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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Empire Loses a Publicist: The Epitaph of an Ideologue

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

The Empire Loses a Publicist: The Epitaph of an Ideologue

The recent death of one of the United States’ most prominent sociologists, Harvard Professor Daniel Bell, and the effusive eulogies that have accompanied his obituaries highlight the importance of ideological utility over scientific rigor. Typical of the mass media’s hagiographic write-ups is the obituary in the Financial Times (2/12-13/1, p. 5), which claimed that “Few men are given the gift of seeing into the future, but Daniel Bell … was one of them … with uncanny accuracy”. Further on, the ‘puff’ piece pronounced that, “Few thinkers in the second half of the 20th century managed to catch the social and cultural shifts of the times with such range and in such detail as he did”. No doubt there are some important reasons why Bell warrants such effusive praise, but it certainly is not because of his understanding of the political, economic, ideological developments which transpired in the United States during his intellectual life.

An examination and analysis of his major writings reveals an ‘uncanny’ tendency to be consistently wrong in his analysis of ideological developments and of the central features of the US economy, its class structure and propensities toward permanent war and deepening economic crisis.

One of Bell’s earliest and most influential books, The End of Ideology, (1960), argued that the US was entering a period when ideology was disappearing as a motor force of political action: in his analysis pragmatism, consensus and the decline of class and social conflict characterized the future of American politics. The End of Ideology was published during a decade when American society was riven by anti-war and anti-imperialist movements, which saw the early exit of one US President (Johnson) and when tens of thousands of American combat troops were paralyzed and immobilized in Indo-China, leading to massive popular mobilization at home and eroding any sense of ‘political consensus’.

During the same decade major Afro-American urban uprisings and social movements erupted in hundreds of cities, in many cases leading to violent confrontations and harsh repression by a National Guard and police uninterested in ‘consensus’ building. Ideologies flourished, including ‘ ‘Black Power’, Marxism in many forms, variants of the New Left’s “participatory democracy”, feminism and environmentalism.

Instead of reflecting on the realities of the decade and rethinking his misguided prophecies, Bell, holed up at Colombia and later (1969) at Harvard Universities, merely sneered at the protagonists of the new ideologies and social movements. The rebirth of ideology as a guide and/or rationale for political action was not confined to the Left and the environmental movements by any means. The stridently ideological neo-liberal and neo-conservative Reaganite Right emerged to dominate politics in the 1980s, redefining the role of the state, leading to a full scale assault on the welfare state and corporate regulation and justifying a massive revival of militarism.

Never has a social scientist so decisively misread the historical times, made such myopic predictions and been refuted in such a brief time frame. This monumental disconnect with reality did not prevent Bell from going forward with another bit of prophecy: The Coming of Post Industrial Society. In this book Bell argued that class struggle and manufacturing activity were being replaced by a new service economy based on information systems and “new principles of innovation, new modes of social organization and new social class”. He went on to argue that class struggle was being replaced by “meritocracy” based on education and a politics of personal self-interest.

Even a cursory reading of the period would reveal that this was a time of intensified of class struggle, this time from above (rather than below), entailing a successful political onslaught by both the Reagan Administration and the major corporations against the rights of labor, including the massive firings and jailing of the striking air controllers and the beginning of a national campaign to roll back wages, salaries and job protection in auto, steel and other key industries.

Secondly, the relative decline of manufacturing and the rise of the service industry did not lead to the growth of better paid white collar work for the children of the displaced industrial workers: the vast majority of the new service workers were poorly paid (averaging less than 60% of the unionized factory workers income) and engaged in menial manual labor.

What Bell dubbed the post-industrial ‘knowledge society’ was, in fact, the growing predominance of financial capitalism, which increasingly defined the primary uses and functions of the information systems: the development of new software for speculative financial instruments. Rather than “merit” as the basis of social mobility, especially at the top, it was the links to the big investment houses that served as the principle vehicle for success. This relationship undermined the domestic manufacturing economy and stable employment.

Bell’s conceptual “contributions” reflected his uncanny ability to coin euphemisms useful for obfuscating the ascendency of a parasitic financial class and labeling its predatory behavior, “meritocratic”.

It is hard to believe that Bell, a former labor editor for Fortune, a big business publication, was not aware of the massive shift from industrial to finance capital. More likely Bell honed his skills as a publicist coming up with simple phrases and catchy concepts that entered into the narrative of a mainstream media eager to divert public debate from the profoundly negative features of the capitalist onslaught on the working class from the 1980s onward.

