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From Republic to Oligarchy

USA 24 April 2014. History has been made.  But few Americans are aware of it or angry about it.  I say: Wake up Americans.  A war has been waged against US democracy, from the inside.  Time to pick a side and fight back.

 

If you are not totally brain dead, distracted by pain or pleasure, or consumed by narcissistic obsessions face the ugly, painful truth.

 

Republicans with political power in Congress and the states and, even more appallingly, on the Supreme Court have succeeded in turning their beloved republic into a-money-buys-power oligarchy.  One person, one vote was the enemy and it is being defeated.  One dollar, one vote is the new Republican political value.  American democracy is more delusional than ever.  To think otherwise is even more delusional.

 

I present three arguments supporting the conclusion that there has been a conversion of US democracy into something worse than a plutocracy.

 

First, Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and many controlling state governments, together with their rich supporters, have steadily and successfully eroded voting and election laws.  Their goal has been simple: Fight the demographic advantages of Democrats that give them more voters by making it more difficult for those citizens to actually vote.  This has been documented in a New York Times top story and many other places.  Republicans see the obvious.  Namely that their older,-largely rural, white male shrinking proportion of the population is insufficient to win many elections and, even more significant, that many of their policy positions will never prevail with many demographic groups.

 

As Damon Linker observed about this statistical reality, this is a “tacit acknowledgement by the Republican Party that it's in dire demographic straits — and that one of the key pillars of its ideology over the last half-century is crumbling right before our eyes.”  Their solution, besides vicious gerrymandering of House districts, is to make it ever more difficult for groups likely to favor Democrats to vote in all elections.  This direct assault on electoral democracy depends considerably on money coming from the wealthiest people to finance the actions to change election laws.

 

Second, the Supreme Court is now controlled by a Republican majority that has been successfully producing decisions to remove limits to money dumped into the political system by the richest Americans.  For example, recently the McCutcheon decision continued the Roberts Court program of gutting campaign-finance laws.  Hard to believe, but this decision came to the aid of just 1,219 people in the US—that's four in every 1,000,000 of our population, who ran up against a contribution limit.  But this is consistent with the insanity that money is the same as free speech, which the Supreme Court has made the law of the land.

As Robert Reich correctly noted: “The court said such spending doesn't corrupt democracy.  That's utter baloney, as anyone who has the faintest familiarity with contemporary American politics well knows.”  Political money is used to greatly impact lawmaking and elections.  Political power obtained through political spending is, of course, essential for the richest Americans to maintain and perhaps intensify the economic inequality that now distinguishes American society.  It is how an oligarchy is obtained and sustained.|

I hope that Brent Budowsky is correct.  Namely that “Roberts and his four conservative Republican brethren will ultimately be impeached by historians who will condemn, and future courts that will reverse, politically illegitimate and constitutionally deformed rulings that would turn America into a constitutional oligarchy.”  But change “would turn” into “have turned.”

Third, as still more proof of the profound historic change in the US, a recent study from Princeton University that analyzed considerable data concluded that the US has become an oligarchy.  Here is what this important study said: “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule -- at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

 

Furthermore, “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”  In other words, it is time for Americans to stop believing delusional truths and recognize that US democracy has become a myth, especially if there are ever to be serious actions by the majority to fix and restore democracy.

 

Americans, especially younger ones, need to understand the historical path from democracy to plutocracy to oligarchy.  Most Americans are suffering because of economic inequality and they need to understand that the economic system is under the control of the perverted political system.  Anyone who is not in the Upper Class or proverbial top one percent who votes for Republicans is living in some fantasy world.

 

Republicans want even more power.  And if they get it, what would you expect from those working so hard to make US democracy a joke and replace millions of voters with one percent oligarchs?  What Republicans have been doing is nothing less than domestic political terrorism.  If Republicans and Tea Party loyalists were true patriots, they would rebel against the oligarchy created by Republicans.

 

Finally, make no mistake and think this condemnation of Republicans equates to advocacy for Democrats.  The ultimate solution if a better, more democratic US system is to be obtained is not to rely on putting Democrats in control.  No, what is required is a number of constitutional amendments obtained through an Article V convention that are necessary to structurally reform the political system.  In recent months there has been a historic increase in support from many people for constitutional amendments and greater public support is desperately needed.


