. In case of what, exactly? Nobody can tell you that, except that it is important. I only mention this because it’s true: it’s something I know from experience.

Suppose you have a job that involve banging away at a laptop for eight to ten hours a day for some company whose offices are located in a major urban center. You could, of course, rent an apartment in that urban center, buy a car, brave the traffic morning and evening, and spend your days sitting in an empty cube behind your laptop (which you carry back and forth with you), overhearing inane conversations from people who aren’t really your coworkers (inevitably, your real coworkers/contractors/clients/support people are on the Internet, and you communicate with them using email and videoconferencing). You have to pay rent, make payments on the car, pay for gasoline, pay for lunches from the cafeteria or from some fast food joint nearby. All the while, you would constantly encounter stressed-out, money-obsessed people compulsively poking at various electronic devices while ignoring each other.

All of these things are draining, both financially and psychologically, and so your productivity and morale suffers, and you spend more and more of your workday wasting time on Internet newsgroups and blogs. Your employer has no idea, or doesn’t care, as long as you are in your cube and staring and the screen for at least eight ours a day. But demoralization can become so profound that it gives rise to passive-aggressive behavior and in due course produces something like a secret work-to-rules strike, for any endeavor can be brought to a halt simply by following rules meticulously and refusing to stray outside one’s job description. After breathing the same air with such colleagues, you come home every night too drained to do much beyond warming up a pre-manufactured meal and taking in a dose of television, although more often than not you end up checking and responding to emails and answering phone calls even while at home, once again driving home the point that it doesn’t matter where you are. If your employer is even slightly enlightened, then you will be allowed to work remotely. Of course, you’d be expected to stay in town, in order to show up on a moment’s notice (for what?).

Now, you could also do the same work from an undisclosed tropical location where rent is tiny, if you choose to rent, or where you can buy a house with a few of months’ wages. In the mornings, you could go for a run on the beach and a swim, and then settle down with the laptop in a chaise longue in the shade by the pool, listening to exotic birds and watching neighborhood kids and pets run around unattended. You would do your shopping by bicycle. In your spare time you could go surfing, or scuba-diving, or go hike through the jungle and admire the wildlife, or party with the motley crew of international backpackers that happen to be filtering through the area. Since everyone around you would be happy and relaxed, you would be happy and relaxed too, and your productivity would soar, allowing you to finish the usual daily workload in half the time, and to deliver stunning results. Of course, if your employer ever finds out your secret, then you are in big trouble.

But how would your employer find out? Your laptop can connect to the company servers (which are not even where the company has its offices but in the cloud somewhere) from anywhere in the world. If security is an issue, the connection can be via an encrypted tunnel. Your phone is on wifi and you can make and receive calls that look like they are coming from the local area code. A friend of yours, who happens to live in the area where you are supposed to physically reside, has agreed put your name on her mailbox, so that official correspondence has a place to go. You provided her with a signature stamp, so that she can stamp checks and letters that you periodically email to her to print out and send off. This more or less completes your virtual façade.

What could go wrong? Well, most people couldn’t possibly pull this off, for the simple reason that they are hopeless when it comes to maintaining their anonymity. They use Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, which specifically destroy their anonymity and lay their lives out there for all to see – their employers, the cops who pull them over, border patrol, IRS agents – anyone who cares to look. They load up their smartphone with apps that track their location. If they blog, they blog in their own name. In short, instead of being savvy users of modern technology, turning it to their advantage, they act like cattle for the slaughter, making it trivial for corporations and the government to examine and control, to tax and to monetize, and generally manipulate and control every aspect of their existence. They volunteer to be slaves.

In a very direct, simple way,

 

Freedom = Mobility + Anonymity

 
It seems uncontroversial that if you can’t move, you are more or less in jail. It doesn’t have to be a physical jail: you could be wearing an ankle bracelet, or just fulfill the requirement that you show up at the same place every weekday morning. Just being able to move, in a theoretical I-could-if-I-wanted-to sort of way, doesn’t count as mobility. Anybody can catch a flight somewhere … and then two weeks later catch a flight back to where they started. Anybody can “travel” – for pleasure or for business. True mobility is in being able to go from place to place to place, keeping your base of operations virtual, limited to a name on a mailbox and a cell phone with an area code that matches the postal code of the mailbox. The two hallmarks of mobility are that your “public location” – where prying eyes think you are – is mostly fictional, and that your “physical location” – where your physical body resides – is arbitrary, irrelevant, and secret. The best choice for a “public location” is a US state with no income taxes but with high property taxes – but in which you don’t own any property.

