Friday, May 26, 2017

Jared Kushner and the Slumlord Business

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The FBI considers Trump’s son-in law, the slumlord Jared Kushner, a “person of interest”. So he should be, his life activity, his time spent on this earth, causes untold misery for thousands of people. Kushner, like Trump, has never done a productive days work in his life, and is in charge of a slumlord regime left to him by his dad.   But it is not this anti-social activity that is being investigated. There’s nothing illegal about exploiting people’s need for shelter.  They are investigating Kushner’s possible ties with Russia and the Trump campaign. The US bourgeois are looking for a reason to rid themselves of Trump, and it must be a reason that can be justified in the mind of a significant portion of the US population. Trump is bad for business and he cannot be tolerated for much longer.

The activity of Kushner the slumlord causes far more pain and suffering to the American people than Putin or the Russians. He owns thousands of housing units of mostly working class and poor people and is known as a ruthless landlord. In 2011 and 2012, Kushner and his parasitic partners were “seeking a stable source of revenue” (money without working or unearned income) according to reports. One source they landed on is people’s housing in Baltimore County Maryland where they own 15 complexes that “house up to 20,000 people in total.” see:  Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire.

Then in 2013 they got another bunch of buildings in the East Village for $130 million and three years after that they spent $750 million on a bunch of buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses on “prime land” in Brooklyn.

To think that all forces in US society, the media, the religious institutions, the strategists of the labor movement all champion the so-called free market as having the answer to all things. They complain about the excess, but they never demand an end to it. Social housing is the alternative to predators like Kushner and other like him. It is far more efficient and humane. Social housing brings permanence and security free from the grubby clutches of the big landlords. Society can provide decent housing but the profiteers and the capitalists like Kushner though their control of politicil life, the media and all institutions of learning, wage a continuous propaganda war against anything public. Here is a video I shot at a rally in London last year. The second woman speaking explains why social housing is so important as it is under attack in the UK too. Thatcher helped destroy it. Corbyn, the Labor Party leader is calling for more social housing. It's about nine minutes long and the woman I am referring to in in the image and starts at 2.33.

Having such close ties to the US president offers Kushner and his gang more opportunity for capital. Business Weeks’s May 15th issue pointed out that Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer has been “pitching the family business” to potential Chinese investors enticing them with the possibility of a US visa in return. This will all be explained away as job creation no doubt.

Jared Kushner is a middleman between the Chinese and the White House and he was also in Iraq on Trump’s behalf and is an advisor on Israel/Palestine relations. Kushner also invests in the illegal settlements in Israel where Jewish extremists from around the world are brought in as the front line in the Zionists expansionary policies that requires the expulsion of the Palestinians whose land the settlers’ appropriate.  Trump was accompanied on his visit to Israel, by another US Zionist Jason Greenblatt. They are optimistic a peace deal can be reached.  Such a blatant slap in the face to the Palestinians and Muslims as a whole wouldn’t increase support for Islamic extremist groups would it?

Assaulting reporters has become the norm for Trump’s political and business colleagues. At one of the Kushner events in Beijing where, Nicole Kushner Meyer was drumming up business, the China correspondent from the Washington Post was manhandled and forced to delete some of her phone’s contents by security. See here tweets here.

Kushner’s dad Charles taught him the slumlord business. Charles Kushner spent some time in prison for “….18 counts of tax evasion witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.”.

Writing in Slate Magazine Jamelle Bouie touches on Kushner’s rapacious desire for wealth and the misery it brings to his victims, he quotes the above piece from the NYT:

Kushner’s company is relentless in its pursuit of “virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease—even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side.” Residents are slapped with thousands of dollars in fees and penalties, even if they had previously won permission to terminate a lease. All of this is compounded by poor upkeep of facilities. MacGillis describes one family that has had to deal with mold, broken appliances, and physical damage to their unit—even after paying the management company for repairs. In one complex, a resident “had a mouse infestation that was severe enough that her 12-year-old daughter recently found one in her bed.” In another, raw sewage flowed into the apartment.
Kushner’s anti-social activity here is not an exception in the landlord business, it is the general rule. Most of the largest owners of human housing in the US are hedge funds and other parasitic outfits. The investors don’t have to look their victims in the eye, don’t have to see the little children or elderly people whose lives they wreck.

There is no doubt that the Russians, just like the US interfere as much as they possibly can in the political life of competing nations.  When they don’t do it covertly they do it though military means.  The US invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, Grenada and the overthrow of governments in Iran and Guatemala (1953) as well as the assassination of obstacles to US economic penetration, (Allende, Rene Schneider in Chile, Lumumba, in The Congo) are well documented.

As I pointed out in an earlier commentary, the main problem for the US ruling class is not Trump’s crude behavior, that’s a detail. Nor is Kushner’s terrorism as a slumlord a problem. It is their activity that damages the so-called legitimacy of bourgeois democracy that worries them. Their system of governance is in jeopardy, that’s the problem. Not only the system itself but the office of the president. We have to “respect” that office more than the person is the claim.  They art obsessed with this charade for the same reason that the feudal aristocracy pointed to divine right for their rule and the slave owner racial superiority for theirs. If the people lose faith in the system they will inevitably at some point attempt to replace it.

