Friday, December 28, 2012

Embracing the Pain

Embracing the Pain or: How I Learned to Stop Caring and Love the Fiscal Cliff

It was reported recently that Senator Harry Reid thinks that the fiscal cliff is coming, saying that Republicans would be to blame “if we go over the cliff, and it looks like that’s where we’re headed.”[1] The media has been talking up the fiscal cliff and making it seem as if were going to be the end of the world, however, we should have actively been expecting this, seeing as how last year the super committee didn’t come to a deal[2] and thus effectively resigned the nation to this fiscal cliff. Yet, there could be a silver lining to all of this.

Before getting into what the benefits of going off this ‘cliff’ could be, it must first be stated that the fact of the matter is that the fiscal cliff itself is not a cliff; rather it is a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts that will automatically go into effect on January 1st of the new year. The cliff gets rid of some of the tax breaks for the rich and for corporations while also instituting “a 7.6 to 9.6 percent across the board cut in all discretionary spending, except programs for low-income Americans,” with the cuts being “evenly divided between defense and nondefense programs.”[3] While this would definitely hurt the agencies, we need that hurt as it is defense that needs to be cut the most as it has been doubling since 2001.[4]

The fact of the matter is that the US government has tried again and again to get the debt and deficit under control, but each time they have spectacularly failed, with the most recent failing in memory being the debt ceiling debacle in which the US credit rating was downgraded. So it seems that this is the only way for the country to get its act together. Going over the so-called fiscal cliff would force Washington to actually do something about its fiscal policies.

Yet the real silver lining to this lies in the American people. After having been pulled hook, line, and sinker for several years by politicians saying that they care about the American people and the country, only to then turn around and do what is best for their re-election chances and corporate donors, the American people will hopefully come to the realization that the political class does not care about them. Republicans don’t care about the people and neither do Democrats. If this occurs, the people will reject both major parties and involve themselves in “the creation of an independent political movement –to create the transformations needed in the United States.”[5]

That is where our hopes must lie during this time of crisis. Not in politicians hashing out deals that don’t address the actual problems we as a nation are facing. We must place our hope in the American people.


[1] Oliver Knox, “Reid says fiscal cliff dive likely; blasts Boehner for lacking leadership,” Yahoo! News, December 27, 2012 (

[2] Ted Barrett, Kate Bolduan and Deirdre Walsh, “'Super committee' fails to reach agreement,” CNN Politics, November 21, 2011 (

[3] Suzy Khimm, Ezra Klein, Dylan Matthews and Brad Plumer, “The Fiscal Cliff: Absolutely everything you could possibly need to know, in one FAQ,” Washington Post, December 3, 2012 (

[4] Judd Legum, “REPORT: U.S. Military Spending Has Almost Doubled Since 2001,” Think Progress, April 11, 2011 (

[5] Kevin Zeese, “The Fiscal Cliff, A Self-Created Bi-Partisan Drama. The Need to Mobilize Resistance,” Global Research, December 27, 2012 (

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sex, Homophobia, and Women

Sex, Homophobia, and Women: The Story of Lesbian Feminism

Part 1: The Origins of Second Wave Feminism

Author’s Note: Please note that this is only an examination of the origins and difficulties between second wave and lesbian feminism. I understand as a male that I will never fully grasp what it means to live as an American woman, particularly a lesbian, in a society plagued with homophobia and misogyny. Any critiques that are made in the following article is purely from an intellectual standpoint and not a criticism of women, the women’s movement, or the lesbian feminist movement.

Feminism is a word that conjures up images of pro-choice marches, bra-burnings, and angry women. Often being misunderstood, feminism has been distorted by the mainstream society to mean that such women have a hatred of men, often being called “feminazis.” While such a view only contributes to the oppression of women in American society and socializes the young to think that it is alright to treat women in a disrespectful manner, there were and are also problems within the feminist movement itself, with feminists oppressing others whom, one would think that logically, they should embrace.

Historically speaking one learns very little about feminism and only then within the context of the first wave of the feminist movement, women’s suffrage. This ignores  what is arguably the most influential and important feminist movement that is the reason for so much of the strides women have made- the second feminist movement, more commonly known as the Women’s Liberation Movement. However, even here there is still much unacknowledged history that hasn’t much gotten into the mainstream, specifically that of lesbian feminism and the up and downs that that movement had with the liberal feminists. Lesbian feminism forced the liberal feminist movement to confront its own homophobia and changed the face of feminism itself.

The Origins of Second Wave Feminism

In order to understand the foundations of lesbian feminism and its effects, there must first be an understanding of the origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Ironically enough, the feminist movement found its true start not with a woman, but with both a man and a woman.

Originally there was no care of the plight of women in society as America more or less revolved around the patriarchal race and class-based system that favored straight white middle and upper-class males. However, this began to change with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1961. Originally, he “brought to his cabinet and to his inner advisory circles other young and (he thought) brilliant men”[1] calling them the “New Frontiersmen.” Incensed at this, Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly challenged Kennedy by posing the question “Where are the women on your New Frontier?” In order to amend the situation and seeing as how Eleanor had been such an influence in getting him elected, Kennedy agreed to establish a commission to inquire as to the situation of women in the US, with Roosevelt as chair.