U.S.-Russia Sabre Rattling May Undermine Nuke Meeting


UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 (IPS)  - The growing tension between the United States and Russia over Ukraine has threatened to unravel one of the primary peace initiatives of the United Nations: nuclear disarmament.As they trade charges against each other, the world's two major nuclear powers have intensified their bickering - specifically on the eve of a key Preparatory Committee (PrepCoM) meeting on a treaty to stop the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The "Thirteen Steps" agreed upon at a review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2000 and the 64-point Action Programme, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal at the 2010 Conference, had augured well for the strengthened review process, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala told IPS.

But he warned that, "However the actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage.

"Unless the Third Prepcom reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT," warned Dhanapala, who is also president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

The Third PrepCom for the upcoming 2015 Review Conference of the NPT is scheduled to take place at the United Nations Apr. 28 through May 9.

But a positive outcome will depend largely on the United States and Russia, along with the other declared nuclear powers, Britain, France and China, who are also the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council.

Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, a programme of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS next week's PrepCom is being held at a time of high tensions between the two countries with the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

She said neither of these countries has fulfilled their obligation to negotiate the elimination of these weapons and in fact, both spend billions of dollars upgrading them and extending their lives into the indefinite future.

"Nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and the risk of their use by accident or on purpose warrants urgent action on disarmament," Acheson added.

During 2014, she pointed out, the NPT nuclear-armed states must report on their concrete activities to fulfill the disarmament-related actions of the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

The extent to which the nuclear-armed states can report the achievement of meaningful progress in implementing their commitments will be a strong indicator of their intention to serve as willing leaders and partners in this process, she noted.

But "none of the public releases issued thus far by the nuclear-armed states has given any reason to expect they have given serious consideration to the implementation of most of those commitments."

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS there is "alarming sabre rattling on the eve of the NPT PrepCom."

She said the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) builds up its military forces to "protect" Eastern Europe. The media reports only part of the story, justifying NATO war games based on events in Ukraine; former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compares Putin to Hitler; and the New York Times front page blares "Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin".

"Yet there's little reporting on Russia's security fears as NATO expands up to its borders, inviting even Ukraine and Georgia to join," said Acheson, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of 'Abolition 2000'.

This, she said, despite President Ronald Reagan and President George W.Bush's promises to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that NATO would not expand beyond East Germany.

Nor is it reported how the U.S., in 1992, quit the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty, planting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, she added.

In his closing statement as president of the historic 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, which extended the treaty for an indefinite duration, Dhanapala said, "The permanence of the Treaty does not represent a permanence of unbalanced obligations, nor does it represent the permanence of nuclear apartheid between nuclear haves and have-nots.

"What it does represent is our collective dedication to the permanence of an international legal barrier against nuclear proliferation so that we can forge ahead in our tasks towards a nuclear weapons-free world."

Slater told IPS that deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations bodes poorly for progress at the paralysed NPT process, which even before this latest eruption of enmity failed to implement the many promises for nuclear disarmament since 1970.

But this new crisis may motivate nations to press more vigorously for the process that began in Oslo (at the 2013 conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons), addressing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and urging their legal ban.

With 16,000 nuclear bombs in Russia and the U.S., non-nuclear weapons states must step up their efforts for a ban treaty, she added.

The P-5 nuclear powers boycotted these meetings in Oslo (in 2013) and Mexico (February 2014) while Indian and Pakistan joined 127 nations in Oslo and 144 in Mexico. This year, Austria will host a follow-up.

This new process raises a contradiction highlighting the growing reality gap in the "nuclear umbrella" states, Slater said.

They ostensibly support nuclear disarmament and deplore the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war in this burgeoning new global conversation about its humanitarian effects, while continuing to rely on lethal nuclear deterrence, she noted.

Article VI of the NPT requires all treaty parties to be responsible for its fulfillment.

"The spectre of war in Europe may give new impetus to efforts to ban the bomb," warned Slater.

Acheson told IPS that unlike the other weapons of mass destruction - chemical and biological weapons - nuclear weapons are not yet subject to an explicit legal prohibition.

"Now is the time to address this anomaly, which has been allowed to persist for far too long. History shows that legal prohibitions of weapon systems, their possession as well as their use, facilitate their elimination."

She said weapons that have been outlawed increasingly become seen as illegitimate.

They lose their political status and, along with it, the money and resources for their production, modernisation, proliferation, and perpetuation.

In the context of rising tensions between two countries with nuclear weapons it is more imperative than ever that non-nuclear weapon states take the lead to ban nuclear weapons, Acheson stressed.