That other political arm of the US ruling class, the Democratic Party has the same concerns. Their obsession is with Trump and Trumpism. Get rid of Trump and all will be well. They are the anti-Trump party.  It is impossible not to see the difference when we compare Trump to Obama for example. Obama is cultured, educated, smart and has class. But while recognizing what an incredible event it has been for black folks in America to have a black family in the White House given the brutal racist history of this country, Obama didn’t get where he is without being trusted by the overwhelmingly white ruling class in this country.

He spoke yesterday of the Manchester bombing: "As the father of two daughters, I am heartbroken by this extraordinary tragedy that has occurred in Manchester. To all the families that have been affected, to those that are still recovering, to those who lost loved ones, it is unimaginable to think about the cruelty and the violence the city of Manchester has suffered.”

'This is a reminder that there great danger….” Obama added, “…terrorism and people who will do great harm to others just because they are different'  

Obama, as the leading world representative of US capitalism oversaw the deaths of countless numbers of children as the US continued its bombing of seven or so former colonial countries. He continued the drone killings and assassinations of his predecessor Bush and increased them. Oh, wouldn’t they wish he was there now. Obama was good for them and he is over in Germany campaigning for Merkel and the CDU, Germany’s dominant capitalist party.

Trump is a reflection of the serious political crisis of US capitalism. Its two main parties are in disarray and neither were able to find acceptable candidates in the 2016 elections. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were frequently labeled the two most unpopular candidates in US history and Trump so unpopular that even staunch Republicans, and many a misogynist among them, supported Clinton.

With the next economic recession or slump not too far on the horizon, it will exacerbate the political crisis facing US capitalism and add fuel to the anger that for the most part lies beneath the surface of US society. Still, there have been many opportunities for the US working class to rise to the occasion over the past period and we are seeing numerous struggles taking place around different issues, Standing Rock, poisoned drinking water in urban centers, housing, police brutality, environmental destruction and more. At some point, this anger will rise to the surface and these movements will begin to come together.

Opportunities have been missed and the present situation ripened to the extent that it has due to the role played by the hierarchy atop organized labor that have resources and a huge apparatus at their disposal and refuse to use it. As the 1% face a crisis of a decaying system and dysfunctional political parties, workers, the poor and middle class have been denied a movement and most importantly a political party of our own due to the labor leaderships deathly embrace with the democratic Party and worship of the market.

This won’t go on forever.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump: "Isis Targets Jewish Neighborhoods"

The glorious apex of human civilization
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I never read 1984 but perhaps I should. I’m sure, for those that have read it; they feel they are now living it. We were living it before Trump of course, but Trump really drives home the crisis that US capitalism is in and the dangers that arise from it.

Trump’s chat with the controversial Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte was interesting, not unlike two pimps discussing the territory they control and how they deal with rivals. Reports claim Duterte has killed some 6000 drug dealers and users over the past 6 months and this impresses Trump. Trump congratulated Duerte on his killings but not to be outdone, the US Predator in Chief boasted about the incredible firepower the US has when the subject of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un came up.  "We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines—the best in the world—we have two nuclear submarines—not that we want to use them at all," Trump told Duterte, according to the published transcript. "I've never seen anything like they are, but we don't have to use this, but he could be crazy, so we will see what happens."

The Philippines are somewhat important to Trump as his name is on the $150 million 57-floor tower in Manila, a licensing deal has brought him and his company millions of dollars.  But here we have a meeting of two diabolic minds. Kim Jong-Un would not be out of place here.

It would be difficult to write some farcical pantomime or play better than this, a sort of The Mouse That Roared except we have rats and they’re dangerous although I don’t want to insult rats. The best bet is not to compare Trump to any life form on our wonderful planet.

Trump says whatever he feels like saying at the moment. He boasted in Israel that he will resolve the Arab Israeli conflict. This is not only impossible within the framework of capitalism, so it is certainly beyond the powers of the imbecile Trump, “ I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace” he told an audience at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  The problem is that the Zionist regime in intent by its very nature in driving every Palestinian off their land. It is intent on being 100% successful in its ethnic cleansing program. The Zionists feel this way because their philosophy dictates it, this land is there’s given to them by god.  Like all religious doctrines of course, the Israeli ruling class doesn’t really believe it themselves, it is important that the masses do though.

Trump was accompanied in Israel by two powerful US Zionists, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner. Greenblatt is a lawyer that represents Trump and is also an advisor on Israel. Kushner is the heir to the family real estate and media business. He is a married to Trump's daughter Ivanka and for most of his life a Democrat until the Trump campaign and presidency offered more opportunity. He's a sort of spoiled rich kid that Trump has thrust in to a position of power that affects the daily lives of millions of us; these guys remind us of the days of the Roman Empire. Kushner owns major real estate ventures including residential property and according to reports, is somewhat of a slumlord. On hearing that Kushner got an important position in the Trump administration Mary Ann Siwek, one of Kushner’s tenants for 30 years at one of his buildings in NYC was astounded, “It’s disgusting. It’s insane. It’s ludicrous,” she told the Village Voice, “I don’t know how to tell you how despicable this man is.”

Kushner also sued many of his tenants in Baltimore, "The President's son-in-law, sues his Baltimore tenants for thousands of dollars in bogus debts, on which he also gets judgments allowing him to garnish their wages and drain their bank accounts.”, writes one blogger.  More on Kushner the slumlord here.  Kushner  also finances some of the illegal settlements in Israel occupied by right wing religious fanatics operating as the front line in the Zionists' efforts to ethnic cleanse the area of Palestinians. 