The women on the commission were those in their forties and fifties who were professionals in fields such as economics and law and as such, highly educated and well off. Overall, they were unconcerned with giving women equal rights and more concerned with “combating the disabilities women suffered as a corollary of their sex, disabilities such as abandonment and poverty.”[2] The very nature of the commission was not to be revolutionary, as the people that staffed it were not revolutionaries but rather those who wanted so slightly reform the status quo and thus the cards in the deck would be reshuffled, but no radical changes would be made to give women full equality.

The commission's first task was to become fully informed about the situation of women in the country which was quite difficult seeing as how only the Department of Labor had any information concerning women and even then women’s employment and pay records were compared only to other women and “the cost of sex discrimination in employment, as in professional entry quotas, [had] never [been] calculated.”[3] Thus, there was much ground work to cover.

By 1963, the commission presented their findings to the President. The commission recommended that “the president appoint a permanent citizens’ advisory council on the status of women and that states create comparable commissions to continue the work.”[4] Thus, rather than disbanding, the commission was created on the state level and the findings of each state complied and finally bought back to Washington in 1966. This resulted in Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which states that discrimination based on one’s sex was illegal. Yet, interestingly enough, Title 7 only came about due to what one might call an accident.
There was a large amount of disagreement over the creation of the equal opportunity employment based on race. One Congressional Representative, Howard W. Smith, introduced sex as a protected category as a way to “demonstrate the ‘ludicrousness’ of the whole idea of applying equal rights to jobs.”[5] This would on him as the thirteen women in the House of Representatives and one Senator, Margaret Chase Smith, saw Smith’s joke as “an opportunity to write a prohibition of gender discrimination in employment into the act.”[6]

But even with some senators supporting the amendment, others were against it as in their minds the Civil Rights Act was specifically for African-Americans, thus women should not be included in the bill. Yet the case was made that employers would possibly hire black women over white women in order to avoid charges of racial discrimination, thus the amendment should be passed. It is important to note the use of race in this argument, with the amendment being viewed as a way to ensure that black women didn’t get economically ahead of their white counterparts and that employment would be secured for white women.

To enforce Title 7, Congress established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to hold public hearings on what regulations should be made, conduct investigations, and then to enforce the new law. One issue of the EEOC that was important to women was sex-differentiated want ads. From the point of view of women, such ads not only reinforced existing discrimination, but also “lowered [the] expectations [of women] and contributed to female socialization.”[7] However, the head of the EEOC, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. was not interested in such issues nor was a resolution that demanded across the board enforcement of Title 7 allowed to be introduced to Congress thus allowing sex-differentiated ads to continue.

It was at this moment, this mixture of success, anger, and hope that allowed for second wave feminism to be born. During the national conference on Title 7, Betty Friedan and 15 other women met and decided to push state representatives to enforce Title 7 and reappoint Richard Graham as head of the EEOC, the only male commissioner that could actually be called a feminist. When the resolution was refused to even be introduced, women who had met with Friedan began to discuss taking action outside of the legislative system. “Days later, thirty woman and men gathered to officially found the National Organization for Women” in order to “press government from the outside to better enforce the regulations that were on the books.”[8] Yet, this united group of feminists would not stand together long as there were those feminists who would see NOW as not going far enough and break off to form new strands of feminism.

Second Wave Feminist Theory

Second Wave Feminist Theory finds its roots, for the most part in Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique in which she analyzes the oppression of women, specifically that of housewives in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Friedan initially states that the problem women have is that of the feminine mystique which came about due, in part, to people such as Marynia F. Farnham and Ferdinand Lundberg. In their book Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, they argue for what is effectively the suppression of women and that they would be much better off in the home. Farnham and Lundberg stated in the book that it was more and more common for women to attempt to combine work with childrearing and “When these two spheres are combined it is inevitable that one or the other will become of secondary concern and, this being the case, it is certain that the home will take that position.”[9] In doing this, the authors are stating that the woman’s natural place is the home and reduces women to the stereotypical position of nurturer and caretaker that has been placed upon them. The views of Farnham and Lundberg are extremely conservative. When discussing women having to balance their careers and home lives, they express misgivings about such an occurrence, professing that such circumstances create “a situation that is by no means as smoothly functioning nor so satisfying either to the child or the woman.  She must of necessity be deeply in conflict and only partially satisfied in either direction. Her work develops aggressiveness, which is essentially a denial of her femininity, an enhancement of her girlhood-induced masculine tendencies.[10] (emphasis added) Stating that a woman’s aggressiveness was a denial of a woman’s femininity is not only a definition of femininity from a male perspective, but it also restricts women to the role of domesticity and in doing so puts them at the mercy of men.