Of course, anonymity is what makes it all possible and here it is possible to go very far. The first step is to delete all the social networking accounts. Next is to start using email using any number of services that reside in countries that are not subject to US or EU law, do not maintain logs, and do not respond to official requests for information. Next is to encrypt all your communications. Clearly, you do not want your physical being to be associated with any electronic representation of you. If there is a public profile photo of you, it should be of someone else (more attractive) who looks like you. If you publish, do so under a pseudonym, or, better yet, a group pseudonym, because it is amazing how much the simple shift from “anonymous person” to “anonymous persons” does to frustrate efforts to identify you. “Tyler Durden” of Zerohedge is a good example of that strategy, and illustrates the close connection between anonymity and freedom of expression. Of course, if you stay in one place for too long people will eventually find out who you are (there are always enough busybodies around for that). If you are abroad, then eventually your visa will expire; if you are in a country for which you have a passport, the local authorities will eventually become inquisitive. And so it’s best to stay on the move.

Thus, mobility requires anonymity, and anonymity requires mobility, and both equate with not just freedom, but with nomadism. And nomadism, in turn, requires that your status as a nomad be kept secret, for, as James C Scott wrote in the introduction to his book Seeing like a State (1998),

 

the state has always seemed to be the enemy of ‘people who move around’ … gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, run-away slaves and serfs [emphasis mine] have always been a thorn in the side of states. Efforts to permanently settle these mobile peoples (sedentarization) seemed to be a perennial state project – perennial, in part, because it so seldom succeeded.

 

And so you should be a “resident” in the place where you don’t live, and a “tourist” in any number of places where you do (sometimes) live. These are simple, uncontroversial, popular categories that require very little in the way of confirmation.

There is another potential benefit to this sort of virtual existence, but its importance depends on your estimate of the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse breaking out: it allows you to relocate to a place, or places, that are far away from the ground zero of zombie apocalypse (which is what every major city is) and to hide out in some calm backwater where your chances of riding out the transition period, when the zombies all eat each others’ brains, in relative comfort.

http://cluborlov.blogspot.jp/2014/02/the-good-life-mobility-anonymity-freedom.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The Top Ten Myths …

… Used by Obama’s Top Trade Official

Fact-checking Michael Froman

by Ben Beachy

Public Citizen Eyes on Trade (February 20 2014)

US Trade Representative Michael Froman tried in a speech yesterday to defend the Obama administration’s beleaguered trade policy agenda: the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) pacts and an unpopular push to Fast Track those sweeping deals through Congress.  The list of those publicly opposing the Fast Track push includes most House Democrats, a sizeable bloc of House Republicans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and 62% of the US voting public.

In attempt to justify the administration’s polemical pacts, Froman resorted to some statements of dubious veracity, ranging from half-truths to outright mistruths.  To set the record straight, here are the top ten Froman fables, followed by inconvenient facts that undercut his assertions and help explain the widespread opposition to TPP, TAFTA, and Fast Track.

1. Access to affordable medicines

Froman:  “[In TPP] we’re working to find better ways to foster affordable access to medicines … ”

Fact:  This is one of the bigger whoppers to escape Froman’s mouth during the speech.  Leaked negotiating texts reveal that US proposals for the TPP go beyond prior US pacts in handing large pharmaceutical corporations unprecedented monopoly patent protections that would restrict the availability of life-saving generic medicines and raise healthcare costs in TPP countries.  The US TPP proposals would empower pharmaceutical firms to extend medicine patents beyond what the World Trade Organization allows, to patent even the methods for treating patients, and to re-patent existing medicines without actually inventing anything new.  A broad array of public health groups have condemned the overreaching US TPP proposals, warning that they would “jeopardize many, if not millions, of lives”.

2. Income inequality

Froman:  “Our trade policy is a major lever for encouraging investment here at home in manufacturing, agriculture and services, creating more high-paying jobs and combating wage stagnation and income inequality”.