Bell’s last big book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, was at once celebration of capitalism as a great success story, which, he warned, carried within its breast the seeds of its own destruction where the Puritan value of hard work had been eroded and replaced by “instant gratification”, “consumerism” and the counter-culture, leading inevitably to a moral crises.

Bell once again diverted attention from the most obvious structural contradictions by focusing on marginal behavior patterns, themselves the bi-products of an increasing global-imperial power. The most flagrant “contradictions” that Bell ignored were between the disappearing ‘republican’ tradition in the US and the dominant drive toward empire building; the contradiction between the decline of the domestic economy and the growth of overseas militarism. Bell’s post-industrial rhetoric failed to recognize that the loss of US manufacturing jobs was not due to corporate America’s conversion to an “information economy” but rather to its relocation overseas, (Asia, Caribbean, and Mexico) either via subcontracting or foreign investment. In other words, Bell attributed the decline of the American domestic economy to the morality of the middle class and lower-income American consumers instead of presenting an objective analysis of the structural features and behavior of globalized capital as they serve an expanding empire.

Even more perversely this “exceptional thinker”, “the paragon of our time”, failed to capture the essential deepening class contradictions of our time. Comparative statistical studies have demonstrated that the US now has the worst inequalities of any advanced capitalist country and the worst health system among the top fifty industrial countries. Moreover, like so many of the New York’s affluent intellectuals with their six figure salaries, Bell failed to confront the inescapable fact that the inequalities in Manhattan were as bad or even worse than Guatemala, Calcutta, and Sao Paulo. Less than 1% of the residents controlled 40% of New York City’s wealth.

Such are Bell’s “cultural” contradictions: the contrast between the pronouncements of our celebrated academic and the reality which existed just outside of the academic grove.

As an intellectual, Bell’s contribution was therefore mediocre, at best, and lacking in any meaningful insights, especially in his pretensions at prophecy. Bell’s noteworthiness and his reputation, particularly in the prestigious media and academic journals, was due to his unfailing ability to fashion catchy euphemisms designed to divert attention from the devastating socio-economic fallout of late 20th century capitalism. He provided useful concepts for business and financial publicists and scribes to embellish their narratives. His grand reputation among many academics, as a writer willing to engage the ‘great issues’ of our times, to debate with and polemicize with critics on the Left, is a minor virtue given his substantive mediocrity and mendacious defense of the indefensible.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). Petras’ most recent book is Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of US Power (Clarity Press, 2008). He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

This article was posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 8:00am and is filed under Capitalism, Corporate Globalization, Disinformation, Economy/Economics, Neoliberalism

Is America on the Road to Ruin?

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Is America on the Road to Ruin?

America is on the “road to ruin,” according to a former political candidate and TV entertainer, who rants about “danger” and “insanity.” This Fox employee claims America is engaged in a struggle between “socialism” and “freedom and free markets,” and that President Obama threatens to destroy our sacred capitalistic values.

Unfortunately too many Americans share this perception. While the commentator sounds daffy, headlines raise questions about the deep divisions that threaten to rip America asunder. Examples abound. They reveal political forces at work, common sense pushed aside, and ordinary people ignored.

Despite empty praise about the U.S. being “the best county in the world,” an International Monetary Fund comparison of the advanced economies of the world, focused on income equality, employment, democracy, life expectancy, well being, food security, prison population, and student performance, ranks the U.S. 33rd. Do these trends bode well for the future?

Meanwhile, we convert public policy to a dollar value. For example, policy makers are currently debating the price of a human life. As the price of a human life appreciates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues for changing the rules from a cost-benefit analysis, which they’ve always advocated as necessary to prove the benefit of any proposed regulation, to a standard more favorable to business. Should money be the deciding factor when making decisions about public safety?

Recent scientific studies link heavy precipitation and floods to global warming. Proving the planet is warming was difficult in the past because scientists said it was hard to distinguish between climate change and extremely bad weather, hence computer modeling, scoffed at by climate change deniers. Will we wait too long to curb our carbon footprint before catastrophe strikes?

The House Judiciary Committee in South Dakota overwhelmingly approved a law making a homicide “justifiable” if committed in the defense of an unborn child. Touted as a way to discourage abortion by allowing doctors to be killed, the law was shelved, but not before invoking public anger on all sides. Should politicians debate the moral right to kill based on an individual’s religious preferences?

The Obama Administration conducted a study to determine what would happen if terrorists set off a nuclear bomb. While this is a highly unlikely event, the report engenders fear that leads to trading freedom for security. Supposedly, staying in your car after a nuclear blast cuts lethal radiation by 50 percent. Should the U.S. return to Cold War days when children were taught to crouch beneath their school desks in case of nuclear war?

Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry proposes to cut the state education budget by $5 billion, eliminating junior colleges, scholarship programs, and cutting teachers’ benefits. He plans to lay off almost 10,000 state workers, but saves money for abstinence-only programs in a state that ranks third highest in teenage pregnancy, 47th in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores, and 46th in math scores. Can Texas prosper with an even less educated population?

An additional 42 states cut college funding, resulting in higher tuition and fewer students. Arizona eliminated preschool for 4,328 children; Colorado slashed 5 percent, or $400 per student, from its budget; and Michigan reduced its spending $165 per student. Hawaii is shortening its school year by 17 days; Missouri eliminated school busing for 565,000 students; and New Jersey cut programs for 11,000 students. Some states attack teachers’ unions and cry for more cuts, raising questions about the role of public education in our society. Should we support public education?

Although conservatives call for more cuts, none of them mention
Republicans forcing President Obama to protect the high incomes of our nation’s wealthiest. The deal to extend Bush tax cuts creates a deficit of $3.7 trillion over ten years. While such cuts are supposed to create jobs, America’s 500 largest non-financial corporations are hoarding $2 trillion in cash and corporate profits grew 36 percent in 2010, while hiring plummeted. Tax breaks are used to increase CEO pay and expand corporate monopolies. Does this support the common good?

More than 30,000 people die in the U.S. from gunshots every year and over 60,000 are wounded. With almost a million people shot every decade, the National Rifle Association resists even common sense laws to regulate guns. Is this about “the right to bare arms” or is it an orgy of self-destruction?

While a cartoon claims, “Americans are not ready for Egyptian-style democracy,” we move beyond democracy and the ability of voters to influence public policy. We now have a corporate-controlled and operated government, influenced by over 10,000 lobbyists. Is this progress?

Corporations continue to promote a survival-of-the-fittest, laissez-faire, free-enterprise capitalism, pushed by brilliant marketing firms employing think tanks to sway public opinion. Did their globalization, anti-tax, deregulation, and privatization agenda create the wealthy elite and the deep depression?

Far from being “on the road to ruin,” America is engaged in a huge struggle over its future. Will we become a society devoted entirely to business with radically different living standards for rich and poor, or will we pull together to make a better life for all? Which
will fulfill the great promise of America?

Don Monkerud is an California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at: monkerud@cruzio.com. Copyright © Read other articles by Don.

This article was posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 8:00am and is filed under Capitalism, Civil Liberties, Classism, Corporate Globalization, Economy/Economics, Education, Environment, Students.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

State Labor Attacks -- Not Just Wisconsin


State Labor Attacks -- Not Just Wisconsin

Dave Johnson's picture

By Dave Johnson

February 22, 2011 - 3:33pm

The attack on public-employee unions in Wisconsin is in the news because of the large Egypt-style turnout of supporters at the state capital (70,000 on Saturday!), and the dramatic theater effect of Democratic Senators leaving the state to delay a vote on the measure, and give the public time to rally.

Today the rallies are spreading to other states where public employees are under attack.


After "ginning up" a budget deficit with tax cuts and breaks for corporations, Governor Scott Walker introduced a "Budget Repair" bill that strips public employees of collective bargaining rights. The bill, however, exempts firefighters and police, whose unions supported Walker's candidacy.

Over the weekend 70,000 people flooded the capital in Madison to protest the governor's plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights. The State's Democratic Senators remain out of the state, continuing to delay a vote on the bill.

Power Plant No-Bid Sale: On another front it came to light that the "Budget Repair" bill also contains a provision allowing the sale of the state's power plants on a no-bid basis. The most likely beneficiary would be Koch Industries, which already has pipelines and coal operations in Wisconsin. Control of power plants gives them an in-state, top-to-bottom vertical chain. Koch was a major supporters of Governor Walker's candidacy as well as being the group that is promoting the budget hysteria, busing the Tea Party supprters to the state capital for counter protests. The Koch Brothers are also a primary funder of ALEC, the organization that wrote the budget bill the outlaws collective bargaining and enables the sale of the state power plants on a no-bid basis to ... Koch Industries.

This appearance of a quid-pro-quo raises the question whether this is a deal to repay Repubican backers, quietly giving huge wealth public assets to the Koch Brothers.

See also: Top 5: Why Wisconsin Matters To You


In Ohio Gov. John Kasich introduced a bill to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights. Unlike Wisconsin this bill strips right from all public employees.