They blatantly put themselves against women gaining independence stating that “it is imperative that these strivings be at a minimum and that her femininity be available both for her own satisfaction and for the satisfaction of her children and husband”[11] and that

As the rivals of men, women must, and insensibly do, develop the characteristics of aggression, dominance, independence and power. These are qualities which insure success as coequals in the world of business, industry and the professions. The distortion of character under pressure of modern attitudes and upbringing is driving women steadily deeper into personal conflict soluble only by psychotherapy. For their need to achieve and accomplish doesn't lessen in anyway their deeper need to find satisfactions profoundly feminine. Much as they consciously seek those gratifications of love, sensual release and even motherhood, they are becoming progressively less able unconsciously to accept or achieve them. [12]

This is an open argument that women should dedicate themselves to the home and the family, damning them to a life of morbidity.

Finally, the two later affirm that a woman with a career is dangerous as it is contrary to them “supporting and encouraging [their husband’s] manliness and wishes for domination and power.”[13] Within all of this was a manner of thinking that espouses that women only exist to be used by men and for men and argues for the complete and total control of women within a totalitarian subculture that is the household.

The true ideology that Farnham and Lundberg advocate is one that effectively dehumanizes woman. By stating arguments that women must keep their own desires for independence “to a minimum” and that their “femininity be available both for [their] own satisfaction and for the satisfaction of her children and husband,” both are showing not only what they personally think of women, but are showing that they think women are naturally lesser than men and nothing but a tool to be used for and by men.

It was among this atmosphere of objectifying and oppressing women that permeated every facet of American culture and created a misogyny that a new wave of feminism was needed to express that women were in fact human beings rather than just robots that existed solely for to pleasure and care for men and have children.
To fill in this void and combat the patriarchal structure that oppressed women, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique that sparked off the entire second wave of feminism. In the book, Friedan advocates for the economic independence of women, stating that "for women to have full identity and freedom, they must have economic independence” and “Only economic independence can free a woman to marry for love, not for status or financial support, or to leave a loveless, intolerable, humiliating marriage, or to eat, dress, rest, and move if she plans not to marry.”[14] In advocating for the economic independence of women, Friedan is advocating a situation in which women will be able to take the first step to becoming fully independent of the patriarchal system. However, this is made all the more revolutionary when one realizes the fact that economics and politics go hand-in-hand. By arguing for economic independence, Freidan is setting the stage for eventual political independence and self-determination that can be asserted by women in America.

Friedan takes on this view of femininity which only encourages the subjugation of women. She writes that according to the feminine mystique the problem is in the past women “envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love.”[15] Yet, she realizes the horror of such an existence and expounds upon it. In the twelfth chapter, Progressive Dehumanization: The Comfortable Concentration Camp, Friedan compares the situation that women found themselves into being in a concentration camp. She wrote “In fact, there is an uncanny, uncomfortable insight into why a woman can so easily lose her sense of self as a housewife in certain psychological observations made of the behavior of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.”[16] After going into the effects that concentration camps had on prisoners such as the adoption of childlike behavior, being cut off from pasts interests, and “the world of the camp [being] the only reality,”[17] Friedan then argues that the 1950s American woman finds herself in a very similar situation.

All this seems terribly remote from the easy life of the American suburban housewife. But is her house in reality a comfortable concentration camp? Have not women who live in the image of the feminine mystique trapped themselves within the narrow walls of their homes? They have learned to ‘adjust’ to their biological role. They have become dependent, passive, childlike; they have given up their adult frame of reference to live at the lower human level of food and things. The work they do does not require adult capabilities; it is endless, monotonous, unrewarding. American women are not, of course, being readied for mass extermination, but they are suffering a slow death of mind and spirit.[18] (emphasis added)

Her comparison is, without a doubt, quite extreme. The situation of the suburban housewife, while lamentable and in extreme need of improvement is not in any way near that of the suffering of a Holocaust victim. Yet, she was using this extreme hyperbole to make the point that women are slowly suffering in their home lives.
While Friedan is much regarded as a major figure in the feminist movement, she does have her detractors that make legitimate critiques of her analysis. Most notedly, Friedan was critiquted for the mass amount of exclusivity in her analysis. The sole focus of her book was white middle-class suburban housewives and because of such a biased analysis, “the problems facing, for example, millions of poor, working women or non- white women -- oppressive working conditions and low pay, racism, and the burdens of a double day -- barely register on the radar screen of The Feminine Mystique.”[19] By focusing on a specific group of women, Friedan somewhat lowers the value of her analysis.

Friedan’s class bias affects her analysis of the situation that women, no matter what socioeconomic class they were in, generally found themselves in at the time of her writing. Such a view reveals a problem with liberal feminism as it centers “on its seemingly bland acceptance of American capitalism as a system structured on economic freedom which merely needs some tinkering (such as the elimination of ‘unfair practices’ such as racism and sexism) to make it entirely workable and just.”[20] In doing this, liberal feminism loses its potential for true revolutionary change as it advocates what simply adds up to reforms to the system which allows the overall oppression of groups, including women, and the patriarchy to continue rather than creating a new system that sought the equality of all people.

Yet, many women on the Left would find that the feminism that Friedan and NOW espoused was not for them and could not work for their given situation. On the Left the marginalizations of women wasn’t concerned with getting equal access to jobs, but were much more concerned with getting respect and addressing women’s oppression that existed from the so-called inclusive Left.