Fact:  First, study after study has shown no correlation between a country’s willingness to sign on to TPP-style pacts and its ability to attract foreign investment, casting doubt on Froman’s promise of a job-creating investment influx.  But more importantly, Froman opted to ignore a big part of why US workers are currently enduring such acute levels of “wage stagnation and income inequality”.  He did not mention the academic consensus that status quo US trade policy, which the TPP would expand, has contributed significantly to the historic rise in US income inequality.  The only debate has been the extent of trade’s inequality-exacerbating impact.  A recent study estimates that trade flows have been responsible for more than ninety percent of the rise in income inequality occurring since 1995, a period characterized by trade pacts that have incentivized the offshoring of decently-paid US jobs and forced US workers to compete with poorly-paid workers abroad.  How can the TPP, a proposed expansion of the trade policies that have exacerbated inequality, now be expected to ameliorate inequality?

3. Internet freedom

Froman:  “I’ve heard some critics suggest that TPP is in some way related to SOPA [the Stop Online Piracy Act].  Don’t believe it.  It just isn’t true … ”

Fact:  Froman’s attempt to assuage fears of a TPP-provided backdoor to SOPA-like limits on Internet freedom would be more convincing if (a) he offered details beyond “it just isn’t true”, or (b) if his statement didn’t directly contradict leaked TPP texts.  A November leak of the draft TPP intellectual property chapter revealed, for example, that the US is proposing draconian copyright liability rules for Internet service providers that, like SOPA, threaten to curtail Internet users’ free speech.  Indeed, while nearly all other TPP countries have agreed to a proposed provision to limit Internet service providers’ liability, the United States is one of two countries to oppose such flexibility.

4. Corporate trade advisors

Froman:  “Our cleared advisors do include representatives from the private sector …  [but] they [also] include representatives from every major labor union, public health groups … environmental groups … as well as development NGOs …”

Fact:  About ninety percent of the members of the official US trade advisory system explicitly represent industry interests.  These “advisors” are granted privileged access to US negotiators and secretive trade negotiating texts.  Less than nine percent of the advisors represent the union, public health, consumer, or development organizations that Froman touts.  And most of those non-industry representatives are cloistered into just two of the advisory system’s 28 committees, while sixteen of the committees have zero non-business representatives.  These industry-only committees meet with administration representatives three times as often as the system’s single labor committee, as highlighted by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in a recent letter criticizing the lack of TPP consultation with union representatives who ostensibly serve as “advisors”.

Froman:  “I’m pleased to announce that we are upgrading our advisory system to provide a new forum for experts on issues like public health, development and consumer safety.  A new Public Interest Trade Advisory Committee, or PTAC, will join the Labor Advisory Committee and the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committees to provide cross-cutting platforms for input in the negotiations”.

Fact:  Froman’s announcement of a new “public interest” committee – a response to the outcry over the vast imbalance of this corporate-dominated advisory system – offers too little, too late. Amid a slew of advisory committees exclusively devoted to narrow industry interests, the “public interest” now gets a single committee?  And how much influence will this committee have in changing the many core TPP provisions that threaten the public interest, now that the administration hopes to conclude TPP negotiations, which have been going on for four years, in the coming months?  Proposed as a TPP afterthought, this new committee comes across as window-dressing, not a genuine restructuring of a system that gives corporations insider access to an otherwise closed trade negotiation process.

5. Fast Track

Froman:  Fast Track is “the mechanism by which Congress has worked with every administration since 1974 to define its marching orders on what to negotiate …”  We can use Fast Track to “require [] future administrations to require labor, environmental and innovation and access to medicines [standards] …”

Fact:  Under Fast Track, Congress has not given the administration “marching orders” so much as marching suggestions.  Though Congress inserted non-binding “negotiating objectives” for US pacts into past Fast Track bills – a model replicated in the unpopular current legislation to revive Fast Track for the TPP and TAFTA – Democratic and GOP presidents alike have historically ignored negotiating objectives included in Fast Track.  For example, Froman stated that Fast Track could be used to require particular labor standards.  But while the 1988 Fast Track used for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) included a negotiating objective on labor standards, neither pact included such terms.  The history shows that Fast-Tracked pacts that ignore Congress’ priorities can still be signed by the president (locking in the agreements’ contents) before being sent to Congress for an expedited, ex-post vote in which amendments are prohibited and debate is restricted.