NY Times: Thousands Gather to Protest Bill in Ohio

Protestors packed into Ohio’s State Capitol building and several thousand more gathered outside on Tuesday, as its legislature planned new hearings on a bill that would effectively end collective bargaining for state workers and dramatically reduce its power for local workers, like police officers and firefighters.


Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels introduced anti-union "Right To Work" legislation to strip public and private unions from being able to collect dues from members. Other bills remove collective bargaining rights from teachers, as well as implementing a voucher program in opposition to public schools.

Indiana Democrats flee state to protest anti-union bill

Indiana Democrats are reportedly joining their Wisconsin counterparts in staging an exodus from their state to protest a new union-busting Republican measure.

Only two of Indiana's 40 House Democrats showed up for a session Tuesday morning, precluding Republicans from attaining the votes needed to proceed on motions. The rest are fleeing to Illinois to stage a walkout...

Only 58 lawmakers were present, falling short of the 67 required for a quorum.


In Michigan the Republican legislature introduced anti-union measures allowing cities and schools to terminate labor union contracts, eliminate required binding arbitration for police and fire departments and repealing "prevailing wage" laws.


In Tennessee Republicans in the legislature are finalizing a bill to remove collective bargaining rights from teachers. A march is planned for Saturday in the state capital.


In Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says the state's labor laws are too friendly to unions and is asking for,

“veto power” over state worker pay and benefit agreements, giving the governor and legislators authority to reject negotiated union contracts which legislators or the governor find unacceptable.

Branstad also wants health care benefits for state workers to be set by the governor and legislators and no longer be part of contract negotiations.


In Florida the legislature is considering a bill, SB 830, that prevents union dues from being deducted from paychecks, and prohibiting dues from being used for political activity without written consent. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, however, sides with labor on this one,

"My belief is as long as people know what they're doing, collective bargaining is fine," Scott said in an interview with Tallahassee's WFLA FM radio station.

Join With Labor

The AFL-CIO has an action page up:

Stop Attacks on Working Families

Corporate CEOs spent more than $1 billion to elect politicians and now they want pay back. Recently elected politicians in many states are already saying “thank you” by pushing dangerous legislation that attacks workers.

Please add your name to our petition urging state legislators to stop attacks on workers—we’ll deliver your signature to your state legislators.

March 10 Summit on Jobs and America's Future

On March 10, 2011, the Summit on Jobs and America’s Future will bring together leaders and activists who understand that America faces a jobs crisis – and who are committed to building a political movement for sustainable economic growth, dynamic job creation, and a revival of the American economy.

Free. $15 with lunch. Register here.

Producing Tractable Humans: Human Resources

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Producing Tractable Humans: Human Resources

Human Resources is the second film written and directed by Scott Noble. The title is very apt because it captures how humans are regarded as a resource by corporations, something to be exploited for pecuniary gain. The film chronicles the gamut from psychological conditioning experiments to educational shaping to establishment experiments on mind control.

Human Resources begins with the psychological research on animal behavior, how rat, dog, pigeon behavior might be shaped. Behaviorist scientists John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner applied the behavior-shaping experiments to humans.

The human experiments turned even more sinister with an emphasis on eugenics, which is based in the notion that there are superior and inferior humans, superior and inferior races. Academia was very much involved in this movement, and as the documentary points out, it went to the highest levels of government, as president Calvin Coolidge supported eugenicist notions. Corporations funded the research, with the Rockefellers playing “a particularly devious role,” said historian Sharon Smith.

Rebecca Lemov, author of World as Laboratory, said the Rockefeller largesse made for the most funded social science project in history.

Taylorism and the Disempowerment of Workers

Even though moral philosopher Adam Smith had warned against the division of labor, another man, Frederick Taylor, disagreed. He atomized the workplace and work tasks. He set target times for worker tasks. This increased efficiency but at a cost of de-skilling workers and disempowering them.

Skilled labor was undermined by the atomization of tasks, the result being a loss of power and control by skilled workers. The exemplar is the assembly line instituted by anti-worker Henry Ford, which consolidated hierarchical control.

Human Resources calls it dehumanizing.

Labor does not need to be dehumanizing though. Human Resources interviews Michael Albert who, with Robin Hahnel, espouses an economy called participatory economics – or parecon. Albert says the corporation is pathological.1 The pathology is the drive for profit without concern for people or the environment. The parecon workplace is egalitarian.

Paradoxically, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin supported Taylorism’s scientific management although it was disliked by workers. Human Resources quotes Lenin: “Socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly.” If this is the case, then the state has merely replaced the corporations in the economic system, and the Marxist refrain of a dictatorship of the proletariat becomes a meaningless slogan.