[1] Sheila Tobias, Faces of Feminism: An Activist’s Reflections On The Women’s Movement (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997), pg 73
[2] Tobias, pg 74
[3] Tobias, pg 74
[4] Tobias, pg 75
[5] Tobias, pg 81
[6] Tobias, pg 81
[7] Tobias, pg 83
[8] Tobias, pg 85
[9] Marynia F. Farnham, Ferdinand Lundberg, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex,
[14] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell Book, 1963), pgs 370-71
[15] Friedan, pg 43
[16] Friedan, pg 305
[17] Friedan, pg 306
[18] Friedan, pgs 307-308
[19] Joanne Boucher, Betty Friedan and the Radical Past of Liberal Feminism, New Politics 9:3 (Summer 2003),

Friday, December 14, 2012

Banking on Criminality

Banking on Criminality: Drug Money and the Above-the-Law Global Banking Cartel

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

In what the New York Times declared as a “dark day for the rule of law” on December 11, 2012, HSBC, the world’s second largest bank, failed to be indicted for extensive criminal activities in laundering money to and from regimes under sanctions, Mexican drug cartels, and terrorist organizations (including al-Qaeda). While admitting culpability, and with guilt assured, state and federal authorities in the United States decided not to indict the bank “over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system.” Instead, HSBC agreed to pay a $1.92 billion settlement.

The fear was that an indictment would be a “death sentence” for HSBC. The U.S. Justice Department, which was prosecuting the case, was told by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve that taking such an “aggressive stance” against HSBC could have negative effects upon the economy. Instead, the bank was to forfeit $1.2 billion and pay $700 million in fines on top of that for violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act. In a statement, HSBC’s CEO stated, “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes… We are committed to protecting the integrity of the global financial system. To this end, we will continue to work closely with governments and regulators around the world.” With more than $7 billion in Mexican drug cartel money laundered through HSBC alone, the fine amounts to a slap on the wrist, no more than a cost-benefit analysis of doing business: if the ‘cost’ of laundering billions in drug money is less than the ‘benefit,’ the policy will continue.

As part of the settlement, not one banker at HSBC was to be charged in the case. The New York Times acknowledged that, “the government has bought into the notion that too big to fail is too big to jail.” HSBC joins a list of some of the world’s other largest banks in paying fines for criminal activities, including Credit Suisse, Lloyds, ABN Amro and ING, among others. The U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer referred to the settlement as an example of HSBC “being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight.
” Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, which was responsible for prosecuting the case against HSBC, was previously a partner at a law firm (along with the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder) where they represented a number of major banks and other conglomerates in cases dealing with foreclosure fraud. While Breuer and Holder were partners at Covington & Burling, the firm represented notable clients such as Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, among others. It seems that at the Justice Department, they continue to have the same job: protecting the major banks from being persecuted for criminal behaviour.

With a great deal of focus on the $1.9 billion in fines being paid out by HSBC, little mention was made of the fact that HSBC had roughly $2.5 trillion in assets, and earned $22 billion in profits in 2011. But not to worry, HSBC’s executive said that they “accept responsibility for our past mistakes,” and added: “We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again.” So not only did the executives of the world’s second largest bank apologize for laundering billions in drug money (along with other crimes), but they apologized… again. Thus, they pay a comparably small fine and face no criminal charges. I wonder if a crack dealer from a ghetto in the United States could avoid criminal prosecution if he were to apologize not once, but twice. Actually, we don’t have to wonder. In May of 2012, as HSBC executives were testifying before the U.S. Senate in Washington D.C., admitting their role in drug money laundering, a poor black man was convicted of peddling 5.5 grams of crack cocaine just across the river from the U.S. Capitol building, and he was given 10 years in prison.

Back in August the bank stated that they had put aside $700 million to pay fines for illegal activities, which conveniently was the exact amount they were fined by the U.S. Justice Department (not including the forfeiture of profits). Lanny Breuer declared the settlement to be “a very just, very real and very powerful result.” Indeed, one could agree that the results are “powerful” and “very real,” in that they provide a legal state-sanctioned decision that big banks will not be persecuted for their vast criminal activities, precisely because they are big banks. The “very real” result of this is that we can guarantee that such criminal behaviour will continue, since the banks will continue to be protected by the state. With news of the settlement, HSBC’s market share price rose by 2.8%, a clear sign that “financial markets” also reward criminal behaviour and the “pervasively polluted” culture at HSBC (in the words of the U.S. Senate report).

Jack Blum, a Washington attorney and former special counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who specializes in money laundering and financial crimes stated that, “If these people aren’t prosecuted, who will be?” He further asked: “What do you have to do to be prosecuted? They have crossed every bright line in bank compliance. When is there an offense that’s bad enough for a big bank to be prosecuted?” But the Justice Department’s Lanny Breuer explained that his department had to consider “the collateral consequences” of prosecutions: “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose their jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?”

