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marmar's Journal
marmar's Journal
May 23, 2016

Chris Hedges: Reform or Revolution

from truthdig:

by Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges gave this talk on revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg on Friday at the Left Forum in New York City.

On the night of Jan. 15, 1919, a group of the Freikorps—hastily formed militias made up mostly of right-wing veterans of World War I—escorted Rosa Luxemburg, a petite, 50-year-old with a slight limp, to the Eden Hotel in Berlin, the headquarters of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.

“Are you Frau Rosa Luxemburg?” Capt. Waldemar Pabst asked when she arrived at his office upstairs.

“You decide for yourself,” she answered.

“According to the photograph, you must be,” he said.


Liberalism, which Luxemburg called by its more appropriate name—“opportunism”—is an integral component of capitalism. When the citizens grow restive, it will soften and decry capitalism’s excesses. But capitalism, Luxemburg argued, is an enemy that can never be appeased. Liberal reforms are used to stymie resistance and then later, when things grow quiet, are revoked on the inevitable road to capitalist slavery. The last century of labor struggles in the United States provides a case study for proof of Luxemburg’s observation.

The political, cultural and judicial system in a capitalist state is centered around the protection of property rights. And, as Adam Smith pointed out, when civil government “is instituted for the security of property, [it] is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” The capitalist system is gamed from the start. And this makes Luxemburg extremely relevant as corporate capital, now freed from all constraints, reconfigures our global economy, including the United States’, into a ruthless form of neofeudalism.


Capitalism is an enemy of democracy. It denies workers the right to control means of production or determine how the profits from their labor will be spent. American workers—both left and right—do not support trade agreements. They do not support the federal bailouts of big banks and financial firms. They do not embrace astronomical salaries for CEOs or wage stagnation. But workers do not count. And the more working men and women struggle to be heard, the harsher and more violent the forms of control employed by the corporate state will become. ..............(more)


May 17, 2016

The Secret History of Superdelegates

712 Democratic Officials Will Decide Whether Clinton or Sanders Wins the Nomination. Newly published documents show that's what the party planned all along.

By Branko Marcetic

(In These Times) Since its launch, a specter has haunted Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic nomination. It’s not his age, though at 74 he would be the oldest president in American history. And it’s not that he’s an avowed socialist, the label that a mere eight years ago was used to smear Barack Obama as a sinister, alien threat to the American way of life. Rather, it has been the so-called superdelegates—the 712 Democratic Party insiders who are free to vote at the nominating convention for the candidate of their choosing.

The corporate media’s early inclusion of the superdelegates in the delegate count created the impression of an inevitable Clinton nomination. Seventy-three percent of superdelegates—520 of the 712—have pledged their support to the former secretary of state, but superdelegates are free to change their minds any time before the Democratic National Convention in July.

By February 20, when only three states had held nominating contests, such reporting had conferred on the Clinton campaign an aura of insurmountability, leading some voters to question whether their votes truly mattered. Even as Sanders won a string of contests at the end of March to narrow Clinton’s lead, superdelegates in those states stubbornly clung to Clinton. Despite the second-biggest victory ever in a contested New Hampshire Democratic primary, Sanders was credited with the same number of total delegates as Clinton, thanks to superdelegates.

This has rubbed many the wrong way. There have been widespread calls to abolish the superdelegate system—and not all from the Sanders camp. Even Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, called the system “unfair.” ..............(more)


May 17, 2016

Why Not Getting Married Is Smart Economics For Women


from YES! Magazine:

Why Not Getting Married Is Smart Economics For Women
More people than ever before are choosing not to get married. And for women, that can actually be a good thing.

May 16, 2016

Come L or High Water: Sandy Damage Leaves MTA With Tough Choice

(WNYC) As subway-riding New Yorkers know, the system was dealt a huge blow during Sandy, when nine subway tunnels flooded with salt water.

"By far, the worst-damaged tunnel was Canarsie," said MTA president Tom Prendergast, naming the tunnel that carries the L train under the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. He said workers did what repairs they could, and flushed as much of the salt out as possible, in the days and weeks post-Sandy. "But salt remains, and so the corrosion continues. And there's a ticking clock with that."

Now, the MTA is preparing to make what it says are vital repairs: replacing the concrete that lines the cast-iron tunnel; rebuilding the concrete duct bank that runs alongside the tracks and carries electrical components, and installing new tracks and signals. (The MTA will also add entrances and elevators to the First Avenue and Bedford Avenue stations.) However, that requires the tunnel to shut down.

Here's where things get tricky.


Option A is designed to be a shorter, if sharper, shock: full closure of both tracks in the tunnel for eighteen months, beginning in January 2019. This accelerates the work — but limits the L train service to Brooklyn only. "That's sort of the mantra 'get in, get done, get out,'" said New York City Transit head Ronnie Hakim.