Human Resources argues that Lenin and Trotsky destroyed socialist institutions and waged a war against anarchists. They forced industrialization, leading to totalitarianism.

Thus, argues anarchist professor, Noam Chomsky, the term “socialism” became degraded.

Mikhail Bakunin, an anarchist opponent of authoritarian Communism, had foreseen the dangers of the state. Consequently, hierarchical political systems became entrenched worldwide.

Political scientist Stephen M. Sacks discusses the Hawthorne experiments, which looked at the quantity of work and worker satisfaction. It found that having discussions with workers, regardless of whether or not workers concerns were taken into consideration, increased productivity. Sachs says it doesn’t have to be that way. The workplace can be democratized.

Why should the economic system not be rational, for example, like a parecon?

Educating Workers

Educator John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down, illustrated how the education system makes people unable to think in context. Initially, he says, compulsory schooling was resisted by parents (who battled for control) and enforced by state militia.

Corporations, however, feared educated workers, and students were converted into “obedient tools.”

Educational theorist Alfie Kohn extolled on the paucity of critical thinking and debilitation of forced competition. He argues against grading because grades 1) cause a loss of interest in learning; i.e., it is no longer learning for the sake of knowledge, 2) lead to shallower thinking, and 3) lead students to choose easier tasks (the logical choice).

Competition, says Kohn, undermines character and destroys relations. He points to research which shows that competition isn’t necessary for excellence and tends to impede excellence at most tasks. Competition disrupts more difficult tasks and problem solving.

“Excellence,” he says “pulls in one direction and competition in another.”

If the system is one of competition, then that system must have winners and losers of competition. What does that mean for a society?

The Origins of Violence

Noble segues into causes of violence. He turns again to behaviorist psychology (which really does not have that much sway in contemporary psychology) and the frustration-aggression hypothesis which states that thwarting people from achieving their just rewards frustrates them and leads to aggression.

Human Resources portrays rampant hatred of the other in American society that is promulgated by the media. Historian Howard Zinn, in one of his last interviews, saw an intentionality in design; the hatred of others is scapegoating — deflecting the anger onto to others so the system can perpetuate itself.

Anthropologist Elliot Leyton even implied the system as being partially responsible for mass murders. He saw multiple murderers as “alienated individuals … that represent central cultural themes” that “are relatively ignored by government institutions…”

Governments, said Leyton, focus much more on control of public than serial and mass killers. “Governments and politicians are the main killers.” The state is a mass murderer.

Human Resources holds that modern military training best encapsulates the frustration-aggression hypothesis. The military funnels frustration into hatred and fear of a group.

Fear was used to manipulate human behavior.

Mind-control Experimentation

The CIA’s mind-control project MKULTRA “abandon[ed] any pretense to morality, leading to a nightmarish search for the holy grail of social engineering: a fully controlled, fully obedient human being.”

Projects included Artichoke, Bluebird, MKULTRA (truth serum, mind wipes) etc. Since 1973 these projects remain classified.

Under the auspices of the government, military, CIA, academia (universities and “leading professors”) drug, electroshock, brain surgery, noise manipulation, and other experiments were carried out on animals, patients, soldiers, citizens, and even children as “unwitting guinea pigs” for various drugs. Among the outcomes were psychosis and death. Compensation is denied for many cases.

Psychiatrist Colin Ross says authorities typically deny human experimentation, or when undeniable blame the laxer restraints of the time period. In the case of children used in mind-control experiments, national security was proffered as a justification.

MKULTRA was deemed a failure except that it produced Kubark, in essence a “torture manual.” It detailed deprivation experiments, stress positions, and electric shock – all used by US personnel on humans at Abu Ghraib, as horrific video shows.

How is that humans can live in a system that subjects them unwittingly to dangerous experimentation? How is it they can allow their country to terrorize people in other countries in a “war on terror”?

Human Resources points to TV and its fear-based programming which becomes reality. TV entertains but it also induces passivity and suggestibility in people.

Eugenics underlies Human Resources. Yet, a capacity for cruelty has been demonstrated in supposedly learned people, even by those who might consider themselves superior: management, politicians, commanders, and doctors.

Human Resources is another excellent documentary by Noble – a documentary that should cause all people to question the nature of the society they live in, who the authorities serve — and even more — should society have authorities, should it exist as a hierarchy? The film causes us to ask who we should fear – the authorities who pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, who develop and implement the practice of torture, who use their own citizenry as unwitting guinea pigs? Who is the genuine terrorizer? Who is the genuine enemy?