In other words, the U.S. Justice Department decided that big banks are above the law, because if they weren’t, there would be severe consequences for the financial system. And this is not just good news for HSBC, the “favourite” bank of Mexican drug cartels (according to Bloomberg), but it’s good news for all banks. After all, HSBC is not the only bank engaged in laundering drug money and other illegal activities. Back in 2010, Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo) paid roughly $160 million in fines for laundering some $378.4 billion in drug money. Drug money has also been found to be laundered through other major financial institutions, including Bank of America, Banco Santander, Citigroup, and the banking branch of American Express. Nearly all of the world’s largest banks have been or are currently being investigated for other crimes, including rigging interest rates (in what’s known as the Libor scandal), and other forms of fraud. Among the banks being investigated for criminal activity by U.S. prosecutors are Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, Bank of America, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Credit Suisse, Lloyds, Rabobank, Royal Bank of Canada, and Société Générale, among others. Regulators and investigators of the Libor scandal – “the biggest financial scandal ever” – report that the world’s largest banks engage in “organized fraud” and function like a “cartel” or “mafia.”

The pervasive criminality of this “international cartel” is so consistent that one commentator with the Guardian has referred to global banks as “the financial services wing of the drug cartels.” But indeed, where could be a better place for drug cartels to deposit their profits than with a financial cartel? And why would banks give up their pivotal role in the global drug trade? While the pharmaceutical drug industry records annual revenues in the hundreds of billions of dollars (which is nothing to ignore), the global trade in illicit drugs, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, amounted to roughly 2.3-5.5% of global GDP, around $2.1 trillion (U.S.) in 2009. That same year, the same United Nations office reported that billions of dollars in drug money saved the major global banks during the financial crisis, as “the only liquid investment capital” pouring into banks. Roughly $325 billion in drug money was absorbed by the financial system in 2009. It is in the interest of banks to continue profiting off of the global drug trade, and now they have been given a full green light by the Obama administration to continue.

Welcome to the world of financial criminality, the “international cartel” of drug money banks and their political protectors. These banks not only launder billions in drug money, finance terrorists and commit massive fraud, but they create massive financial and economic crises, and then our governments give them trillions of dollars in bailouts, again rewarding them for creating crises and committing criminal acts. On top of that, we, the people, are handed the bill for the bailouts and have to pay for them through reduced standards of living by being punished into poverty through ‘austerity measures’ and have our labour, resources, and societies exploited through ‘structural reform’ policies. These criminal banks dominate the global economy, and dictate policies to national political oligarchies. Their greed, power, and parasitic nature knows no bounds.

The fact that the Justice Department refused to prosecute HSBC because of the effects it could have on the financial system should be a clear sign that the financial system does not function for the benefit of people and society as a whole, and thus, that it needs to be dramatically changed, cartels need to be destroyed, banks broken up, criminal behaviour punished (not rewarded), and that people should dictate the policies of society, not a small network of international criminal cartel banks.

But then, that would be rational, so naturally it’s not even up for discussion.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Student Debt Bubble Set To Pop?

It was reported late last month from Zero Hedge that the student loan delinquency rate had just gone parabolic. This could have major repercussions for banks, students, and the nation as a whole.

Zero Hedge quoted the New York Federal Reserve as saying 

Outstanding student loan debt now stands at $956 billion, an increase of $42 billion since last quarter.  However, of the $42 billion, $23 billion is new debt while the remaining $19 billion is attributed to previously defaulted student loans that have been updated on credit reports this quarter. As a result, the percent of student loan balances 90+ days delinquent increased to 11 percent this quarter.

This sudden spike in delinquency rates is usually seen before a bubble pops. However, this is a major problem for the US as according to a report done by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "American consumers owe more than $150 billion in outstanding private student loan debt." If we take this figure at its face value and do the arithmetic (student loans overall are currently at approximately $1 trillion), then about $850 billion in student loans are federal and thus the US taxpayer is on the hook for them.

Due to low employment for college grads, this spike comes as no surprise. Yet the effects could be quite serious as one is unable to get rid of student loans, even in bankruptcy. So, what do you do when you can't get rid of your student loans, but can't pay them off? They sure as hell aren't going to get a bailout, seeing as how their name isn't Goldman Sachs or Bank of America. Regarding what will happen to student, the current situation remains unclear. The effects on the economy, however, there is a glimpse of the future and it doesn't look good.

The fact that students can't find jobs means that they "are less likely to buy new cars or starter homes or to put new flat-screen TVs on their credit cards. Adding to the distress, unemployment is higher among young Americans than other age groups." This could be a major problem as consumption fuels the US economy and Americans are wary of building up credit card debt, seeing as how "Credit card borrowing fell $2.9 billion, the third decline in four months." So what does this mean for the future? It could mean a future where there is only sluggish growth for the economy, if any at all.

The student debt bubble could also put schools at risk as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Legal Creation of Race

The Legal Creation of Race in America

When examining history, it seems that a narrative has evolved over time that slavery somehow just happened in the United States due to the need for cheap labor and that Africans were chosen because they could do that labor the best. While this is true, it is far from the full reality of the situation. Like slavery, race took time to be created and accepted by the population and like slavery; race had to be created from a legal framework. For this, we need look no further than colonial Virginia.

It must be acknowledged that there was and still is some debate over whether or not the Africans that came to Virginia in 1619 were slaves or that they slowly, but surely transitioned to slavery. Yet, despite this, there is still evidence that in the mid-1600s, laws were being made to create race.

