Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Norman Finkelstein and the Master Race, Chosen People Disease

Norman Finkelstein's July 30, 2014 appearance at Red Emmma's bookstore in Baltimore was recently broadcast on C-SPAN.  In front of a large and highly engaged audience Finkelstein proved himself adept at discussing the legal and moral implications of Israel's ongoing slaughter in the Gaza Strip.  As usual, he was highly informative, passionately articulate, and fully committed to achieving peace in Palestine - so long as it doesn't require the abolition of a Jewish state.   

 But what if it does?

Finkelstein took several shots at BDS activists (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) and any notion of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which he denounced as supremely unrealistic.

He actually went further, suggesting it was a form of lunacy, lacking backing from even a single member state of the United Nations.  A one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he said, would be like proposing a resolution to U.S. immigration problems by eliminating the border with Mexico.

 How appropriate is this analogy?  Does the U.S. Constitution reserve citizenship to WASPs, as Israel does to Jews, thus excluding Mexicans by definition?  Are Mexicans an actual or potential majority of a combined U.S.-Mexico, as Palestinians would be in Palestine if Palestinian exiles in Lebanon, Jordan, and around the world were allowed to come home?  If Mexicans outnumbered the overwhelmingly white American middle class, and American citizenship were based on being a white Christian, would it really be reasonable to dismiss calls for a single-state democratic solution to this as a form of lunacy?  This appears to be what Finkelstein is asking us to believe.   
    
 Finkelstein was particularly critical of BDS basing its campaign on international law, while at the same time dismissing the legitimacy of Israel, in spite of the fact that Israel is a legal member state of the United Nations.  You can't have it both ways, he said; either you favor international law in its entirety or you don't really favor it.

 Good point.  So how does a two-state solution envision the implementation of the Palestinian right of return, as called for under international law?  (Finkelstein side-stepped a question about how a two-state solution would be just to Palestinians, on the basis that the question was complicated, as it surely is, but so what?  The entire issue is complicated.) The answer is, it doesn't.  No matter how borders are drawn to accommodate a two-state diplomatic settlement, many Palestinians with legal deeds to homes in pre-1948 Palestine will be permanently dispossessed, which outcome dissident professor Noam Chomsky (whose views on this topic parallel Finkelstein's) says has to be accepted as "realistic," since Israel will never allow complete implementation of the Palestinian right of return.  Finkelstein, too, said that Israel would "never accept" a one-state solution, so it's best to not even entertain the notion.

In other words, both Finkelstein and Chomsky take the position that what Israel refuses to accept should define the limits of a Middle East "peace."  The only problem with this stance is that Israeli leaders are certifiably insane even by the dismal standards of contemporary international politics, and cannot envision "peace" apart from total Israeli domination of the entire Middle East. 

What these learned professors cannot seem to fathom is that  a Jewish state, no matter how decent, humane, and democratic to Jews, is a massive obscenity to Palestinians on whose land the state is constructed, and until this fact becomes the basis for peace negotiations, there is no possibility of Middle East peace, now or ever.





Saturday, August 23, 2014

It Isn't Ferguson: It's the USA

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Now that almost all mainstream political and media mind managers have responded, in horror, sympathy or skepticism, to the most recent – as this is written – police killing of an unarmed black man, it is time to consider radical action for social change as opposed to the usual reactionary individual reform.

The attention given this latest outrage has been greater than ever before, which is good no matter what form it takes. Most often it has been understandably critical of the police action, though not many will publicly shout “great” at any alleged racially motivated killing unless they are brain dead, or racists, or more likely both.

The specific facts of the case are not known to anyone but the deceased, who cannot speak, and the killer, who would only be believed or doubted by those whose minds were already made up. We know that the dead man was unarmed and that he was shot six times. We also know that he was young, big and may have been angry, but there is nothing in the biblically worshipped constitution that says you get the death penalty for being a big black man who may be angry. Or, for that matter a dumb white man in a position of authority. In fact, if being a dumb white man in a position of authority were a capital offense, our government would be the site of an ongoing blood bath of executions. Sarcasm aside, what is to be done?

Another in a dreadful series of murders of unarmed black men by police officers frequently dressed and equipped like an invading colonial army in a foreign country – what they often are - should not only invite anger but also concern for society in general and not just the community in which this killing took place.

Police officers sometimes commit violent acts based on individual racist ignorance, the last two words being synonymous. But far more often they act for the social ignorance of their employers, to do dirty work in communities many americans who vacation in foreign countries have never seen except on the TV news.