  1. The thesis of another excellent documentary, The Corporation. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

This article was posted on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 at 8:02am and is filed under Anarchism, Animal Rights, Capitalism, Children, Crimes against Humanity, Education, Espionage/"Intelligence", Film Review, Labor, Military/Militarism, Pharmaceuticals, Prejudice, Psychology/Psychiatry, Socialism, Torture.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How Big Business Subverts Democracy

Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Defendants had a common plan to engage in acts … that deceived the press and public … These infringing and fraudulent acts are antithetical to public debate on important issues, because they prevent the public and the press from knowing the true position … In short, such conduct is destructive of public discourse, and cannot be tolerated under the law.Chamber of Commerce lawsuit against the Yes Men and "John and Jane Does 1 through 20", November 2009

Just a couple of years ago, most people had no idea what the Chamber of Commerce did. Aren't they mom and pop's small-business lobby in Washington? Now, thanks in large part to the work of Chamber opponents, we've come to learn that the biggest business lobby in the world is also one of the biggest impediments to real democracy in the US, and that they're a huge force in opposing healthcare reform, employee free choice and other labour legislation, veterans' rights, banking regulations and, of course, transparency.

The US Chamber of Commerce is the public face of a corporatism that is hijacking our democracy – and so dramatically limits any chances of meaningful reform. Even local chambers, fed up, have been leaving the US Chamber en masse. But what might it take for the "Facebook generation" in the US to topple, Tunisia- or Egypt-style, this arrogant and destructive force in American politics?

Late last week, another, still-unfolding leak story revealed the anti-democratic activities of private security firms, apparently hoping to sell their services to the US Chamber of Commerce as a means to silence its critics. Despite reports on the Centre for American Progress blog suggesting that contacts took place between representatives of the Chamber of Commerce where such proposals were made, the Chamber has denied all knowledge of them and has described such reports as a "smear campaign".

In 2009, the Chamber sued members of the Yes Men, an activist group that satirises powerful corporate foes, for posing as Chamber reps and announcing, to a room of reporters, that the Chamber was doing an about-face on their dangerous opposition to climate-change legislation. The media had a good laugh at the Chamber's expense (thanks in large part to a real Chamber representative who barged into the press conference in a rage), but the Chamber found the whole thing distinctly unfunny, and promptly filed suit. (Incidentally, the same law firm involved in the "Chamberleaks" affair, Hunton and Williams, is retained by the Chamber as its attorney in this suit against the Yes Men.)

Nutty indeed. But last week's spectacular series of leaks, counter-leaks and counter-counter-leaks revealed (and continues revealing) a disdain for free speech that shocked even us. It turns out that a consortium of private "cyber-security" firms were developing a $2m proposal to use a variety of sophisticated disinformation techniques to destroy the reputations of Chamber opponents, including public-interest, consumer-advocate and worker-rights groups such as US Chamber Watch and Change to Win. (The same firm was reportedly also proposing, in a presentation for Bank of America, a plot to destroy WikiLeaks, and to "neutralise" constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com.) Like the Chamber of Commerce, Bank of America has denied knowledge of these plans.

More specifically, the firm proposed to (according to a leaked document) "create a false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information, and monitor to see if US Chamber Watch acquires it". To help make this happen, they'd "create a fake insider persona and generate communications" with Change to Win, a labour group the firm theorised might be allied to Chamber Watch. Maybe they'd even "create two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second". But it didn't stop there: the security firms proposed passing off the faked documents they'd created as the fabrication of Change to Win.

We wish we could credit these jokesters with some originality – especially given the fees they were planning to charge – but there's actually nothing new here. These dirty tricks are straight out of the playbook of COINTELPRO, the FBI's notorious 1960s programme of psychological warfare that, among other things, planted false reports and forged letters to destroy reputations. Lately, COINTELPRO tactics have been making a comeback on the right, inspiring a whole new generation of "dirty tricks" operators, along with their patrons in the rightwing media and their sponsors in Congress. But it isn't just "gross and offensive" kids (Andrew Breitbart's words) who are taking up old rightwing techniques. It's actually a very big business.

According to a security expert quoted in a recent New York Times article, "the 'competitive intelligence' industry had 9,700 companies offering these services, with an annual market of more than $2bn." What that industry does is (in the own words of one firm) to "discredit, confuse, shame, combat, infiltrate, fracture" opponents, whether those opponents are rival businesses or, as in this case, groups standing up for democracy, free speech and government transparency.