Greenblatt has stated that “West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace" which is a vicious lie, they are a major obstacle to peace, but most Americans, certainly those that voted for Trump, wouldn’t know about that. So with these two as important advisors on the Israel Palestinian question it is safe to say that the Palestinians are f%#ked.

Trump, and by all accounts, US Middle East foreign policy, is now in a team effort with “Sunni Arab states to fight terrorism” the Financial Times reports today.  The nation that is responsible for world terrorism is Iran now. Yet trump meets with the world’s leading promoter of Islamic extremist groups, Saudi Arabia, a nation where atheism is classed as terrorism and women can be whipped for leaving the home without a male relative. And it is the Sunni Moslems and the particular Wahhabi Saudi brand of it that has a huge influence on extremism and Islamic terrorist groups.We're in Bizzarro world.

So Trump and the US is now condemning the Iranians despite the victory of the reformer, Hassan Rouhani, over the conservative hard liner in last week's election. Rouhani campaigned for better relations with the west and attacked the conservative old guard.  How far Rouhani can go though is debatable given his own role in the persecution and suppression of dissent in Iran under the Mullah's.

But Trump supposedly forming a bloc with Apartheid Israel and the savage Saudi’s and other Sunni Arab states is not a workable situation I would think. Madness indeed.  But perhaps the most bizarre statement from Trump I read today is his claim that, “Isis targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues and store fronts.”

Where did he get that from? Isis kills more Muslims than any other group. But Jews, hardly, and certainly not Israelis if that’s what he meant. Isis is an asset for the Zionists, just like Anti-Semitism, they thrive on it.

The world and the fate of humanity is in the hands of madmen, the products of a decaying social system. Marx pointed out that no social system leaves the stage of history without exhausting all the potential within it. But capitalism will not leave voluntarily, it will have to be driven in to extinction and it is the task of the working class internationally to do that. But there are no guarantees, the fundamental difference between capitalism and other social system is the existence of nuclear weapons. They don’t make all these weapons never to use them. As we have said many times, capitalism will destroy life as we know it if we do not stop it. There is no place to hide.

Trump’s budget balls-up

by Michael Roberts

President Trump’s economic team have release their plans for the federal budget over the next ten years.  It is a combination of wildly optimistic economic growth forecasts, vicious cutbacks in public services and environmental measures; and significant cuts in corporate taxes and personal taxes for the rich.

But what is exercising mainstream economists are the schoolboy errors in the budget logic.  The budget assumes a $2trn increase in revenue coming from fast economic growth to balance the budget by 2027.  But at the same time this economic growth is supposed to pay for $2trn in tax cuts so that there is no loss in revenue.  But if you cut revenue with tax cuts of $2trn, you cannot restore the revenue by growth AND also balance the budget with another $2trn by 2027.  That is double-counting.  One ludicrous part of this calculation is that the budget aims to cut $300bn in estate taxes over the next decade and yet forecasts a rise in estate tax revenue from faster economic growth.  So will estate tax revenue rise or fall? – it cannot be both!

This is an interesting quirk for mainstream economists to mull over, but what those who look to the interests of working people should note in the budget are the huge hits to federal public services (while increasing military and national security spending).  In the so-called ‘Taxpayer First Budget’, the plan is to strip down expenditure on all sorts of civil services by $3.6trn over ten years.  Funding for Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans will be cut by $800bn.  The federal nutrition program (food stamps) that benefits 44m of the poorest Americans (yes, it is that many on food stamps) would be cut by nearly 30%.  The budget director said that too many of these programs “spend other people’s money” and that we should have “compassion for folks who are paying for it”.  So much for the concept of ‘society’.

At the same time, corporate tax rates will be slashed from 35% to 15%; foreign aid grants (outside of military spending) will be eliminated and $1.6bn will be allocated for building the wall on the Mexican border.  Consumer finance protection measures will be removed and financial regulations relaxed.

As for personal taxation, the top income tax rate is to be cut to 33 percent from 39.6 percent.  There will be a cut in taxes on capital gains, 70 percent of which flow to the top 1 percent.  The  estate tax will be eliminated.  This applies to a tiny number of people, couples that have estates bigger than $10.8 million.   The 3.8 percent surtax on high earners’ investment income that has been used to subsidize health care for poorer Americans will be stopped.  And the alternative minimum tax, which currently limits deductions for high earners, will also go.  And there will be lower taxes on cash flow and income that passes from small businesses to their owners, which also primarily benefits wealthier America

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, found “high-income taxpayers would receive the biggest cuts, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income… Three-quarters of the tax cuts would benefit the top 1 percent of taxpayers,” if the plan were put into effect this year, it said. The highest-income households — the top 0.1 percent — would get “an average tax cut of about $1.3 million, 16.9 percent of after-tax income.” Those in the middle fifth of incomes would get a tax cut of almost $260, or 0.5 percent, while the poorest would get about $50. That split would worsen down the road, the Tax Policy Center says: “In 2025 the top 1 percent of households would receive nearly 100 percent of the total tax reduction.” 

Even the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation concluded that those in the top 1 percent of the income scale would save at least 10 times as much, or 5.3 percent. That’s nearly $40,000 extra for those at the top, compared to $67 for those smack dab in the middle of the income scale.