Who wants to visit ghettos where poor, often darker skinned people live, and without hotels, restaurants, museums and gift shops welcoming to tourists? And given class realities which trump alleged differences in race, how many affluent professionals who accept being designated as “people of color” live in or visit such communities? So the rest of us can think we are personally clean, we employ the police to do the socially dirty work in keeping order among people who have every right to occasionally act disorderly because of the often wretched conditions of their lives. This depraved social situation prevails regardless of the mental or moral cleanliness of any individual police officer’s mind.

While we spend trillions on a warfare state that murders foreigners while maintaining military bases all over the world, and tens of billions on the care and feeding of our pets, and billions to prop up an apartheid state in the middle east that makes us party to mass murders and leads to our being increasingly despised by people all over the world, we tolerate communities of tragic poverty, blatant economic inequality, low income and high crime which are the result of political horrors having little to do with the police officers we employ as veritable colonial armies.

Blaming the police for the bigotries of class, poverty and racism endemic to our system is as stupid as blaming the military for wars. And if you believe that soldiers are responsible for war, whether you are a person of color, no color, or more likely, no brains, be glad there is no death penalty for being stupid.

Even our ruling media corporations are unable to deny some unmistakable facts that can no longer be hidden about our economy:

Inequality is written into the market system under control of private profiteers. It must have vast oceans of poverty to maintain the mountain from which a relatively small number of incredibly wealthy people look down on the rest of us. The increased human suffering this system brings is compounded by what is being done to the natural environment which investment capital treats as just another profit making commodity. That is not simply an aspect of the police, the military, parking lot attendants, school teachers or any other group of workers but rather the necessary social outcome of the system they, and we, are part of and suffering from, until and unless we bring about systemic change that ends that endemic inequality, injustice and human suffering.

Prosecuting one cop who kills a person probably innocent of any crime other than being angry will socially accomplish what all other prosecutions of individual killers do: Nothing!

As long as we lavish hundreds of billions of dollars on producing, selling and using weapons, and compound the moral felony of profit for some at loss for most others by maintaining separations based on skin color, national origin or other divisions created to keep us a mass of minorities controlled by a tiny group of plantation masters who own what we call our democratic homeland, we can prosecute individuals for war crimes and continue killing one another until we run out of scapegoats and face the need to stop the war.

While an idiotic governing group threatens war with Russia over the Ukraine and spreads fanatic hatred in the Middle East with a bombing campaign to supposedly bring democracy and peace while creating death, destruction and refugees, the degradation of inequality, poverty and racism grows much worse at home.

 Life is getting worse in communities where almost everyone is either poor, low income or living with minimal choices if any at all by comparison to what passes for those available to a diminishing group living above poverty. Those former working class members rebranded as “middle” as they went into debt to purchase what they could not afford, have in recent years expanded to include more varied skin tones and ethnic integration, but are in decline as wealth grows only for the minority at the top. As life becomes more dangerous for those formerly believing they were affluent, it becomes more miserable for those never more than barely surviving.

With ugly race and ethnic barriers used to keep divisions among people, the class barriers which are the burden of all need to be understood and fought in order to achieve a democratic system that affords social justice, and equality to all and not just some.

Ferguson is another cancer sore in a nation facing a terminal condition if it insists on simply removing one or another blemish while allowing the organism to continue its deterioration. The personal tragedy suffered in suburban St.Louis needs to be seen and acted upon as a national disorder not limited to one community, and certainly not one aspect of the system of private profits and public loss that reduces us all to accept false identitarian divisions when we most need democratic unity. And real democracy, as opposed to the sham we have that disgraces its name, demands radical action to change the system, not just one or another of its component parts.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not Just Fast Food Workers: Think About These Poor Souls


August 20, 2014 7:52 pm

Goldman gives junior bankers 20% pay rise

The Goldman Sachs logo is displayed at the company's booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, US, on Friday, July 19 2013©Bloomberg
Goldman Sachs is increasing salaries for junior bankers in the US by about 20 per cent in an increasingly frenetic war to attract and retain young graduates.
Some first-year employees will see their salaries increase to about $85,000, according to people familiar with the matter. The change does not affect bonuses, which can equal the salary. It does not affect every new recruit, and is not being rolled out internationally.