Why now? Dirty tricks aren't new, so why have they only now hit the corporate mainstream? Why might firms that specialise in such tactics consider that the most cashed-up big-business lobby in the world, with a daily budget nearing $400,000, might be a potential customer? After all, it has the funds at its disposal to enable it just to buy much of the media, not to mention a good chunk of Congress.

What this affair highlights is the crass, anti-democratic and increasingly desperate quality of our current version of corporate influence on politics. With the department of justice showing no signs of investigating, perhaps the Facebook generation in the US can learn a thing or two from the brave citizens in the Middle East.

Maybe we, too, have just been waiting for the right leak.

Joseph Huff-Hannon

Joseph Huff-Hannon is a Brooklyn, NY-based independent writer and producer, a 2008 finalist in the Livingston award for young journalists, and a recipient of a James Aronson award for social justice journalism. See more of his work at josephhuffhannon.com

Andy Bichlbaum

Andy Bichlbaum (aka Jacques Servin) is a co-founder of the Yes Men, director and producer of the award-winning documentary The Yes Men Fix the World, and scientist in residence at the Yes Lab for Creative Activism. Servin is also assistant professor of subversion at the New School, in New York City

Corporate America Fat & Happy, Doing More with Less Workers


Corporate America Fat & Happy, Doing More with Less Workers

By Jane Genova

Corporate America earned record profits. Last quarter, reports The New York Times, those profits totaled $1.659 trillion, when tallied on an annual basis. Those are the highest profits in 60 years.

And the economy grew at 2.5 percent.

A lot of that money and economic growth is coming from the corporate mandate to do more with less -- yeah, less manpower.

Despite all the signs the great recession is over and the recovery is picking up steam, not enough companies are hiring. The party line on that is, "As yet, there simply isn't enough growth as well as confidence in the strength of any upturn for widespread hiring."

But, not many workers are likely to buy into that. For that reason, more and more aren't waiting around for a burst in hiring, and instead are creating their own jobs.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

5 Ways Corporate Scavengers Are Making Big Money Off Our Economic Pain



5 Ways Corporate Scavengers Are Making Big Money Off Our Economic Pain

Big business has found a number of ways to profit from the economic suffering on 'Main Street.'

Photo Credit: Tangled Web Photography
The ruins of the American economy represent a massive crime scene. Wall Street built a house of cards on fraud and misrepresentation, it crashed, and Americans' aggregate net worth is now more than $12 trillion off of its peak. Unemployment remains sky-high and the prospects for a robust recovery anytime soon are dim.

But as Naomi Klein artfully laid out in her book, The Shock Doctrine, a catastrophe for you and I usually presents an opportunity for the Titans of capital. And the grievous economic crisis affecting so many American families is no exception -- big business has found a number of ways to profit, directly, from Main Street's economic pain. Like vultures descending on a rotting corpse, they've come up with a variety of innovative methods to pull the last scraps of meat off the bones of America's middle-class.

Here are five ways these scavengers are making coin from our economic devastation.

When Americans Go Hungry, JPMorgan Profits

It's been widely reported that 43 million Americans now require help meeting their basic nutritional needs. Less well known is that JPMorgan is the largest servicer of food-stamps in the U.S., offering benefit cards in 26 states. As Mary Bottari wrote for AlterNet, “The firm is paid per customer. This means that when the number of food stamp recipients goes up, so do JPMorgan profits.”

Perhaps that doesn't get your blood boiling. If not, Bottari adds: “JPMorgan is taking its responsibility to keep the U.S. unemployment rate high by offshoring the servicing of many of these contracts to India, according to ABC News.” Yes, they're profiting off of our pain, and offshoring the work required to do so.

JPMorgan was the recipient of $25 billion worth of taxpayer bailout, and its CEO, Jamie Dimon, took home $17 million in compensation last year – the biggest windfall on the Street.

Good Old-Fashioned Biblical Usury

When First Premier Bank first offered a credit card with a top interest rate of 79.9 percent, it evoked outrage. So they lowered it…to 59.9 percent. And, as Michael Snyder at the Economic Collapse noted, “Not only are the interest rates on those cards super high, but they also charge a whole bunch of fees on those cards as well.”

They include:

  • $45 processing fee to open the account
  • annual fee of $30 for the first year
  • $45 fee for every subsequent year
  • monthly service fee of $6.25

Some argue that anyone who would sign onto a deal like that must be "stupid." But these are cards pitched to those with bad credit – an ever larger group thanks to the recession. It's easy to scoff at such rubes until one realizes that the lion's share of these “stupid” people have no choice but to take on even very costly debt if they want to eat or pay the rent. 6.2 million Americans have been out of a job for 27 or more weeks; 3.9 million saw their benefits run out entirely last year.