6. Currency manipulation

Froman:  In response to a question of whether currency manipulation is being addressed in the TPP: “We take the issue of exchange rates or currency manipulation very seriously as a matter of policy …”

Fact:  US TPP negotiators have not even initiated negotiations on the inclusion of binding disciplines on currency manipulation, much less secured other countries’ commitment to those disciplines.  The US inaction on currency in the TPP contrasts with letters signed by 230 Representatives (a majority) and sixty Senators (a supermajority) demanding the inclusion of currency manipulation disciplines in the TPP.  Unless US negotiators take currency manipulation more “seriously”, the TPP may be dead on arrival in the US Congress.

7. Labor rights

Froman:  “In TPP we’re seeking to include disciplines requiring adherence to fundamental labor rights, including the right to organize and to collectively bargain, protections from child and forced labor and employment discrimination”.

Fact:  The TPP includes Vietnam, a country that bans independent unions.  And Vietnam was recently red-listed by the Department of Labor as one of just four countries that use both child labor and forced labor in apparel production.  While Froman acknowledged such “serious challenges”, he did not explain how they would be resolved.  Is Vietnam going to change its fundamental labor laws so as to allow independent unions?  Is the government going to revamp its enforcement mechanisms so as to eliminate the country’s widespread child and forced labor?  Barring such sweeping changes, will the US still sign on to a TPP that includes Vietnam?

8. Environmental protection

Froman:  “We’re asking our trading partners to commit to effectively enforce environmental laws …”

Fact:  While Froman touted several provisions in the draft TPP environment chapter as requiring enforcement of domestic environmental laws, he didn’t mention the draft TPP investment chapter that would empower foreign corporations to directly challenge those laws before international tribunals if they felt the laws undermined their expected future profits.  Corporations have been increasingly using these extreme “investor-state” provisions under existing US “free trade” agreements (FTAs) to attack domestic environmental policies, including a moratorium on fracking, renewable energy programs, and requirements to clean up oil pollution and industrial toxins.  Tribunals comprised of three private attorneys have already ordered taxpayers to pay hundreds of millions to foreign firms for such safeguards, arguing that they violate sweeping FTA-granted investor privileges.  Froman’s call for countries to enforce their environmental laws sounds hollow under a TPP that would simultaneously empower corporations to “sue” countries for said enforcement.

9. TPP secrecy

Froman:  “Let me make one thing absolutely clear: any member of Congress can see the negotiating text anytime they request it”.

Fact:  For three full years negotiations, members of Congress were not able to see the bracketed negotiating text of the TPP, a deal that would rewrite broad swaths of domestic US policies.  Only after mounting outcry among members of Congress and the public about this astounding degree of secrecy did the administration begin sharing the negotiating text with members of Congress last June.  Even so, the administration still only provides TPP text access under restrictive terms for many members of Congress, such as requiring that technical staff not be present and forbidding the member of Congress from taking detailed notes or keeping a copy of the text.  Meanwhile, the US public remains shut out, with the Obama administration refusing to make public any part of the TPP negotiating text.  Such secrecy falls short of the standard of transparency exhibited by the Bush administration, which published online the full negotiating text of the last similarly sweeping US pact (the Free Trade Area of the Americas).

10. Exports under FTAs

Froman:  “Under President Obama, US exports have increased by fifty percent …”  “Today the post-crisis surge in exports we experienced over the last few years is beginning to recede.  And that’s why we’re working to open markets in the Asia-Pacific and in Europe …”

Fact:  US exports grew by a grand total of zero percent last year under the current “trade” pact model.   The year before that, they grew by two percent.  Most of the export growth Froman cites came early in Obama’s tenure as a predictable rebound from the global recession that followed the 2007 to 2008 financial crisis.  At the abysmal export growth rate seen since then, we will not reach Obama’s stated goal to double 2009’s exports until 2054, forty years behind schedule.  Froman ironically uses this export growth drop-off to argue for more-of-the-same trade policy (for example, the TPP and TAFTA).  The data simply does not support the oft-parroted pitch that we need TPP-style FTAs to boost exports.  Indeed, the overall growth of US exports to countries that are not FTA partners has exceeded US export growth to countries that are FTA partners by thirty percent over the last decade.  That’s not a solid basis from which to argue, in the name of exports, for yet another FTA.

