Serfing USA: Corporate America is Robbing American Workers

Along with the staggering theft in broad daylight of Americans’ assets that has occurred in the course of the ongoing financial crisis, as taxpayers funded multi-trillion bank bailouts and banks stole homes through foreclosures with the help of fraudulent paperwork, American companies have also been picking the pockets of workers more directly.

This second round of paycheck theft has come in the form of stolen productivity gains.

Historically, the relatively high and rising standard of living of American workers–both blue and white-collar–which once gave the US one of the highest standards of living in the world, has come courtesy of rising productivity, which has allowed US companies to produce more goods with less labor, and to then pass some of the enhanced profits on to workers in the form of higher wages, without having to raise prices. That has been important because, when higher wages are financed by higher prices, it tends to be a kind of zero-sum game: higher wages cancelled out by inflation.

But beginning in 2000, the old system already creaky, broke down. (It must be noted that this system was never the result of the capitalists’ largesse, but rather was because of a tighter labor market and, critically, a powerful labor movement.)

The corporate onslaught against trade unions and against the minimum wage, which began with the Nixon administration in 1968, combined with so-called “free-trade” deals that allowed US companies to shift production overseas and then to freely import the products of their overseas production facilities back for sale to Americans at home, by weakening the power of workers to demand higher wages, has led to a situation where companies can just pocket all the profits from productivity gains, leaving wages stagnant, or even driving them down.

The recession that began in late 2007 has only made matters worse, giving owners and managers to opportunity to really hammer employees. With real unemployment and underemployment now running at close to 20%, employees are in no position to press for higher wages, even as those who are still working are putting in extra effort to keep their jobs, thus pushing productivity gains even higher.

Serfing USASerfing USA

A Holiday Thought: Santa Was a Con and Jesus Got the Death Penalty

As Christmas is celebrated in Incarceration Nation, it’s worth remembering certain things about the two figures who dominate this holiday.

As more than 3,000 American sit on death row, we revere the birth of a godly man who was arrested, “tried,” sentenced, and put to death by the state. The Passion is the story of an execution, and the Stations of the Cross trace the path of a Dead Man Walking.

Less well know is the fact that Saint Nicholas, the early Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus, was once a prisoner, like one in every 100 Americans today. Though he was beloved for his kindness and generosity, Nicholas acquired sainthood not only by giving alms, but in part by performing a miracle that more or less amounted to a prison break.

Saint Nick was a con, and scammed his way to a jail-breakSaint Nick was a con, and scammed his way to a jail-break

Prison Populism? Tea Party Populists Keep the Races Divided for the Benefit of the Rich

The prospect of broadcast agitator Glen Beck recommending that his audience read a book with ‘Black Power’ in the title might seem less likely than President Obama standing up to the right-wing onslaught he faces daily.

Yet, just as America needs a President Obama who doesn’t castigate critics in his base while constantly caving into his GOP bashers, Beck’s audience needs insights from the historic facts contained in one passage of the 1967 book “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America.”

That single passage could show many among Beck’s audience that they’ve been ‘played.’ That’s urban parlance for deceived…or what, in the Wild West, would have been called hornswoggled.

That passage in question refers to the early 1890s, when severe recession and racial animus roiled America – a nation then as now steeped in extraordinary disparities in income between the financial elites and regular folks of all races.

Some of those in the early 1890s who were wading through the waters of economic deprivation did the unthinkable for that era: they looked beyond skin color to see a class interest among those of all races being similarly exploited by big-money interests.

They’re 'Slow-Torturing' Bradley Manning Right Under Our Noses

On December 18, David House, an MIT researcher, visited Bradley Manning at the Quantico, Virginia, military prison where he is being held in solitary confinement. Other than Manning’s attorney, House is the rare person allowed to visit him.

House’s report is quite thorough in pointing out instances where the military authorities are lying — or to use philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s formulation, “bullshitting” — about how the 23-year-old Army intelligence worker is being treated.