But leaving aside the inequities of the Trump administration’s budget plan and its basic accounting errors, the biggest flaw is in its forecast of average 3% real GDP growth in the US economy over the next ten years.  This forecast is essential in justifying the ‘dynamic scoring’ of the budget revenue projections.  But it is fairyland.  Jason Furman at the Petersen Institute points out that the divergence between this forecast (3%) and the consensus forecast of mainstream economists (2%) is the widest in half a century.  And 1% point of growth each year makes a huge difference.

Furman ran 10m simulations (yes 10m) of the likely possibility that 3% growth could be achieved as a random possibility from the median forecast of economic growth of 1.8% a year.  The odds of getting 3% were 4%.

The real problem is that across the advanced capitalist economies, productivity growth has plummeted in the last ten years of the Long Depression…..

while employment and population growth has slowed.

Thus, the potential growth rates of the top capitalist economies have dropped away. The Trump target of 3% (it used to be 4%) is just not going to happen.  And all this assumes that there is no new major economic slump in capitalist production, employment and investment in the next ten years.  If the history of capitalist economic cycles are to be relied upon, then that is almost ruled out, even if my own forecast of a new slump by 2018 turns out to be wrong.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump tells Israelis he just got back from the Middle East

The cultured erudite leader of the so-called free world telling people in a Middle Eastern country he just got back from the Middle East meaning Saudi Arabia.

I guess only Arabs and Muslims are Middle Eastern.  Israel is a European colonial settler state so he doesn't consider Israelis Middle Eastern I guess..

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trump and US capitalism's Catch -22.

Top Building Trades Leaders Kissing Trump's Ass
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Is it an exaggeration to say that the US capitalist class is experiencing its greatest crisis since the Civil War?  No matter what one’s answer to that particular question, that truth is that the ruling class in the US is in a lot of trouble.

Despite all of Trump’s personal failings, the Predator in Chief is not the cause of this crisis; he is a symptom of it.  Serious representatives of capitalism are conscious of this but they are in a bind.  What can they do? Their system of governance, bourgeois (capitalist) democracy, is in peril.  Universal suffrage is supposedly a right in a capitalist democracy but there is a danger in such freedoms as the electorate, for one reason or another, may not select the favored candidate of the bourgeois themselves.

Still, this is the preferred way to govern for the capitalist class, it gives the illusion of freedom and, at the best of times, a certain social stability that allows for profit taking and capital accumulation. When and if bourgeois democracy breaks down, military dictatorship is another option but not taken lightly, and of course, fascism has disastrous consequences as history shows. The biggest fear of all, is a workers' revolt, the growth of socialist ideas  and the possibility of a democratic socialist revolution----the building of a genuine workers' democracy.

In the last election the situation was so dire, the dominant section of the US capitalist class couldn’t produce a candidate they liked.  In the end, they settled for the lesser evil and that didn’t work either. We have to digest that: they couldn’t get their candidate elected, so they got the buffoon Trump.  

Every day the US and world wakes up wondering what Trump did today.  Capitalism likes stability, it cannot function in this turmoil, owners of capital will not play the game. They would like to be rid of Trump, but there’s no easy way out, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

It is not Trump’s vulgar sexist remarks that bother them, or that he’s a liar, or that he says bad things about Muslims. It’s that he is undermining their precious system, he is undermining bourgeois democracy, its institutions and it’s officials, especially the office of the president that Trump holds.

The dilemma they’re in is made clear in Peggy Noonan’s, column in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. After the election, Noonan showed some optimism, calling on her class to rally around Trump----yes he’s inexperienced but help him govern.  But now, Noonan admits that Trump has “…produced a building crisis that is unprecedented in our history.”  

The legitimacy of bourgeois democracy is threatened by Trump as the Commander in Chief and Noonan warns him titling her Op Ed piece “Democracy is Not Your Plaything.”.  Whenever they use the term “Democracy” they mean capitalist democracy, fundamentally their right to buy labor power and the workers’ right to sell it.

“There is a sense that nobody’s in charge…” she writes, “….there’s no power center that’s holding, that in Washington they’re all randomly slamming in to each other. Which is not good in a crisis.”

Not good indeed. But what can they do?  To remove him, no matter which method, would undermine the system further as people will simply see it as the all powerful state intervening in the democratic process as Noonan explains, “…he was duly and legally elected by tens of millions of Americans who had legitimate reasons to support him. They believe the press is trying to kill him. “He’s new, not a politician, give him a chance.’” It will prove Trump right, he will be the victim, the "swamp" can't be drained.

That the world sees the U.S. political system “as a circus” is a frightening scenario.  It’s not the people Trump is firing that are the problem Noonan says, “He is the problem.” As many of us have said in the past, Trump has always had his own way, had everything given to him, money and the power that goes with it, the power to sexually abuse women, mistreat workers and fear no consequences. But being the head of state, and the most powerful state in the world, that is a different matter. He is the reason the state apparatus is dysfunctional says Noonan. Why would the most talented people step up to help and, “…enter a poisonous staff environment just for the joy of committing career suicide.”

So the US ruling class are stuck in this dilemma but they cannot sit idly by. They initially thought they could control him, rein him in, but it is clear that this is not possible. We can guarantee that the dominant theoreticians of the big bourgeois are meeting and discussing this on a daily basis.