http://citizen.typepad.com/eyesontrade/2014/02/fact-checking-froman-the-top-10-myths-used-by-obamas-top-trade-official.html

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Nafta Origins, Part Two

The Architects of Free Trade Really Did Want a World Government of Corporations

by Matt Stoller

http://mattstoller.tumblr.com (February 20 2014)

It’s amazing what you find in the Congressional Record. For example, you find American political officials (liberal ones, actually) engaged in an actual campaign to get rid of countries with their pesky parochial interests, and have the whole world managed by global corporations. Yup, this actually was explicit in the 1960s, as opposed to today’s passive aggressive arguments which amount to the same thing.

Here’s the backstory.

As I wrote in part one of this series on the origin of modern American trade policy  {1}, the first real mention of Nafta in the Congressional record that I could find came from a hearing in 1967. This was a Joint Economic Committee hearing conducted just after a major series of global trade talks known as the “Kennedy round”, from 1964 to 1967. The Kennedy round went quite far in reducing explicit tariffs, and was a capstone to the trading regime of tariff reductions that FDR and Cordell Hull put in place in 1934 after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs.

After the Kennedy round ended, liberal internationalists, including people like Chase CEO David Rockefeller and former Undersecretary of State George Ball, began pressing for reductions in non-tariff barriers, which they perceived as the next set of trade impediments to pull down. Ball was an architect of 1960s US trade policy – he helped write the Trade Act of 1962, which set the stage for what eventually became the World Trade Organization.

But Ball’s idea behind getting rid of these barriers wasn’t about free trade, it was about reorganizing the world so that corporations could manage resources for “the benefit of mankind”. It was a weird utopian vision that you can hear today in the current United States Trade Representative Michael Froman’s speeches. I’ve spoken with Froman about this history, and Froman himself does not seem to know much about it. But he is captive of these ideas, nonetheless, as is much of the elite class. They do not know the original ideology behind what is now just bureaucratic true believer-ism, they just know that free trade is good and right and true.

But back to the 1967 hearing. In the opening statement, before a legion of impressive Senators and Congressmen, Ball attacks the very notion of sovereignty. He goes after the idea that “business decisions” could be “frustrated by a multiplicity of different restrictions by relatively small nation states that are based on parochial considerations”, and lauds the multinational corporation as the most perfect structure devised for the benefit of mankind. He also foreshadows our modern world by suggesting that commercial, monetary, and antitrust policies should just be and will inevitably be handled by supranational organizations.

Here’s just some of that statement. It really is worth reading, I’ve bolded the surprising parts.

 

For the widespread development of the multinational corporation is one of our major accomplishments in the years since the war, though its meaning and importance have not been generally understood. For the first time in history man has at his command an instrument that enables him to employ resource flexibility to meet the needs of peoples all over the world. Today a corporate management in Detroit or New York or London or Dusseldorf may decide that it can best serve the market of country Z by combining the resources of country X with labor and plan facilities in country Y – and it may alter that decision six months from now if changes occur in costs or price or transport. It is the ability to look out over the world and freely survey all possible sources of production …  that is enabling man to employ the world’s finite stock of resources with a new degree of efficiency for the benefit of all mandkind.

But to fulfill its full potential the multinational corporation must be able to operate with little regard for national boundaries – or, in other words, for restrictions imposed by individual national governments.

To achieve such a free trading environment we must do far more than merely reduce or eliminate tariffs. We must move in the direction of common fiscal concepts, a common monetary policy, and common ideas of commercial responsibility. Already the economically advanced nations have made some progress in all of these areas through such agencies as the OECD and the committees it has sponsored, the Group of Ten, and the IMF, but we still have a long way to go. In my view, we could steer a faster and more direct course …  by agreeing that what we seek at the end of the voyage is the full realization of the benefits of a world economy.