Option B preserves some service by keeping one track open. But "some" is the operative word here. Because of the need to single-track through the tunnel, "we'd reduce our service by about 80 percent," said Hakim. Meanwhile, the length of the work doubles...to three years.

Under each scenario, subway service on nearby lines like the A, C, G, J, and M would be increased, and the G would run full-length trains. The MTA would also run extra bus service over the Williamsburg Bridge, create shuttle bus service within Brooklyn to nearby subway stops, and consider new ferry service from North 7th Street to 20th Street in Manhattan. And once passengers get off the ferry at 20th Street, Hakim said, they'll be greeted by new Select Bus Service, the MTA's brand of bus rapid transit. "SBS on steroids," as she put it, "to bring people where they want to go." ....................(more)


May 16, 2016

The Big Sell: Making People Care About Infrastructure Repair

The Big Sell: Making People Care About Infrastructure Repair

Mary Wisniewski On May 16, 2016
Source: McClatchy

May 15--In comic book movies, transportation infrastructure problems are easy to spot.

Bridges fall. Asphalt shatters. And unless Ironman funds the repairs out of his personal fortune, big public debt issues are ahead.

In real life, damage to roads and rails tends to be gradual, though ultimately just as ruinous to regional well-being.

With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.

It's a tough sell -- roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don't, and politicians don't like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it's crucial to keep the system going the way it should. .............(more)


May 16, 2016

Recession Watch: Freight Volume Drops, Worst Level since 2010

Recession Watch: Freight Volume Drops, Worst Level since 2010
by Wolf Richter • May 14, 2016

[font color="blue"]Inventory glut, lousy consumer demand, the global economy…[/font]

Freight shipments by truck and rail in the US fell 4.9% in April from the beaten-down levels of April 2015, according to the Cass Transportation Index, released on Friday. It was the worst April since 2010, which followed the worst March since 2010. In fact, shipment volume over the four months this year was the worst since 2010.

This is no longer statistical “noise” that can easily be brushed off.

The Cass Freight Index is based on “more than $26 billion” in annual freight transactions by “hundreds of large shippers,” regardless of mode of transportation, including by truck and rail. It does not cover bulk commodities, such as oil and coal and thus is not impacted by the collapsing oil and coal shipments. The index is focused on consumer packaged goods, food, automotive, chemical, OEM, heavy equipment, and retail.

In a similar vein, the Association of American Railroads reported last week that loads of containers and trailers fell 7.5% in April year-over-year. “Intermodal” is a direct competitor to trucking. Combined, they’re a measure of the goods-based economy. ..................(more)


May 16, 2016

Chris Hedges: Welcome to 1984

from truthdig:

Welcome to 1984

Posted on May 14, 2016
By Chris Hedges

The artifice of corporate totalitarianism has been exposed. The citizens, disgusted by the lies and manipulation, have turned on the political establishment. But the game is not over. Corporate power has within its arsenal potent forms of control. It will use them. As the pretense of democracy is unmasked, the naked fist of state repression takes its place. America is about—unless we act quickly—to get ugly.

“Our political system is decaying,” said Ralph Nader when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It’s on the way to gangrene. It’s reaching a critical mass of citizen revolt.”

This moment in American history is what Antonio Gramsci called the “interregnum”—the period when a discredited regime is collapsing but a new one has yet to take its place. There is no guarantee that what comes next will be better. But this space, which will close soon, offers citizens the final chance to embrace a new vision and a new direction.

This vision will only be obtained through mass acts of civic mobilization and civil disobedience across the country. Nader, who sees this period in American history as crucial, perhaps the last opportunity to save us from tyranny, is planning to rally the left for three days, from May 23 to May 26 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in what he is calling “Breaking Through Power” or “Citizen’s Revolutionary Week.” He is bringing to the capital scores of activists and community leaders to speak, organize and attempt to mobilize to halt our slide into despotism.

“The two parties can implode politically,” Nader said. “They can be divided by different candidates and super PACs. But this doesn’t implode their paymasters.”

“Elections have become off-limits to democracy,” he went on. “They have become off-limits to democracy’s fundamental civil community or civil society. When that happens, the very roots shrivel and dry up. Politics is now a sideshow. Politics does not bother corporate power. Whoever wins, they win. Both parties represent Wall Street over Main Street. Wall Street is embedded in the federal government.” ...............(more)


May 14, 2016

Frequent service, not escalator access, is what attracts transit users

from the Transport Politic blog:

Frequent service, not escalator access, is what attracts transit users

[font size="1"]Boston’s Green Line extension, bloated after years of planning, gets slimmed down. A lesson for other cities.[/font]

Given how reliant the people of New York City are on their Subway, an outsider just looking at ridership data might conclude that the system must be paved with gold, or at least its stations must be decent to look at. After all, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the comfort of a transit system plays an essential role in encouraging people to abandon their cars and get on the train or bus. That’s why, some would argue, it’s so important to put amenities like USB charging and wifi into transit vehicles.