Here’s some of psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Kaye’s comment on House’s report:

“The human nervous system needs a certain amount of sensory and social stimulation to retain normal brain functioning. … From what can be ascertained, the effects of solitary confinement are having some effects already on Bradley Manning. His concentration and thinking processes appear somewhat slowed. He avoids certain topics. He has little access to humor. His color is pale, and his musculature is starting to look soft and flabby.”

There is, unfortunately, a long and sordid history behind this kind of “slow torture,” and the use of it should be a battleground for all Americans still interested in compassion, fairness and justice.

Medical Education and the 'Atypical' Presentation

One and a half years of medical school has at least taught me one thing: medicine is all about getting the right diagnosis.  Sure, there are important things like treatment, but honestly, evidence based treatment guidelines and experiential wisdom can all be looked up.  And as people realize that the way we teach is just as important as what we teach, most clinically savvy professors have done away with the old-school method of disease definitions.  These days they give us the symptoms, we generate a differential diagnosis (the list of likely issues based on the case history), and then we learn the diseases.

And so basically, as medical students we’re taught pattern recognition and probabilities.  Have a person in the hospital that has sudden kidney failure a few days after an aggressive bacterial infection?  That’s the classic pattern for aminoglycoside toxicity.

Or maybe you’re told your patient who has a terrible cough that won’t go away.  She’s worried because she watched a movie with someone who had lung cancer that coughed in similar way.  Without any other information, sure, some sort of lung or throat cancer is on your differential.  Find out she’s never smoked and hasn’t had unexplained weight loss? Suddenly the chances of her having cancer are much lower.  And then it turns out she has high blood pressure and is on an ACE Inhibitor.  The odds are completely different now.  Cancer is way down and side effect of her medication is really high on the list.

Taking a Moral Stand Outside the Obama White House

Washington–Defense Secretary Robert Gates may be the consummate insider bureaucrat and a nice man, but his calling our war in the Pashtun homeland “the meat in the sandwich” begins to get at the real problem of the Afghanistan/Pakistan War.

Besides being a preposterously flippant and insensitive metaphor presumably uttered for the consumption of the more clueless elements of middle America, his sandwich image is as misleading as all the war-selling PR coming out of the Pentagon and the Obama White House.

Robert GatesRobert Gates

Here’s how he described his sandwich: “The Pakistanis come in behind the insurgents from the Pakistani side and, coordinating with us and the Afghans, we’re on the other side.” Of course, he’s referring to what is informally dubbed Pashtunistan, down the middle of which Sir Mortimer Durand drew the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in 1893 to divide and conquer the Pashtun people. The border is a Western illusion. And, of course, the Taliban are largely Pashtun.

What’s misleading is the assumption any part of this war is anything but a US manufactured disaster. WikiLeaks and other revelations have made it clear the Pakistanis are highly reluctant to make military assaults into the Pashtun tribal areas. Last week the Pakistanis even outed the CIA chief running the US drone war there; the man was forced to flee due to threats on his life.

So the Obama administration is increasing its lethal drone attacks and deadly night special operations raids into Pakistan, both of which are highly controversial and contribute to the hatred Pakistanis have for the US.

This increase of US military intervention into Pakistan was announced at a White House press conference last Thursday that focused on the release of a much-anticipated assessment from General David Petraeus on the Afghanistan/Pakistan War.

President Obama spoke about the “significant progress” achieved in “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”

Tortured Logic: It's Clear Where the Secrecy-Obsessed Obama Administration is Headed in Its Pursuit of WikiLeaks

With word that Pvt. Bradley Manning, the soldier suspected of being the source of most of the WikiLeaks documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the State Department cables, has been held in intensive solitary confinement at the Marine Base brig in Quantico, VA for five months, under conditions that most of the world considers torture, it seems increasingly clear what the Obama administration’s strategy in going after WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange is going to be.