There is talk of impeachment in the air and that Trump is maybe unfit for the office. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a couple of not very favorable pieces on this subject in its latest issue.  The first approaches it from the point of being a CEO in a corporation and how his record holds up there. Not very well I’m afraid. “Appointing inexperienced relatives to important positions is not normally seen as good corporate governance” writes BW’s editor-in-chief.

Another BW columnist, Ramesh Ponnuru refers to the Trump Administration’s responses to the numerous accusations made against him, as “disorganized dishonesty.”, and that Trump has no “internal regulator, that other presidents, like most people have had”. An Administration that attempts to get the public to swallow a “false storyline may be fearsome;…”, writes Ponnunu, “….one that can’t maintain a false storyline longer than a day is merely pathetic.”  In fact, the situation is so pathetic that according to Pannunu, Trump’s own staff refers to him both on and off the record, “…as a petulant child, one who has to be kept from watching too much television or the wrong programs.” Ouch!

I apologize for the repeated quotes but it is important to get a feel for the crisis that the theoreticians of capitalism recognize they’re in. Ponnunu admits that the very cabinet Trump picked is not about to impeach him, “But this is also a president who can’t impose discipline on himself, let alone his administration, let alone our country; who’s easily bored, distracted; who’s presiding over crisis after crisis of his own creation.”

US capitalism is in an economic, political and brooding social crisis.

The Democrats are as concerned about the undermining of bourgeois democracy as their Republican kin and as the anti-everything-Trump party are hoping to cash in and make some major gains in the mid-term elections.  We may well see former SF mayor, the dashing millionaire Gavin Newsom, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. The US capitalist class can then return to a normalized organized offensive against US workers and their competitors abroad.

We must also not lose sight of the fact that the next recession or slump is not far away.  US consumer debt balances hit $12.7 trillion in the first quarter and sudent debt is well over one trillion dollars, more than credit card debt:

The most recent reports indicate there is:
  • $1.44 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt
  • 44.2 million Americans with student loan debt
  • Student loan delinquency rate of 11.2% (90+ days delinquent or in default)
  • Average monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years): $351
  • Median monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years): $203

Corporate leverage, according to Gillian Tett in the Financial Times, is at $8.52 trillion 57% above the 2008 peak and the IMF reckons that 10% of US corporate assets are “struggling” to meet interest payments and 22% of companies “vulnerable” if the cost of borrowing money rises. Debt allows capitalism to go beyond its limits, to hold off a depression or slump temporarily, but at some point, like a stretched elastic band, it reaches a certain point then snaps back to normalcy or breaks entirely.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky pointed out decades ago that the crisis of the working class is a crisis of leadership. That was true back then and it is even truer today. We witness it in the collaboration between the big capitalists and the heads of organized labor in driving down the living standards of workers under the slogan of competition. The consequences are defeated strikes and demoralization as workers feel there is nothing that can be done.

We see it with the betrayal of the so-called workers’ parties throughout the world, even those non-traditional parties like Syriza in Greece whose leaders called a referendum in which the Greek workers stated they wanted to fight the austerity measures forced on them by the Troika (EU, European Commission and the IMF) only to have Syriza leader, Alex Tsipras and the party capitulate 24 hours later.

It is impossible to say what will happen as this Catch-22 unfolds. The only thing we can say with certainty is that it cannot continue indefinitely. For working people, the Democrats, as always, are no real alternative. This party has no real program other than proclaiming to be the Anti-Trump just as Marine Le Pen described herself as the Anti-Merkel.  But as we have stated in the past, sometimes it takes the whip of the counterrevolution to force movements from below, to drive the working class  to fight back, in the process overcoming the obstacle of our own leadership.

Trump and his gang are that whip.  Even if they rid themselves of this buffoon, the whip won’t be put away, it will just be used a little more efficiently.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Working Class Perspectives. Just Talkin'

Trump's $110 billion Bow. Dancing for Dollars

Two of a Kind
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The Predator in Chief is over in Saudi Arabia on behalf of the US arms industry and as the picture shows, a good time is being had by all. Trump sealed a $110 billion arms deal as one of US imperialism’s staunchest allies in the region (the Apartheid Zionist regime being the other) must be getting short of weapons of mass destruction due to its murderous assault on the poverty stricken nation of Yemen.

Trump was elated, telling journalists (from the fake or real news I don’t know) that this was a “tremendous day” that will bring “hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs. So I would like to thank all the people of Saudi Arabia.”

Trump dragged country singer, Toby Keith along on the trip and he gave a concert apparently, although only men over the age of 21 could attend.  Many of Keith’s supporters may well refer to his audience at the concert as “Rag Heads” or Sand Ni%*ers as Keith is a pretty narrow minded individual when it comes to politics. He’s patriotic and proud which means he doesn’t question authority.  He also attacked the Dixie Chicks, especially the lead singer Natalie Maines.  If you haven’t seen it you should watch the movie “Shut up and Sing” it’s about that incident with the Dixie Chicks and Ms Maines, Keith doesn’t come close to this sister when it comes to courage and integrity.

It’s not quite clear if in his thanks to “all the people of Saudi Arabia” Trump included the young woman who was gang raped by seven men and received 100 lashes for it as a punishment. She appealed the punishment but got another100 added on. By appealing, she was attempting to "aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media", the judge said.  The woman’s original crime was driving in a car with a male who wasn’t a relative.  The lawyer representing her was also suspended.