Interestingly enough, slavery was not originally sought after in colonial Virginia as, “in spite of its seeming superiority, [it] was actually not as advantageous as indentured labor during the first half of the century" [1] due to the high morality of Virginia immigrants. Such morality created a situation where there would be no advantage in owning a person for their entire lives rather than a few years, “especially since a slave cost roughly twice as much as an indentured servant.” [2] Though, this ‘morality’ was in reality due to economics as up until the 1640s, the main crop for Barbados and Virginia was tobacco. However, Barbados made a switch to cotton and then finally sugar in the early 1640s. This discouraged white indentured servants from going to Barbados as “sugar production required such strenuous labor that men would not willingly undertake it.” [3] Thus, colonial Virginia was given an influx of indentured servants.

Virginia’s transition to slave labor was slow as even though it became more advantageous to own slaves rather than have indentured servants in 1660, in that year the Virginian assembly allowed Dutch slave ships exemption from local duties, however, in that same year the Navigation Acts were passed, resulting in Virginia not implementing slavery as fast as this created a situation which would decrease the number of slaves that could be imported. It also did not help that Virginia was now in competition with sugar planters in the Barbados over this smaller supply of slaves.

The concept of race, originally, was essentially nonexistent as while blacks were identified as Negroes, it “was a national rather than racial designation” and “the early records identify the nationality of all non-Englishmen.” [4] The social structure was much more based on class rather than race. White and black servants would often socialize with one another [5], seeing themselves as being in the same situation and being oppressed by the system.

Yet, even this was soon found problematic. The first recorded punishment for interracial relations was in 1630 in Virginia when Hugh Davis was sentenced to be whipped for “defiling his body in lying with a Negress.” [6] (While there has yet to be evidence that Davis was white, the language used by the Virginia Assembly implies as such.) This notes that society was quickly changing in its attitudes towards race and interracial relations. Virginia was established in 1607 and within about 20 years social relations had changed so vastly that blacks and whites were not allowed to have romantic relations.

Soon laws were being passed which would further groundwork to later separate and create race. The first such law appeared in the early 1640s where “the courts clearly recognized property in men and women and their unborn progeny." [7] This is quite revealing as it shows that there was already the creation of a legal basis for what would later become full-fledged slavery in the 19th century where in that time it was assumed that the children of slaves would be slaves. However, it also denotes a difference as the above-mentioned law was all encompassing, it didn’t matter which of your parents was a slave, if you were born to slaves, you were considered a slave whereas in later years the inheritance of slave status was purely matrilineal.

The law soon changed to this matrilineal status in 1662. Due to planters worrying about servant uprisings, suspected cooperation among servants and slaves, as well as “the growing problem of controlling the sexual activity of female servants" [8] the Virginia Assembly passed a law declaring “that the children of enslaved women should follow the condition of their mother" [9] thus creating a situation where the institution of slavery could continue unabated and that the owners would consistently have a source of labor upon which to draw.

The differentiation was fully made between black and white servants began with the case of John Punch. In 1640 the Virginia General Court handed down a ruling to three servants, two white, one black, who had attempted to escape. While the servitude sentences of the two whites were lengthened, John Punch was sentenced to “serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere.” This was soon followed by a case where a black runaway was caught, yet the length of their sentence was not increased “presumably because he was already serving for life." [10] Thus, this separation of the races began and with it the meaning of who was black and who was white and what exactly that meant.

Yet, the establishment of slavery also meant the establishment of a different set of rules and regulations regarding slaves. The only disadvantage to owning a slave was the fact that they had no incentive to work, whereas the indentured servant’s incentive came from the fact that they would eventually receive their freedom. In order to get slaves to work, in the first years some masters offered slaves the chance to earn their freedom by working hard or giving them land to grow their own crops. [11] However, this defeats the very purpose of slavery and with it, its advantages. Thus, slave owners had to realize that the slaves had to be punished much harsher than the servants. In 1669 the Virginia Assembly passed a law which stated in part that “if any slave resist his master and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be [viewed as a] felony, but the master be acquitted from molestation." [12] In other words, if a slave master accidentally kills his slave, he will not be charged with a crime as the slave is considered property rather than a human being. The law even went so far as to ensure that “the public would compensate the master for the loss of slaves thus killed." [13] In doing this, the Assembly ensured that Virginian society would fully accept slavery.

The differences between black and white also had an interesting effect on black women and reveals further that the legal system created race, however in this case it didn’t have to do with relations between black and white servants but rather with taxes. In 1643, African women were categorized as “tithables” (individuals who performed taxable labor) in Virginia revealing that African women were seen as “field laborers with a productive capacity equivalent to that of men." [14] In regarding African women as “tithables,” the Virginia Assembly showed that they viewed African and white women differently, with African women being viewed solely as laborers and on the same level as men.

One must note that the separation of black and white women served the interests of the ruling white patriarchy. By separating the two groups and treating one group as a man, the patriarchy was able to give the white woman a feeling of superiority by giving her someone to look down up and feel above. In regarding the African women as a man, the patriarchal system was able to force African women into a situation where they lost their femininity and to be in a much more able position to control black women.