Griffith guns for Asia Pacific honours at CFA Research Challenge


Gold Coast 22 April 2014. After winning the local stage of the CFA Institute Research Challenge in Sydney late last year, a formidable Griffith Business School team will contest the Asia Pacific regional final in Singapore on 24 April.

The CFA Challenge is a global educational initiative that promotes best practices in equity research among the next generation of financial analysts, through hands-on mentoring and intensive training in company analysis and presentation skills.

GBS students John Fan (team captain), Andrew L’Estrelle, Euan Orsini and Jason Rayment have already shown their wares against the best young business minds in Australia.

Now the challenge will be to mastermind their acumen to a higher level in order to advance to the Global Final to be held the very next day.

“It’s an intense environment, the best of the best in Asia Pacific, 20 teams representing their CFA societies, with the overall winner advancing to the Global final,” confirmed Griffith University Academic Adviser, Dr Alexandr Akimov.

“Australian teams are somewhat disadvantaged as local finals took place back in October, so our team has had to do major work to refresh their data.

“No Australian team has ever won Asia Pacific regionals, so we’re very excited about this opportunity in just our second year of CFA Challenge competition.”

Students work in teams to research and analyse a publicly traded stock — and  even have a chance to meet face-to-face with company management.

Each team produces an initiation-of-coverage report on their assigned stock with a buy, sell, or hold recommendation and may be asked to present and defend their thesis to a panel of industry veterans.

If successful in the Asia Pacific final, the GBS team will be one of just three institutions remaining in the competition, taking on the winners from the Americas and the Europe/Middle East/Africa region.

“For Griffith to win through to this stage would be a dream come true and once we are there anything can happen,” added Dr Akimov.

“The CFA brand has global recognition and for the entire team a winning item in the CV will place them in good company for any future equity research related job throughout the world.”

GBS team captain John Fan has just completed his PhD thesis on momentum investing and commodity futures markets. His teammates Andrew, Euan and Jason are Bachelor of Commerce students at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus.

Superannuation sharing can help bridge the gender divide

Women are often left behind in the super stakes. Kicki

19 April 2014. Anyone who has been married knows there is a lot of compromise involved. Each party gives up something in order to get the benefits which can arise from sharing. Nobody get exactly what he or she wants: there is a lot of give and take.

One major area of compromise involves having children. Inevitably it’s the woman’s career that is interrupted, even if only for a short time. The norm whereby people have multiple children means women will normally expect to have more than one such career interruption. And when partners decide to have children close together it simply compresses the disruption to one long period rather than multiple shorter periods.

The end result is lower lifetime earnings, and because we are living longer a situation where women are left with significantly less superannuation than men in retirement.

The official data is somewhat dated but it shows that about two-thirds of the total superannuation pool is “owned” by men, one-third by women. Some of the imbalance will be the result of a couple acknowledging that their individual savings will eventually be pooled so it may not matter whose name is formally on the account.

But much of the imbalance arises from the fact that females receive lower pay than males even for equivalent skills. While this is deplorable, it is not a problem we should be looking to the superannuation system to solve.

The wage bias against women is clearly a much broader issue than superannuation. It impacts all of the savings and consumption decisions of single women, over all of their lives, and potentially impacts those of partnered women as well. While women do have the advantage of living longer than men, in a savings context it probably means they should work for more years in order to fund consumption in those extra years of life – as well as fighting for appropriate wages when they work.

We have however taken a few good steps towards addressing the gender imbalance.

The fact that superannuation privileges flow between partners on the death of one, is one step to address the issue. If one partner saves more than the other, it does not matter too much if finally their savings are pooled. Much of their expenditure during their lives will also have been pooled. The extension of these rights across a variety of relationships has been an important step towards social equity.

Divorce law too has recognised the issue. Divorce, or other termination of a relationship, provides the other major event which leads to concerns about the equitable sharing of joint accumulated savings. It seems clear that Australian courts and legal processes are recognising the importance of superannuation in asset allocations after the break-up of relationships.

Superannuation assets are treated similarly to any other financial asset when a partnership breaks down.

So is there a problem waiting for a regulation to address it?

Splitting the spoils

In its “Investing in Care” report, the Human Rights Commission says taxpayers should make contributions (“carer credits”) into the superannuation accounts of individuals with parental care responsibilities. To the extent that this is raising the tax of other taxpayers in order to provide a subsidy towards people who are voluntarily spending time outside the workforce, it seems very hard to make a case for it.