Did Trump thank those Saudi’s who dare criticize the regime, or those who dare admit to being atheists which is designated as terrorism in Saudi Arabia? Perhaps the foreign workers from Nepal, the Philippines and Bangladesh that have been raped, murdered and tortured by rich Saudi’s that employ them.

Trump, Tillerson Wilbur Ross dancing with the Saudi's and salivating at the thought of the dollars

Don’t thinks so. Politics makes strange bed fellows as they say and the Saudi’s have a lot of money, no unions, a ruthless state machine that suppresses any dissent. The US arms sales are for national defense but also domestic oppression; the Saudi regime must be protected. The weapons are to ensure that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia, the main perpetrators of Islamic extremism, are safely in the drivers seat. The Arab Spring was also a warning to them and the US doesn’t want that oil wealth falling in to the hands of some crazy mass uprising wanting to democratize society to nationalize the oilfields and other crazy ideas.

It’s a great deal really. The US sells similar weaponry to the Zionist regime, another racist  regime in the area, but always ensure the Zionists have the edge, including certain technology that the Saudi’s don’t get.  Israel is a much more reliable ally, not because the US capitalist class loves Jews, just the opposite, but because of the potential power of the Arab masses, the Arab working class. The Arab Spring removed a few US installed and financed dictators in the area and it is this fear that makes Israel a better ally. The Arab regimes are too unstable and too hated by their own working class.

Trump’s talk of investment is hot air of course but what’s more absurd about it is when one thinks that hundreds of billions of dollars is paid to the US arms industry that could itself be invested in society.  More importantly, this wealth, in the form of weapons of mass destruction, is created by US workers.  The labor power, material and productive forces used in creating this product could be applied in a totally different way, in a way that would produce commodities and social necessities that aren’t used for mass slaughter and that aren’t produced for profit.

But that’s not how capitalism works is it. 

Brazil: at the end of its Temer?

by Michael Roberts

The news that Brazil’s right-wing President Temer has been caught trying to bribe politicians to keep quiet about corruption allegations increases the likelihood that he will be impeached by Brazil’s Congress this year.  Temer is already the most unpopular president in Brazil’s democratic history.  He only got into office by organising a ‘constitutional coup’ that ousted elected centre-left President Dilma Rousseff on the grounds of so-called ‘budgetary violations’.  An alliance of parties in favour of pro-capitalist measures to cut wages, social benefits and pensions took over Congress to back Temer.  Brazil’s stock markets and currency boomed and international capital returned to invest.

But now all these ‘reforms’ in the interests of profitability are in jeopardy.  Even though the neo-liberal policies adopted by the previous Workers Party presidents Lula and Dilma led to a loss of support among Brazil’s working class and their eventual demise, the Temer-led alliance has never commanded majority support and the latest scandal could see its end.

Where this will leave Brazilian economy and its people is difficult to judge – I look to my Brazilian readers to explain.  But here I can add that the Temer administration’s aim has been clear: to drive up the low profitability of Brazilian industry and capital by reducing the share going to labour; destroying trade union and other opposition trends; and turning to foreign capital for support.

The big reason that the Dilma government fell was the economy.  After the collapse of commodity prices from about 2011, Brazil’s economy dived into a delayed but deep slump.  And it is still in this economic recession.

But Temer and Brazilian capital, after ousting Dilma, were hoping that a general recovery in the world economy would spread to Brazil.  Things would turn around and enable them to cement their rule.  And there have been some signs of such a recovery.  Brazilian business has shown signs of more confidence.

Although commodity prices have not returned to the heady heights of before 2010, they have at least reversed a little from their deep collapse in the period up to the end of 2015.  Moreover, in the last year, it seems that the prognosis of a collapse in China and a slowdown in the US has not materialised.  And China and the US are by far Brazil’s biggest export markets.

Also, the economic recession has led to a large drop in imports of foreign goods.  So Brazil’s trade balance has improved.

And after significant ‘capital flight’ by rich Brazilians under Dilma, foreign investment has started to return to Brazil, given its pro-capitalist government.

One of the results of the deep depression was sharply falling inflation.  So, although wages for the average Brazilian family have stagnated or even fallen, in real terms (after inflation) they have risen, if only to the level of two years ago.

But unemployment continues to spiral as Brazil’s companies cut back on staff and public sector jobs are decimated.

The medium-term future for Brazil’s economy does not look bright, despite the recent optimism of mainstream economists and pro-capitalist politicians in Brazil.  It was a commodities boom that fuelled much of Brazil’s GDP growth prior to 2010.  The country’s share of global non-oil resource exports rose from 5 percent in 2002 to 9 percent in 2012.  Today commodity prices remain high compared with their historic averages, but the exceptional surge in both demand and prices has levelled off.

At the same time, both households and corporations remained burdened with significant debt.  Household debt has grown from 20 percent of income in 2005 to 43 percent of income in 2012, and high real interest rates (averaging 145 percent on credit cards) make this a heavy burden for consumers. On the government side, federal expenses increased from 15.7 percent of GDP in 2002 to 18.9 percent in 2013, mainly due to interest payments on debt. As a result, taxes have already climbed from 29 percent of GDP in 1995 to 36 percent in 2013, the highest level among Brazil’s emerging market peers. As a share of GDP, Brazil’s gross public sector debt is less than a third that of Japan, but its debt service costs are almost 15 times as high.