Wall Street banks, which have been trying to rein in overall remuneration costs, have come under pressure to improve salaries for their junior staff. Rivals, including Morgan Stanley, have already moved to increase base pay.
Many bankers complain that, while they may be receiving a large bonus in deferred stock, they need cash to spend on expensive Manhattan rents.
The move comes amid a broader reappraisal of pay and conditions at large banks, which are having to deal with private equity firms poaching their staff, Silicon Valley technology companies looking for talent and the death of a Bank of America intern who was working long hours.
BofA announced last month that it would hire more junior staff in an attempt to improve the work/life balance of its bankers. Several banks have attempted to limit work at weekends. Goldman has taken this approach and warned of disciplinary consequences for bankers who breach the new rules.
Last October Goldman announced the findings of a “junior banker task force” set up to improve conditions.
Its proposals included hiring more entry-level employees, called analysts, and providing additional opportunities for these analysts to spend time with their managers and clients.
“The goal is for our analysts to want to be here for a career,” said David Solomon, Goldman’s co-head of investment banking. “We want them to be challenged, but also to operate at a pace where they’re going to stay here and learn important skills that are going to stick. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
In 2012 Goldman ended two-year contracts and bonuses for analysts at its investment banking operations. The move to give these junior bankers full-time employment contracts from the start was designed as a way to prevent them from being poached by hedge funds and private equity groups.
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Putin Is Destroying the Planet : Now, the Poor IMF!

Ukraine’s economy: Broken down
 
With the world focused on violence in the east, the country’s finances have worsened, raising pressure on the International Monetary Fund

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sharing Economy’s New Success: Adopt a Homeless Person




Among the most incredible manifestations of the new sharing economy has been the wide acceptance of a program begun by social media activists that has American families adopting homeless humans instead of pets. While it has created some fear in the multi billion dollar pet market place, it has also provoked the creation of new product lines for the formerly homeless now living in comfortable accommodations. More important, it has offered citizens a new opportunity to perform humanitarian deeds while really sharing their good fortune with those in need.

“ We were actually getting tired of walking our dogs, picking up their poop and cleaning out kitty litter boxes, even though we enjoyed the special relationships we had with our dogs and cats. But homeless people clean up after themselves and know how to use a toilet and a shower. Their only problem was not having access to toilets and showers, which is why they always looked so scruffy and smelled so awful. It’s easy to see why, once you give it some thought. I mean, hey, how could I take a shower or use a toilet if I didn’t have one, you know?”

The sharing program began when a family from Middle America was on its way to a pet adoption center to pick up a homeless pet for Christmas and noticed a man sleeping in a doorway. They quickly decided to take him home, instead of a dog or cat, as an expression of good will at holiday time. They shared their experience with friends on Placemat and those friends shared their story with their friends on Facetime and soon it went viral. The rest is history as all over the nation American middle class families began to take in homeless men, women and children, instead of pets.

Professor Stanislaus Academopolis of the Center for the Study of Phenomena Beyond Comprehension has attributed the growth of this trend to the public’s desire to perform humanitarian acts in contradiction to the normal dictates of our social economic life.

“People understand that the urge to gain private profit at someone else’s loss is mankind’s oldest proof of evolution, having originated shortly after the big bang and even before the birth of anti-semitism. They know that urge comes before anything in life but they also sometimes question, when they have an idle moment between work, shopping, texting and such, why so many humans have to suffer while so many animals are taken care of by other humans. This may seem an odd reaction to that reality, but it is understandable given the nature of our economy and the general state of mind of our people, which is to neither question nor wonder about the general state of our economy.”

Economist Dr Werner Von Wildebeest of the Center for the Study of Economic Origins of Everything in the Universe has been critical of some aspects of the humanitarian fad, but also sees commercial possibilities.

“New product lines for the formerly homeless can make up for some of the losses incurred by the pet industries which are responsible for more than fifty billion dollars of economic life every year. We may see a decline in, say, the production of plastic bags or kitty litter for dog and cat poop, but we should also see an increase in the sale of toilet paper, soap and deodorant for humans along with new fashion designs for clothing and accessories suitable for the once shabby and now more stylish folks living in homes instead of on the street.”

Just as surrogate parenting and same sex marriages have brought new life to marketing humans after its centuries old decline at the end of slavery while also creating problems in notions of family and community, the humanitarian trend of the new sharing economy of homeless adoption has brought some problems along with its advances.

“We always slept with our pets since they were part of our family and we shared everything with them, including our bed. Of course we do the same with our homeless man, but I’m getting a bit uncomfortable with the way he snuggles my wife when we’re in the sack. I think just as we had to get an extra dog and cat to keep our other dog and cat company and maintain our pets mental health and psychological well being, we may need to adopt another homeless person. I’m thinking of adopting a homeless woman next time, possibly young and attractive. If she wants to snuggle when we’re all in bed together I might enjoy that. And it might teach my wife a lesson. Unless the homeless woman turns out to be gay. Hey, are there gay homeless people?”