It seems more sensible to look to a voluntary solution. If a couple decides that a female partner should have time out of the paid workforce to have and rear a child, then we should expect the couple to share income, share expenditure and to share savings. Essentially part of the deal should be for the partners to split contributions.

There are already rules around superannuation splitting. These seem largely sensible, with the right to split (most of) both superannuation guarantee payments and any voluntary contributions. The big stand-out however is that the amount being split must be less than the individual concessional contribution caps. Essentially, by deciding to take time off work, the pair is foregoing not just income but also the tax advantages implicit in having access to two concessional contribution caps.

Maybe that is fair too.

So the institutional structures involved in sharing lifetime savings accrued through superannuation seem largely to be in place. Where a couple makes a voluntary decision for one partner to take time off work for children, they have the structures which allow them to share access to their savings. Part of the deal in having kids, should be sharing many things, including superannuation.

Rodney Maddock

Vice Chancellor's Fellow at Victoria University and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Monash University

This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

Ukraine Agreement: 'Propaganda' and Low Expectations?

USA 18 April 2014. Kerry’s allegations [about East Ukraine anti-Semitism] sound like propaganda to me given...all the anti-Semitic statements coming out of Kiev and the warning by the [Ukrainian Chabad Chief] Rabbi Reuven Azman of Kiev [for Jews to leave Ukraine]. 

So it does not sound to me as if Kerry is proceeding in good faith here, which is a bad sign.

Even if they have agreed upon what Lavrov said they agreed upon, how are they going to get the people on the ground on either side to comply?

Boyle is a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.

His books include Foundations of World Order (Duke University Press: 1999) and Tackling America’s Toughest Questions (2009).

He said today, "Ukraine did not commit itself to constitutional reform and it was very cleverly and deviously drafted language. So no agreement upon this issue. It says nothing about Ukraine staying out of NATO; and it is not a good sign that this was not a joint [media] conference by Lavrov and Kerry.

BBC reports:"Russia, the U.S. and the European Union have said that all sides have agreed to steps to "de-escalate" the crisis in Ukraine. ...

"Following the Geneva talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said there was agreement that all illegal military formations in Ukraine must be dissolved, and that everyone occupying buildings must be disarmed and leave them."

MIKHAIL BEZNOSOV, [in Ukraine] This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , skype: mikhailb1966
Head of the governing board of the East-Ukrainian Society for International Studies, Beznosov is now an associate professor in sociology at Kharkiv National University. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Arizona, where he continues to be an adjunct professor. He said today, "The proposed plan is the only option to resolve the crisis in its current state. I am still skeptical though, that this is going to release the tensions in the short run. The problem is that Kiev authorities do not control all neo-Nazi or radical nationalist groups who refused to disarm when the government officials demanded disarming. It is also not clear how the disarming will be accepted now by the protesters in Eastern Ukraine, when they saw that this did not work previously with their main adversaries. The other problem is that many of those radical nationalist (neo-Nazi) fighters, who acted for several months in Kiev and now are being used to suppress the protest in the east and the south of Ukraine, were co-opted into the newly formed National Guard of Ukraine and other semi-legal armed 'militias.' I do not really see how these problems will be resolved at this point, but with the political will that the three major players put into pressuring the Kiev authorities, perhaps, it can be done eventually."

Regarding the BBC report where "Mr. Kerry said the extent of the crisis had been highlighted in recent days by the 'grotesque' sending of notices to Jews in eastern Ukraine, demanding that they identify themselves as Jewish," Beznosov said, "I think that this is the typical example when the information is not confirmed but used at such a serious forum. Now we can see the attempt to attach the 'anti-Semitic' label to anti-fascist protesters in eastern Ukraine, when in reality the anti-Semitism is a part of the ideology of such groups as 'Right Sector' or the political party 'Svoboda,' that represent the spectrum of political forces fighting against the protesters in the east and the south of Ukraine."

JOHN QUIGLEY, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University, Quigley dealt with the Crimea issue following the breakup of the USSR, at the request of the U.S. Department of State, which was working through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the issue. Today, he said, "It is a move in the right direction if Mr. Kerry is agreeing to forego new sanctions on Russia. Those sanctions would not have served a purpose in any event."

STEPHEN COHEN, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Cohen is professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His books include Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. He was interviewed on Democracy Now! this morning.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Avram Reisman, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

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