Above all, there is little sign that Brazilian capital can really develop the productive forces of the economy and its people.  Resource exports and credit-fuelled consumption have not translated into higher investment or productivity. Between 2000 and 2011, Brazil’s overall investment rate averaged 18 percent of GDP, below that of other developing economies such as Chile (23 percent) or Mexico (25 percent), and much below those of China (42 percent) and India (31 percent).

Brazil’s productivity has been almost stagnant since 2000; today it is just over half the level achieved in Mexico.

According to McKinsey, the global management consultants, more than half of Brazil’s population remain below a monthly income per head of R$560.  To cut this level of poverty to under 25% would require productivity four times as fast as the current rate. And there is no prospect of that under capitalism in Brazil.  That’s because the profitability of Brazilian capital is low and continues to stay low.

The profitability of Brazil’s dominant capitalist sector had been in secular decline, imposing continual downward pressure on investment and growth.  Sure, the overthrow of the military regimes and the rise in commodity prices turned round the fall in profitability for a while. But profitability now is still well below its best years in the early 2000s.

The graph below shows three indexed (1963=100) measures (M= Maito; Mar = Marquetti; P = mine based on Penn World tables and poly = smoothed average).

Even if Temer survives, Brazil’s ruling elite face a difficult task in imposing control over its working class and cutting public spending and wages, and thus attracting significant foreign capital.  The ruling elite is more likely to flee with its capital at every sign of difficulty.  So Brazil capitalism will be stuck in a low growth, low profitability future with continuing political and economic paralysis.  And that is without a new global recession coming over the horizon.

Friday, May 19, 2017

San Leandro: Local School Boards as Agents of the Big Business Agenda

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

This is following up on a previous commentary about the San Leandro school board imposing taxes on working people, the poor and the middle class in order to maintain the public schools in their present dismal state.  There is no pretense at all that they intend to actually fight to improve and expand public education. They have absolutely no program, strategy of plan to throw back the present assault on public education.

What is happening here is happening throughout the country and the world. It is the generalized offensive against the working class, making the working class, the poor, the indigenous people, the rural workers pay for the crisis for the system.  Our fightback can start where we are but must always have a national and indeed international perspective.

Here is a flier Facts For Working People produced about this issue previously.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reading Capital Today

by Michael Roberts

As we approach the exact date of the publication of Marx’s Capital Volume One 150 years ago (14 September), a host of conferences and books are coming out in the small world of Marxist study on the relevance of Capital today.  The symposium that I am organising with King’s College London will be on 19-20 September, just around the corner from the British Library where Marx did the research for his opus magnum.  But already there have been conferences in Greece on Capital; a conference in New York at Hofstra University, and next week, York University, Toronto.  All have a large participation by leading Marxist scholars.

And the books are also coming out. The first is aptly entitled Reading Capital Today edited by Ingo Schmidt and Carl Fanelli from two Canadian universities and includes contributions from various activists and academics covering the issues of class struggle, internationalism and the Bolshevik revolution, imperialism, social reproduction and the environment. But I’ll only comment on the specifically economic subject: the labour theory of value.

Prabhat Patnaik is emeritus professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Kerala, India.  In his chapter, Patnaik argues that Marx’s value theory is not meant to explain relative prices between commodities.  The real purpose is to show that commodities priced in money reflect the socially necessary labour time involved in the whole economy.  However, that is as far as I can agree with Patnaik’s interpretation of Marx’s theory.

Patnaik seems to accept that there are two systems, one of value and one of price and that Marx’s transformation of value into prices leads to the total surplus value in an economy being different than the total profit.  This is clearly wrong as the work of scholars like Carchedi, Freeman, Kliman and Moseley have shown.  He also seems to think that Marx’s theory depends solely on commodity money (gold) and does not work or apply to fiat money (notes and reserves not backed by gold) – again a wrong interpretation.

It is true, as Patnaik says, that Marx argued that a rise in wages does not lead to inflation of prices as such, but instead to a fall in the share going to profit (see Marx’s famous debate with Weston, a British trade unionist, in Value, Price and Profit).  But from this, Patnaik seems to conclude that the fundamental contradiction in capitalism revealed by Marx’s law of value is that rising wages will squeeze profits (a profit squeeze theory).  There is no mention of how Marx’s value theory leads onto his law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.  For Patnaik, Marx’s value theory appears to differ little from that of Ricardo (two systems of value and prices and the distribution of wages and profits as key to crises).  With this interpretation, Marx’s famous formula for the rate of profit (s/c+v) becomes irrelevant.

A more useful exercise for those interested in studying Capital today is to read the book itself.  And some great Marxist scholars have developed reading courses that can be followed to do so.  The most comprehensive is that by David Harvey, probably the most well-known scholar on Marxist economics in the world today – and one of our speakers at Capital.150 this September in London.   Indeed, David Harvey debated only this month with Patnaik on the latter’s current take on imperialism.

Harvey covers Volume One of Capital in detail here, as well as Volume Two and a recent set of lectures on his take on Capital today.  These lectures are compiled in written form in: A Companion to Marx’s Capital (Verso, 2010) and A Companion to Marx’s Capital Volume 2 (Verso, 2013).
Over the next few months, I shall try to critique Harvey’s and other scholars’ analysis as we head towards the Capital.150 symposium.  But you can see some of the differences that I and other scholars have already raised with Harvey’s views, particularly on the causes of crises here.