Dr Emily-John-Bob Feminista, Dean of the School of New Identitarian Markets, claims that with all the problems of un-related and often un-socialized people living together, the gains for society in general far outnumber the potential problems.

“We are a new, caring, sharing, global culture of people and products that are available at the click of a switch, the touch of a tab or the turn of an eye. I just ordered lunch with my toe while saying that. Anything that makes the homestead a larger niche in the marketplace for products of instantaneous well being, pleasure and mental simplicity is good for all humanity. Even those who are unable to afford adopting a homeless person or a pet - the overwhelming majority of the population, which can just barely take care of itself –will prosper by having more mixed families of different tastes and diverse cultures who will all be able to expand their consumption habits while sharing in the joys of buying, selling and showing greater profits by such, um, sharing.”



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Robin Williams, Mental Health, and Social Insanity

"We are made miserable . . . not just by the strength of our beliefs, but by the weight of hard and all-too real situations, as they bear downward, robbing us of control . . . unhappiness treated by clinicians has much more to do with the sufferer's situation than with anything about themselves, and for those with few privileges, this unhappiness is pretty well beyond the reach of therapeutic or any other conversation."


                                     -----Paul Moloney "The Therapy Industry"

Robin Williams's body was scarcely cold when liberal commentators began using the tragedy of his death as publicity for suicide hotlines and professional mental health intervention in general.  He had long-standing depression, we were told, and his "mental illness" was manifest in his decision to take his own life.  Depression sufferers were urged to "be honest" and avail themselves of the services of professional therapists and counselors.

Days later Williams's widow informed the world that her husband had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder that even people with no prior history of depression can find impossible to face.  Parkinson's is chronic, and its symptoms worsen over time, leading to body tremors, muscle stiffness, and the loss of coordinated movement.  No one knows why the disease develops, and it is incurable.

We do not know what went through Williams's mind, of course, but it is not difficult to entertain the idea that the lifelong actor made an understandable decision to take an early exit from life's stage rather than suffer the appalling loss of body control that the disease entails for its sufferers.  Surely there is something more than "mental illness" involved in the desire to avoid such a fate.

Even if Williams's well-known depression, which long-predated his Parkinson's diagnosis, was involved in his decision to end his life, the liberal notion that we can and ought to rely on mental health professionals to guide us to health and sanity is more than a little suspect.  There is no evidence that this group suffers lower rates of depression than the rest of the population, nor any that any kind of therapy has a cure for it.  In fact, the evidence suggests that the mental health profession plays a crucial role in perpetuating a status quo within which depression is said to be growing by leaps and bounds.

Psychoanalyst Joel Kovel demonstrated in the early 1980s that psychotherapy and counseling had become indispensable parts of the capitalist economy, especially in the United States, where turning socially induced misery into false questions of self-improvement long ago reached the status of a quasi-religious movement.  Subsequent to Kovel's published insights came the "diseasing" and drugging of hyper-active American schoolchildren due to what eventually came to be known as "ADHD." In more recent years, we have seen how "happiness psychology," particularly the work of conservative academic and writer Martin Seligman, a former chairman of the American Psychological Association and adviser to the U.S. military, informed the Bush Administration's torture program at Guantanamo Bay.  All of this should make us quite skeptical about claims that therapy and counseling have the answer to our mental woes.

Having said that, the challenge of effectively treating mental disorders is surely formidable.  According to surveys and clinical data, rates of depression in the U.S. have increased ten-fold since the 1950s, although it must be admitted that individuals of quite divergent symptoms are routinely classified under this broad umbrella, calling into question the validity of the category itself.  However, even if some of the increase is due to an increased tendency to define common dissatisfaction as illness, it seems likely that at least some of the increase is genuine, given soaring inequality and an attendant increase in chronic illness, social isolation and reported loneliness, and suicide, especially during the periods of economic crisis that have become a nearly constant feature of U.S. capitalism in recent years.

Contrary to therapeutic claims that a "positive" attitude is the key to mental health, a growing body of evidence supports the claim that the principal influence on people's mental health is their circumstances, both past and present.  We can now say with some assurance that the larger and more obvious the gaps between rich and poor in developed societies - and the more exploitive the relations required to maintain and expand them - the greater the likelihood of violent conflict, mutual distrust, and degraded health, both mental and physical.  Features of a particular location in the social hierarchy such as prestige, conditions of work, material circumstances, and wealth largely determine one's likelihood of enjoying mental and physical health or illness.  And to the extent that one belongs to a stigmatized, exploited group, and especially if one is poor, the more likely one is to experience life's hardest blows - more often, more painfully, and with fewer joyful experiences to compensate for them.