Implied in this, of course, is a considerable erosion of the rigid concepts of national sovereignty, but that erosion is taking place every day as national economies grow increasingly interdependent, and I think it desirable that this process be consciously continued. What I am recommending is nothing so unreal and idealistic as a world government, since I have spent too many years in the guerrilla warfare of practical diplomacy to be bemused by utopian visions. But it seems beyond question that modern business – sustained and reinforced by modern technology – has outgrown the constrictive limits of the antiquated political structures in which most of the world is organized, and that itself is a political fact which cannot be ignored. For the explosion of business beyond national borders will tend to create needs and pressures that can help alter political structures to fit the requirements of modern man far more adequately than the present crazy quilt of small national states. And meanwhile, commercial, monetary, and antitrust policies – and even the domiciliary supervision of earth-straddling corporations – will have to be increasingly entrusted to supranational institutions …

We will never be able to put the world’s resources to use with full efficiency so long as business decisions are frustrated by a multiplicity of different restrictions by relatively small nation states that are based on parochial considerations, reflect no common philosophy, and are keyed to no common goal.

 

I’m doing this series on the origin of the modern trading regime because of the current controversies over trade policies, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It’s striking how, when you look into these efforts, these agreements are not and never have been about trade. You simply cannot disentangle colonialism, the American effort to create the European Union, and American trade efforts. After their opening statements, Ball and Rockefeller go on on to talk about how European states need to be wedged into a common monetary union with our trade efforts and that Latin America needs to be managed into prosperity by the US and Africa by Europe. Through such efforts, they thought that the US could put together a global economy over the next thirty years. Thirty years later was 1997, which was exactly when Nafta was being implemented and China was nearing its entry into the WTO. Impeccable predictions, gents.

In previous research efforts {2}, I’ve found that there was a serious elite liberal effort called “Atlanticism” to create an explicit world government, and that this effort really did influence how our current leaders think about international policy-making. By 1967, Ball wasn’t an Atlanticist, he dropped his illusions about the ability to combine the globe into one polity. But he was still a utopianist – he didn’t seek an explicit world government, he wanted to build a set of supranational institutions that could manage all the important economic questions, while national leaders got to argue about symbols.

I guess it turns out that the conspiracy theorists who believe in UN-controlled black helicopters aren’t as wrong as you might think about trade policy, and not just because United Technologies, which actually makes black helicopters, has endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Oh sure they’re wrong, but so are the people who deny that our trade agreements are just about trade. They aren’t. These agreements are about getting rid of national sovereignty, and the people who first pressed for Nafta were explicit about it. They really did want a global government for corporations. At the time, of course, multinationals didn’t treat American workers like disposable objects, this was the era of the “Treaty of Detroit” {3}. So Ball wasn’t as naive as he would sound today if he used these same words; it wasn’t totally crazy then to assume that global multinationals might operate in good faith. Moreover, given that there had just been two world wars because of nationalism, it also wasn’t crazy to hope that corporations would “wash away national boundaries”.

But what’s interesting is more the why than the what. Ball in particular expressed his idea of a government by the corporations, for the corporations, in order to benefit all mankind. Keep that in mind when you think you’re being paranoid.

The full hearing can be downloaded {4}, though it is a big file.

Links:

{1} http://mattstoller.tumblr.com/post/77183649312/nafta-origins-part-one-the-original-nafta-included

{2} http://www.salon.com/2013/09/20/elites_strange_plot_to_take_over_the_world/

{3} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reuther%27s_Treaty_of_Detroit

{4} https://www.dropbox.com/s/llpak05wbdqb6u2/1967%20NAFTA%20discussion.pdf
http://mattstoller.tumblr.com/post/77315135524/nafta-origins-part-two-the-architects-of-free-trade

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Problem Number One

by Jeff Madrick

The Anti-Economist

Harper’s Magazine (October 2013)

This spring, Newark mayor Cory Booker, then considering a run for US Senate, came to my office along with members of his staff to discuss national economic issues. We spent a couple of hours batting around such familiar topics as deficit spending, public investment, and Wall Street’s role in creating or suppressing job growth. But I also used the opportunity to move beyond these subjects to what I think is the most critical problem in America today: child poverty.