David Harvey’s contribution to understanding Marx’s great work has been invaluable.  But there are other readings that have also made an important contribution, if less well known.  For example, out in Los Angeles, Frieda Afary, a philosophy MA and librarian, has been conducting community-based readings of Capital throughout this year.

But perhaps, the most useful guide in reading Capital today is a new book by Joseph Choonara, A Reader’s Guide to Marx’s Capital (not published until July).  Choonara takes the reader through each chapter of Volume One with some clarifying analysis and relevant comment to help.  Choonara says that “It is designed to be read in parallel with Capital itself, with each chapter of this book consulted either before or after digesting the relevant sections of Marx’s work.”  The aim, unlike that of Harvey’s more comprehensive approach in his video lectures, is “instead to dwell on those areas that are the most vital to an overall understanding of the work and those that most often confuse, drawing on my own experience teaching Capital to left-wing audiences of students and workers over the past decade”.

For, in Choonara’s view, Marx attempted in Capital to see capitalism from the point of view of labour and aimed for a working-class audience.  Capital clearly does the former, but whether it achieved its aim of reaching working class readers is more doubtful.  Choonara’s guide can help here.

Choonara says that “Marx focuses on production in the first volume. The second deals with the circulation process, which is the way that capital passes through its various phases (production, but also purchase and sale). The third volume integrates both aspects of capitalism and so deals with the process as a whole, allowing Marx to explore some of the most complex aspects of the system.”  This is important, because the full story of capitalism as Marx sees it requires the reading of all three volumes (and what is often called the fourth – Theories of Surplus Value) as well as Marx’s earlier research notes compiled in what is called the Grundrisse.

This is important, Choonara comments, because “the interlinked nature of the project causes problems for those who just read volume one. This can potentially lead to a crude focus on production, in which issues related to the circulation of capital or questions such as finance and credit that are discussed mainly in volume three are overlooked. That said, it is helpful to see production as forming the foundation for circulation, and so Marx’s ordering of volumes makes sense.”  This contrasts with Harvey’s interpretation: “In this I take issue with David Harvey’s very influential reading of Capital, which tends to flatten down these different levels of analysis, treating them all as equally fundamental.”   Choonara goes on: Harvey’s “idea is that production and circulation should be considered as having the same explanatory priority in the analysis of capitalism, whereas Marx clearly feels that production is in some sense more basic than circulation.”

Choonara is not afraid to take a view on what Marx means, particularly in the more difficult early chapters on value.  In particular, he varies from Patnaik’s view on Marx’s view of money: “there is nothing in this analysis that precludes the replacement of the money commodity with symbolic representations or electronically created credit (the form taken by most money today). To understand this requires going much further into Capital, and in particular the sections on finance and credit in the third volume.”  This follows from Marx’s endogenous theory of money, namely that “more or less money would circulate according to the needs of circulation …. Marx’s argument is that the amount of money simply reflects the total price that has to be circulated and the speed with which it circulates.”

Choonara’s reading also shows that Marx did not have some ‘iron law of wages’, as argued by the classical economists Ricardo and Malthus, leading to the view that it was impossible to raise the real wages of workers by their own efforts as wages were determined by the value of the means of subsistence and the effect of productivity and capital accumulation on that.

Choonara comments: “One peculiarity of the subsequent attacks on Marxist theory is that this iron law is often attributed to Marx himself. The vehemence of Marx’s attack (on the iron law) reflects the fact that if the “iron law” were correct, then struggles over wages, and indeed the formation of trade unions, would be pointless, leading the socialist movement into a dogmatic cul-de-sac by isolating it from the real movement of workers.”

Recently, the eminent Marxist professor Michael Lebowitz seems to claims Marx did fall into this fallacy.  Lebowitz implies that Marx’s accumulation theory that workers cannot raise their living standards through struggle as the gains from productivity growth will all go to capital.  In Lebowitz’s words, Marx accepts the ‘Ricardian default’.

Yes, for Marx, “the rate of accumulation is the independent, not the dependent variable; the rate of wages is the dependent, not the independent variable”. In other words, the pattern of accumulation tends to drive the shifts in wages, not the other way round.  But changes to wages, emerging out of accumulation, can still react back onto the patterns of accumulation (Choonara).

And that perceptive mainstream economist, William Baumol, long ago showed that for Marx “wages need not be equal to the value of labour power… and the omission of any fixed equilibrium was deliberate because Marx wanted to show that workers have the power to raise wages substantially even under capitalism”.  Indeed, they could do so and actually alter “the historical and social element that enters into the value of labour power”, which is not determined by the iron law of nature or ‘subsistence’.

Indeed, that is the lesson of the struggle to lower the working day so comprehensively described in Capital.  As Marx put it: “The Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class [ie the capitalists] succumbed to the political economy of the working class.”  This was a gain for the value of labour power that was permanent, as is the 8 hour day in the 20th century – although only continual class struggle can preserve such gains.

There are many other useful commentaries by Choonara on aspects of Capital: on the nature of alienation, productive and unproductive labour, mental and material labour, complex and simple labour, on accumulation etc. But enough for now, for there will be more to follow over the coming months, as we consider the relevance of Capital, now 150 years old.