At the exact same time this law was passed, a law further condemning interracial relations was passed with the Virginia Assembly stating that “if any Christian shall commit fornication with a negro man or woman, [he] or [she] so offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act." [15] This was done to discourage interracial relations, but also had a disproportionate effect on white women, who, due to “the growing emphasis on bastardy in which the birth of a child constituted ‘proof’ of sexual misconduct,”[16] could be easily prosecuted were they found with a mixed race child.

Among all of this it must be acknowledged that racial tensions grew as Virginia’s transition to slavery became fully realized. The shift from indentured and free to slave labor resulted in the unemployment of many whites; however, those in power were able to allow poor whites to have a sense of superiority against slaves and other non-whites. This was done mainly to dissuade poor whites from realizing that it wasn’t the slave, but rather those in the planter class, that had put them in such a miserable situation and thus rebelling against the current social order.

When looking at the historical record, one can see that at the time Virginians began to purchase black slaves in large quantities, “they were also buying Indians” and that constantly seeing Indians with slaves created a situation where “it was easy for Virginians to extend to blacks some of the bad feelings they harbored towards Indians.”[17] This may have possibly been caused by the fact that once one begins to see the two groups together and soon associates immediately one with the other.

 The Virginia Assembly, through passing legislation, “deliberately did what it could to foster the contempt of whites for blacks and Indians.” In 1680 the Assembly passed legislation that meted out a punishment of 30 lashes on any black or Indian that fought a white servant. “This was a particularly effective provision in that it allowed servants to bully slave without fear of relation, this placing them psychologically on a par with masters." [18] Such laws were crucial to keeping the current social order in which the planter class was dominant. By having the servant classes disassociate in every way with the African and Native American slaves, the planter class crushed any chance of worker solidarity and relied on the old divide and conquers strategy to maintain their position in society. It also furthered the acceptance of slavery to be the norm as now the white underclass would be in support of slavery as they would see Africans as deserving of slavery.

The creation of race in America was not one that was suddenly thought up, but rather a slow process of social engineering that was extremely beneficial to some while excruciatingly painful for others. At the heart of the matter lies the need for a labor source to work the fields, but to do it in such a manner where it could be deemed acceptable and would be in the control of the planter class, thus the legal route was taken to create differences, inferences, and meanings that were solely dependent upon one’s skin color.


[1] Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), pg 297
[2] Morgan, pg 297
[3] Morgan, 298
[4] Lerone Bennett Jr., The Shaping of Black America (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, 1975), pg 18
[5] Bennett Jr., pg 19
[6] Kevin Mumford, “After Hugh: Statutory Race Segregation in Colonial America, 1630-1725,” The American Journal of Legal History 43 (July 1999): 280
[7] Morgan, pg 297
[8] Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (The University of North Carolina Press, 1996) pg 195
[9] Brown, pgs 195-196
[10] Winthrop D. Jordan, “Modern Tensions and the Origins of American Slavery,” The Journal of Southern History 28 (February 1962): 23-24
[11] Morgan, pg 311
[12] Morgan, pg 312
[13] Morgan, pg 313
[14] Brown, pg 118
[15] Brown, pg 196
[16] Brown, pg 196
[17] Morgan, pg 330
[18] Morgan, pg 331

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why So Secretive?

Why So Secretive? The Trans-Pacific Partnership as Global Corporate Coup

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

See the final part of the TPP series here

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the most secretive and “least transparent” trade negotiations in history.

Luckily for the populations and societies that will be affected by the agreement, there are public research organizations and alternative media outlets campaigning against it – and they’ve even released several leaks of draft agreement chapters. From these leaks, which are not covered by mainstream corporate-controlled news outlets, we are able to get a better understanding of what the Trans-Pacific Partnership actually encompasses.

For example, public interest groups have been warning that the TPP could result in millions of lost jobs. As a letter from Congress to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk stated, the TPP “will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas,” including “those related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.”

In other words, as promised, the TPP goes far beyond “trade.”

Dubbed by many as “NAFTA on steroids” and a “corporate coup,” only two of the TPP’s 26 chapters actually have anything to do with trade. Most of it grants far-reaching new rights and privileges to corporations, specifically related to intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), as well as constraints on government regulations.

The leaked documents revealed that the Obama administration “intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations,” as Obama and Kirk have emerged as strong advocates “for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.”

In other words, the already ineffective and mostly toothless environmental, financial, and labor regulations that exist are unacceptable to the Obama administration and the 600 corporations aligned with the TPP who are giving him his orders.

The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic U.S. laws regarding protections for the environment, finance or labor rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations.

The “international tribunal” that would dictate the laws of the countries would be staffed by corporate lawyers acting as “judges,” thus ensuring that cases taken before them have a “fair and balanced” hearing – fairly balanced in favor of corporate rights above anything else.

A public interest coalition known as Citizens Trade Campaign published a draft of the TPP chapter on “investment” revealing information about the “international tribunal” which would allow corporations to directly sue governments that have barriers to “potential profits.”

Arthur Stamoulis, the executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, explained that the draft texts “clearly contain proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens… A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.”