Conventional counseling and therapy isn't even focused on this problem, much less is it offering a solution to it.  Because of its conviction that attitude is everything, conventional approaches put the onus of responsibility on the poor for their poverty.  Thus they are given parenting training and other judgmental interventions when what they really need is decent housing, food, recreation, medical care, and above all, money.  The assumption is that the poor deserve to be poor owing to their allegedly deficient character, made manifest in poor impulse control, hypersexuality, and a general lack of integrity.  If it weren't for these defects, the theory goes, the poor would be contented members of the middle class.  This is one of the most damaging features of therapy, because it teaches exploited people that they are deficient or substandard instead of abused.   Unfortunately, the crude stereotypes blaming the poor for their plight are promoted by a wide spectrum of members of the so-called "helping" profession:  community leaders, social work educators, and quite a few academic researchers.  If this is "help," what might hindrance be?

Therapists and counselors with a genuine interest in finding a cure for mental illness would do well to investigate the income inequalities hypothesis of population health.  Based on the common sense assumption that high levels of inequality are unhealthy (directly for the poor, indirectly for the rich), the thesis is that for modern industrialized countries, the average health, well-being, and longevity of the population depends not on the level of absolute poverty that exists, but on the spread of wealth, and especially on the gap between rich and poor.

As income differentials widen, the theory goes, people start to feel more competitive, and begin to look on others with increasing suspicion and distrust.  Wariness, envy, shame, fear, and anger become more pronounced and take on a self-perpetuating thrust, undermining the basis for affectionate and caring relationships.  A life of perpetual insecurity (which former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan declared in Congressional testimony was the principal reason for the 1990s boom years) and perceived threat triggers the release of cortisol and other "stress" hormones into the bloodstream, lowering our capacity to fight infection and ward off heart disease and other degenerative conditions.   It should be emphasized that the theory maintains that this harms even the rich, who, amidst increasingly unjust conditions, have less and less opportunity to enjoy their wealth in ease.  The public health implications are substantial:  an increase of 7% in the share of income going to the bottom half of the population allegedly yields two additional years of life expectancy.  [Note:  The U.S. has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world.  According to the most recent survey by the Federal Reserve, the top decile own 71% of the country's wealth, while the bottom half claims just one percent.]

One of the more intriguing mental health research findings undermines the "positive attitude" theorists.  It shows that moderately depressed people have a more accurate perception of their abilities and their capacity to control events than do "healthy" people.  A 2002 study found that mildly depressed women were more likely to live longer than non-depressed or severely depressed women.  A longitudinal study of more than 1000 California schoolchildren concluded that optimism was more likely to lead to premature death - possibly because the optimists took more risks.  Another study among pre-teenagers found that kids who were more realistic about their standing among their peers were less likely to get depressed than those who had illusions about their popularity.  And a 2001 study co-authored by the guru of happiness psychology himself - Martin Seligman - found that among older people pessimists were less likely to fall into depression following a negative life event such as the death of a family member than were optimists.

These findings should provoke a complete reorientation of, not just the helping professions, but the entire society.  After all, psychologists have long convinced us that we are all "CEOs" of self, rationally testing our ideas against reality, and that we become disturbed to the extent that we cannot accept the verdict that reality delivers.  In short, to the extent that our ideas are unrealistic we are mentally ill, which should mean that President Obama, the Supreme Court, top executives on Wall Street, and virtually the entire Congress are certifiable lunatics.

But of course it doesn't mean that. WE who cannot make our peace with a social order dedicated to plunder and destruction are mentally suspect, because responsible adulthood entails setting aside the childish notion that the world can be transformed into something within which a decent person would want to live, in order to concentrate on the supremely important matter of reproducing an increasingly imperiled social order dedicated to getting and spending.  This is the reigning definition of sanity in our times.  God help anyone who insists that social and political reality, not personal attitudes and reactions, is what needs to be adjusted.

Sources:

Barbara Ehrenreich, "Bright-Sided - How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America," (Metropolitan Books, 2009)

Paul Moloney, "The Therapy Industry - The Irresistible Rise of the Talking Cure, and Why It Doesn't Work," (Pluto Press, 2013)

Thomas Piketty, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," (Harvard University Press, 2014)