It’s a problem largely absent from our political debate. When candidate Romney, with embarrassing honesty, admitted that he wasn’t “concerned about the very poor”, he was simply expressing the common assumption that social safety nets effectively address the problem of poverty and that politicians ought therefore to concentrate on the middle class. Though President Obama is far too savvy to use such language, he appears to share this assumption: in his July speech outlining his second-term economic agenda, he talked about wages, infrastructure, and education, but there was not a word about child poverty. The current economic talking point  – building the economy from the “middle out”  – is the most recent effort to skirt the issue of poverty and frame Democratic programs in middle-class terms. (It should be noted that Obama’s original stimulus package did in fact direct more money to the poor, but such programs don’t seem to get much political traction.)

The truth is that more than one in five US children live below the poverty line, which puts the United States at the bottom of the pack among wealthy nations. Close to half of those poor children live in extreme poverty  – with parental incomes of less than half the poverty rate. Some thirteen percent of children are born into poverty, and for them it is likely to persist: most remain poor for at least half their childhood.

Researchers have found that stress in infants and toddlers does measurable damage to memory and IQ. What investigators now call “toxic stress” can permanently change the structure of the brain, according to reports by the American Academy of Pediatricians. As one study puts it:

 

The active ingredients that are necessary to construct a strong architecture of brain circuitry are abundant, safe opportunities to learn and active, reciprocal relationships with adults.

 

These are too often missing in the lives of poor children. Nutritional inadequacy and exposure to violence are common; poor children are likelier to wind up in hospitals because of physical abuse and nutritional neglect. Economists insist that investment in education is the key to reducing inequality and raising opportunities for all. But how can a child deprived of adequate nutrition, emotional support, and normal early cognitive development take advantage of universal pre-kindergarten education?

Those born to poor parents are significantly less likely to finish high school, to attend college, or to complete a degree. Childhood poverty is also closely related to a higher frequency of teen parenthood, and children born to young parents are likely to fall into the same damaging cycle.

“Dramatically reducing child poverty, especially in the first five years of life, will not solve all of America’s problems”, says Lawrence Aber, a developmental psychologist and the former director of the National Center for Children in Poverty. “But it will make a large number of very tough problems  – childhood obesity, academic underperformance, and too-early births to single parents  – much easier to solve”.

The problem may seem particularly intractable, but in fact a number of obvious solutions present themselves. First, let’s disabuse ourselves of what may be the most common reaction to our nation’s stunning child-poverty rate. There is nothing about American history or demographics that condemns us to high rates of poverty. The overall problem has little to do with the legacy of slavery or the culture of inner-city black communities or the influx of poor immigrants from Latin America. When government social programs are removed from the equation, the US poverty rate is in the middle of the pack among rich nations, according to an analysis of the Luxembourg Income Study Database, the most comprehensive collection of the relevant data. The difference is simply that the United States does less for its poor children than others do.

Global success in reducing poverty rates proves that corrective policies are possible. Western European nations generally provide unconditional cash allowances to families with children. But Britain’s efforts on this front may be the best recent example. In 1999, the Labour government under Tony Blair promised to eliminate childhood poverty in Britain, where rates were then almost as high as those in America. A major component of Blair’s plan was a cash allowance  – with few strings attached  – to families with children. While the United States was “reforming welfare as we know it”, Britain cut the number of children living in poverty nearly in half. There are also examples closer to home. In 1997, the Mexican government adopted a program now called Oportunidades, which provides “conditional” cash allowances to families with children who attend school, adopt minimal nutritional standards, and meet other conditions. The program decreased the use of child labor throughout Mexico, and in some regions high school attendance jumped by as much as 85 percent. Many Latin American nations have since instituted similar antipoverty programs.

While other countries have attacked child poverty through direct cash payments, the United States has moved in the opposite direction. Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, so popular with Republicans, got two thirds of its cuts from health, nutrition, and other programs designed to help the poor and the middle class. The recent budget sequester has cut deeply into social programs for the needy.

A nation dedicated to equal opportunity for all cannot tolerate such unambiguous disadvantages for so many at the very start of their lives. Sure, we can try to build a universal pre-kintergarten education system, but poor kids are often not ready for it. We can improve the quality of public kintergarten through twelfth grade, but the poor, especially those born poor, have often fallen far behind before even reaching school age. We can create jobs programs, but poor kids often don’t graduate high school. For any of these policies to have their full impact, we must also address child poverty.