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a public interest organization, undertook an analysis of the leaked document on investment and explained that the international corporate tribunal would allow corporations to overturn national laws and regulations or demand enormous sums in compensation, with the tribunal “empowered to order payment of unlimited government Treasury funds to foreign investors over TPP claims.”

Even under NAFTA, over $350 million has been paid by NAFTA-aligned governments to corporations for “barriers” to investment “rights,” including toxic waste dumps, logging rules, as well as bans on various toxic chemicals.

Because let’s be clear: for corporations, such regulations and concerns over health, safety and environmental issues are perceived solely as “barriers” to investment and profit. Thus their “government” would sue the foreign government on behalf of the corporation, on the premise that such regulations led to potential lost profits, for which the corporation should be compensated.

The TPP allows the corporations to directly sue the government in question. All of the TPP member countries, except for Australia, have agreed to adhere to the jurisdiction of this international tribunal, an unelected, anti-democratic and corporate-staffed kangaroo-court with legal authority over at least ten nations and their populations.

Further, TPP countries have not agreed on a set of obligations for corporations to meet in relation to health, labor or environmental standards, and thus a door is opened for corporations to obtain even more rights and privileges to plunder and exploit. Where corporate rights are extended, human and democratic rights are dismantled.

One of the most important areas in which the TPP has a profound effect is in relation to intellectual property rights, or copyright and patent laws. Corporations have been strong advocates of expanding intellectual property rights, namely, their intellectual property rights.

Pharmaceutical corporations are major proponents of these rights and are likely to be among the major beneficiaries of the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. The pharmaceutical industry ensured that strong patent rules were included in the 1995 World Trade Organization agreement, but ultimately felt that those rules did not go far enough.

Dean Baker, writing in the Guardian, explained that stronger patent rules establish “a government-granted monopoly, often as long as 14 years, that prohibits generic competitors from entering a market based on another company’s test results that show a drug to be safe and effective.” Baker noted that such laws are actually “the opposite of free trade” since they “involve increased government intervention in the market” and “restrict competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Essentially, what this means is that in poor countries where more people need access to life-saving drugs, and at cheaper cost, it would be impossible for companies or governments to manufacture and sell cheaper generic brands of successful drugs held by multinational corporate patents. Such an agreement would hand over a monopoly of price-controls to these corporations, allowing them to set the prices as they deem fit, thus making the drugs incredibly expensive and often inaccessible to the people who need them most.

As U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman correctly noted, “In many parts of the world, access to generic drugs means the difference between life and death.”

The TPP is expected to increase such corporate patent rights more than any other agreement in history. Generic drug manufacturers in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia would suffer. So would sales of larger generics manufacturers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, which supply low-cost drugs to much of the world.

While the United States has given up the right to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations (hence the exorbitant price for drugs purchased in the U.S.), countries like New Zealand and even Canada to a lesser extent negotiate drug prices in order to keep the costs down for consumers. The TPP will grant new negotiating privileges to corporations, allowing them to appeal decisions by governments to challenge the high cost of drugs or to go with cheap alternatives. Referring to these changes, the U.S. manager of Doctors Without Borders’ Access to Medicines Campaign stated, “Bush was better than Obama on this.”

But that’s not all the TPP threatens: Internet freedom is also a major target.

The Council of Canadians and OpenMedia, major campaigners for Internet freedom, have warned that the TPP would “criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,” including music downloads as well as the combining of different media works. OpenMedia warned that the TPP would “force service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards, and give media conglomerates more power to send you fines in the mail, remove online content – including entire websites – and even terminate your access to the Internet.”

Also advanced under the TPP chapter on intellectual property rights, new laws would have to be put in place by governments to regulate Internet usage. OpenMedia further warned that, from the leaked documents on intellectual property rights, “there can be heavy fines for average citizens online,” adding: “you could be fined for clicking on a link, people could be knocked off the Internet and web sites could be locked off.”

The TPP, warned OpenMedia founder Steve Anderson, “will limit innovation and free expression.” Under the TPP, there is no distinction between commercial and non-commercial copyright infringement. Thus, users who download music for personal use would face the same penalties as those who sell pirated music for profit.

Information that is created or shared on social networking sites could have Internet users fined, have their computers seized, their Internet usage terminated, or even get them a jail sentence. The TPP imposes a “three strikes” system for copyright infringement, where three violations would result in the termination of a household’s Internet access.

So, why all the secrecy? Corporate and political decision-makers study public opinion very closely; they know how to manipulate the public based upon what the majority think and believe. When it comes to “free trade” agreements, public opinion has forced negotiators into the darkness of back-room deals and unaccountable secrecy precisely because populations are so overwhelmingly against such agreements.

An opinion poll from 2011 revealed that the American public has – just over the previous few years – moved from “broad opposition” to “overwhelming opposition” toward NAFTA-style trade deals.

A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs.” Only 17% of Americans in 2010 felt that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007.

Because public opinion is strongly – and increasingly – against “free trade agreements,” secrecy is required in order to prevent the public from even knowing about, let alone actively opposing, agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And this, as U.S. Trade Representative Kirk explained, is a very “practical” reason for all the secrecy.