Where Mayor Mike Can Push His Poll

So I’m sitting there ready to chill after a long day at my desk when the phone rings. The young woman at the other end of the line wants to know if I am who her computer says I am. Yeah, that’s me, I say. And she starts asking my opinion of how everything is going in New York state, the governor, the legislature, the city council, various politicians, unions in general, unions in specific, public service unions in even more specificity, the city’s budget problems, and finally New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Ah, Mayor Mike. A man of the people, and the 23rd richest person in the world. On the one hand, I applaud his efforts to discourage smoking. On the other hand, I promised myself that I would never forgive him for not allowing the hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched by the Republican convention in 2004 to have a rally in Central Park. But he’s refused to be a demagogue about the mosque near the World Trade Center. Can you imagine what that fascist hambone Giuliani would have said about the mosque if he was still mayor? So that’s kinda okay. But he’s a tool of Wall Street and the real estate sleazebags. And he appointed some idiot magazine editor to be head of the public schools…

Sir? Sir?

He’s just another rich guy who thinks a hotshot business executive like himself could solve all our problems if he was president, and he’s getting his name mentioned as a presidential candidate by columnists who figure they might have to write for Bloomberg News some day, because everyone else is going out of business.

Sir? Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg?

I would say strongly disapprove, with the proviso that he’s not the worst bag of dirt in American politics.
Bloomberg sits on $18 billion, making him one of the world's richest menBloomberg sits on $18 billion, making him one of the world's richest men

News Black-Out in DC: Pay No Attention to Those Veterans Chained to the White House Fence

There was a black-out and a white-out Thursday and Friday as over a hundred US veterans opposed to US wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, and their civilian supporters, chained and tied themselves to the White House fence during an early snowstorm to say enough is enough.

Washington Police arrested 135 of the protesters, in what is being called the largest mass detention in recent years. Among those arrested were Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who used to provide the president’s daily briefings, Daniel Ellsberg, who released the government’s Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, and Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for the New York Times.

No major US news media reported on the demonstration or the arrests. It was blacked out of the New York Times, blacked out of the Philadelphia Inquirer, blacked out in the Los Angeles Times, blacked out of the Wall Street Journal, and even blacked out of the capital’s local daily, the Washington Post, which apparently didn’t even think it was a local story worth publishing an article about (they simply ran a photo of Ellsberg with a short caption).

Veterans chain themselves to White House fence to protest Afghan WarVeterans chain themselves to White House fence to protest Afghan War

Making the media cover-up of the protest all the more outrageous was the fact that most news media did report on Friday, the day after the protest, the results of the latest poll of American attitudes towards the Afghanistan War, an ABC/Washington Post Poll which found that 60% of Americans now feel that war has “not been worth it.” That’s a big increase from the 53% who said they opposed the war in July.

First in the Hearts of his Countrymen? Bringing George Washington's Philadelphia Slave History to Light

Philadelphia–When historians started digging into the facts about the first “White House,” where President George Washington lived when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital, they dredged up more than just mundane data.

They also dredged up the seamy saga of the first president’s slave legacy here in the “Cradle of Liberty,” where the hero of America’s Revolution brought nine of his house slaves, only to see them embarrass him by trying desperately to escape from bondage.

At high noon on December 15, 2010, hundreds of people, including Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter and other dignitaries, brushed off bone-chilling cold to participate in a controversial yet truly historic event – the grand opening the first monument to slavery ever erected on federal property.

That monument is among the elements in the eclectic mix of items comprising a new exhibit at Philadelphia’s storied Independence National Historic Park that honors the mansion where America’s first two presidents – George Washington and John Adams – lived while in office.

Philadelphia served as the capital of the United States from December 1790 until May 1800.
That multi-media exhibit, entitled “The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation,” is the result of an eight-year battle over how best to both commemorate the nation’s first White House while recognizing the role of slavery inside that house and the nation as a whole.
Washington's Philadelphia slaves memorialized on Independence Mall (photo by Linn Washington)Washington's Philadelphia slaves memorialized on Independence Mall (photo by Linn Washington)