How might US policy change if we got serious about this problem? For starters, general poverty is at a high level in the United States compared with other rich nations. We have to begin with putting more people to work in higher-paying jobs. There is no quicker path to reducing childhood poverty than reducing unemployment for parents. But the recession and slow economic recovery have kept poverty rates around fifteen percent. More fiscal stimulus now is a priority; at the very least we must end the sequestration. The minimum wage should also be raised substantially from its current level of $7.25 an hour.

There are also ways to target the problem more directly. The best modern federal program to help the poor is the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refund of income and payroll taxes aimed at low- and medium-income workers, particularly those with children. When the credit exceeds the amount of taxes owed, workers are given some of the difference in cash payments in addition to tax refunds. The EITC can be made more generous, and a higher proportion of the unused refund should be made available in cash. Currently, many low-income people without jobs can’t make use of the credit, and many workers who aren’t required to file federal returns don’t know they are eligible for it. The same is true of the Child Tax Credit, which benefits middle-income workers more than the poor. Another fruitful reform would be the expansion of Early Head Start, the community-based program that provides services to pregnant women and children up to age three.

But the boldest and potentially most productive new idea around is to follow Mexico’s example by providing conditional cash allowances to poor families with children. This is one approach Lawrence Aber advocates. He acknowledges that it would be hard to win support for the kind of unconditional cash allowances favored in Europe, so his version would attach plenty of conditions on the payouts. He would tie substantial cash allowances per child to requirements for regular pediatric visits, maintaining nutritional programs at home, and regular school attendance.

Aber figures that a reasonable allowance would amount to about $3,000 per family, with minimal administrative costs. By my own estimate that would mean spending about $25 billion a year nationally. That would surely repel Republicans and probably lots of Democrats as well. On the other hand, the conditions Aber recommends may also disenchant many progressives, who believe such government control is demeaning and undermines the confidence of the poor. Further, the nation has to invest in more developmental pediatrics, nutritional programs, and other services, so they are available to those given allowances to use them.

A conditional allowance for low-income families does have one prominent precedent in our own country. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg raised private financing for such a program, which started in 2007. (It was called Opportunities, in tribute to its Mexican model.) An average of $6,000 a family was doled out over two years when children attended school, got regular medical attention, went to the dentist, got a library card, or met other conditions. Doctors’ visits went up, visits to the emergency room down. Stress in general among poor children was reduced. But Mayor Bloomberg’s primary goal was to raise test scores; because the program failed on this front, it wasn’t renewed. “You always hope that you’ll come across a magic silver bullet, and you never do”, said an impatient Bloomberg. “If there were simple solutions, somebody would have found them a long time ago.”

Cory Booker, however, seems willing to confront the issue nationally. A few days after our meeting, Senator Frank Lautenberg died at age eighty-nine. Booker announced his candidacy shortly after that. By early July, he proposed a comprehensive program calling for “ending child poverty in the United States”. In August, Booker received the Democratic nomination to fill Lautenberg’s seat, and he looks likely to defeat Republican Steve Lonegan in a special election this month.

Booker’s plan does not include cash allowances, but he gets the point  – and few in the Senate have shown as much insight or courage. “We must acknowledge”, read the report outlining his new plan,

 

that there are large numbers of American children who because of circumstance, are unlikely to be able to take advantage of the best schools or the best teachers. We must acknowledge this reality and do something about it. These children are born staring at a mountain they lack the tools to climb. In Newark, I see it every day: So many children, generation after generation, repeating history.

 

He’d raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. He’d establish programs to provide nutritional guidance and affordable housing. At this stage, bringing national attention to this most invisible of crises may be more important than any specific proposals. “If given the opportunity to be your senator”, he said before the primary, “I will make eliminating child poverty the moral and economic priority it must be for New Jersey and the United States to continue leading the world”.

If someone with Booker’s high media profile will continue to speak out on the problem, we may at last take some serious steps in reducing the burden one out of five American children now carry in life through no fault of their own.

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