Yet anyone who has ever ridden the Subway knows first hand that its success has nothing to do with aesthetics or access to luxury amenities. Stations are hardly in good shape, trains are packed, and cell service is spotty at best. People ride the Subway in spite of these things; they ride it because it’s fast, it’s frequent, and it’s (relatively) reliable.

Too often, this simple fact is ignored by public agencies actually making decisions about how to invest. New York’s own $4 billion World Trade Center Transportation Hub—perhaps the world’s single-most expensive station—is evidence of that; rather than improve service frequency or speed, officials chose to direct public funds to a white monument that does nothing to actually ease the lives of daily commuters.

Initial plans for the MBTA’s Green Line extension, which would extend light rail service from Cambridge into Somerville and Medford—all three are close-in suburbs of Boston—featured none of the extravagances of downtown Manhattan’s new transit terminal. Yet it too was designed with unnecessary features that, while nice, did little to actually solve the travel needs of its future users. Its projected construction costs exploded such that officials announced last year the proposal could be cancelled. Now, after several months of review, the MBTA and the state government have voted to proceed with design changes meant to significantly bring down costs—but without compromising the quality of transit service to be offered to riders. ............(more)


May 14, 2016

Chinese Government Now Fretting about Auto Industry

Chinese Government Now Fretting about Auto Industry
by Wolf Richter • May 13, 2016

[font color="blue"]Commercial Vehicle Overcapacity at Catastrophic Levels.[/font]

Overcapacity weakened the US auto industry before the Financial Crisis, and destroyed it during the crisis, with two of the Big Three automakers, some of the biggest component makers, and numerous smaller component makers going bankrupt. It was during the bankruptcy process that the industry restructured, laid of hundreds of thousands of people, shuttered and shed plants, mauled creditors, destroyed stockholders, and finally got rid of overcapacity.

Overcapacity is devastating to the industry, employees, investors, and creditors. But it feels good on the way up.

And now the Chinese auto industry has that problem. The automakers active in China, including all global brands, have had no patience with doubters, and announcements of new assembly plants being built in different parts of China became a near weekly ritual.

China went from automotive backwater to the largest auto market in the world, blowing past the US in the process, within a decade. Last year, 24.6 million vehicles were sold in China, and no one was going to stop this blistering rate of growth, not even the slowing economy.


So when sales began to sag last year, the government threw all kinds of subsidies at it to keep growth alive no matter what, and sales perked up again. In the first four months this year, sales rose 6.1% compared to the same period in 2015, a far cry from the double-digit growth of prior years.

Yet automakers kept building plants, and production capacity kept soaring far faster than sales. By last year, China had the capacity to build 31.2 million vehicles. And idle capacity – the bane of the industry – is now rising; and in the case of commercial vehicles, an indicator for the good-producing economy, overcapacity is soaring. ..............(more)


May 14, 2016

ECB Admits: “We’re the Magic People” in a Clown Show

[font color="blue"]Negative-Interest-Rate absurdity is another “rabbit out of the hat.”[/font]
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

For the second time this year, Spain’s caretaker government just managed to sell 50-year bonds in a €3 billion ($3.4 billion) deal. Despite maturing in the year 2066, when many of us won’t even be alive and the duty to pay back the debt (assuming it still exists) will have been handed down to our children’s children, the bonds will pay an annual interest rate of just 3.45%. Not only that, but the issuance was over-subscribed by €7 billion.

This is a mind-blowing turn-up for a country that just four years ago needed an unprecedented bailout from the Troika to save its saving banks and avert total financial collapse. It is also a resounding testament to the power of central bank policy to turn economic reality on its head.

Less than three years ago, when Draghi had only just begun doing “whatever it takes” to save the single currency, the Spanish government had to pay a 5% yield to get investors to buy their one-year bonds. Now investors are willing to take 50-year bonds off the government’s hands in exchange for an annual interest rate of 3.45%, despite all the attendant risks involved.

While the Spanish economy has improved somewhat since then, that is largely due to the fact that the government has sacrificed long-term stability for short-term growth, going so far as to plunder half of the nation’s social security reserve fund in order to keep spending at its current levels. The remaining half is exclusively invested in Spanish bonds. Even Brussels now admits that Spain’s public debt is out of control.

To make matters worse, Spain doesn’t have an elected government to speak of and could struggle to form one even after the next round of elections, on June 26. .................(more)


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