CNN reported that 700,000 people have signed up for the card, and between 200,000 and 300,000 new applications are coming in each month. That's a lot of bread for First Premier.

Dunning the Desperate for Fun and Profit

One sector in this moribund economy is doing quite well: collection agencies. But they're not your father's collection agencies --the business is different today.

Across the country, savvy investors are buying up the debts of those who have run into difficulties for just pennies on the dollar. They then turn the screws on borrowers in order to get a return on their investments. As the Sarasota Post-Star reported, “Debt collectors often use threats and insults to intimidate consumers. But in recent years, collection has become more aggressive, more litigious and more prone to fraud.”

Creditors will call neighbors and family members in search of the consumer, and reveal information about their debt. They will contact the consumer's place of employment and threaten to get them fired with repetitive calls. They will say harsh and insulting things to force the person to pay.

"Around 9/11, a debt collector said to my client, ‘After all those people died in the towers, you won't pay your bills,'" said [attorney Ron] Kim. "It was an absurd statement, as if the two were connected, but she was so upset and ultimately ended up filing for bankruptcy."

They've increasingly resorted to filing lawsuits, which are often settled by borrowers who don't have good legal representation, even when the lender's claims are suspect. According to research by the Legal Aid Society, debt buyers filed over 450,000 lawsuits in New York City alone between January 2006 and July 2008, over 90 percent of which ended in judgments against consumers who “likely weren’t aware they were being sued and only 1% of whom were represented by an attorney.”

According to Moe Bedard of LoanWorkout, a newsletter about the loan modification industry, the now familiar robo-signing scam is popping up in the market for consumer debt as well as home-loans.

According to the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, collectors are increasingly taking disputes to court without proof that they own the debt in question, or even that the debt is valid.

Consumers Union points to automated software used to file lawsuits by the thousands and the proliferation of “robo-signers” who falsely claim to review and verify debtors’ records before taking legal action.

For a while after the crash, Americans had unloaded debt, but with wages stagnating and unemployment remaining above 9 percent for 21 straight months, the trend has reversed and they're again taking on mountains of debt to stay afloat. All of this means that while the recession takes its toll on the American middle class, the shaky debt industry is booming.


So-called pay-day loans are sold as short-term, stop-gap measures for people living paycheck to paycheck, but their interest rates often start at an annual rate of 600 percent – and some go much higher than that.

This recession has been great for the industry. Congress has tried several times to put a cap on their usury, but as the Huffington Post reported last year during the financial reform debate, “The influential $42 billion-a-year payday lending industry, thriving from a surge in emergency loans to people struggling through the recession, is pouring record sums into lobbying, campaign contributions, and public relations.”

It worked, they killed off any meaningful limits on the vig they can charge and business is booming.

A similar ripoff for the working (or the not-working) poor are those rent-to-own schemes that allow people to pick up a couch with no money down, only to end up paying far, far more than they would have otherwise paid. According to ABC News, “The rent-to-own industry has a history few retailers would envy but recent sales most would covet.” And contrary to popular belief, people rarely rent these items in order to own them at the end of the day; industry officials told ABC that “just 5% of their customers end up buying their products; customers are simply looking for short-term solutions when critical appliances go kaput.”

Can't Afford to Pay Back Taxes? There's a Ripoff That's Right for You!

A lot of folks are struggling with all sorts of costs, and some can't afford to pay the property taxes on their homes. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund dug into the problem, and found that Bank of America and a hedge fund called the Fortress Investment Group had “spotted a fresh money-making opportunity -- collecting the tax debts of tens of thousands of people.” What do they do with it? Well, the banksters add interest charges and fees, and then they bundle the debts into securities and sell them off to investors. (Sound familiar?)

In late May and early June, proxies for the two institutions quietly bought hundreds of millions of dollars in homeowners' property tax debts in Florida by bidding at a series of online auctions held by county tax collectors. They didn't use their names but donned multiple other identities, dominating the auctions and repeatedly bidding on the same parcels -- in the case of Walker's small home, more than 8,000 times.

Then, in September, Bank of America's securities division packaged $301 million worth of the tax liens it and Fortress had acquired into bonds pitched privately to major investors. The anticipated return -- estimated at between 7 to 10 percent -- is possible because buyers of tax debts can assess a panoply of interest charges and other fees. When the debt goes unpaid long enough, the liens buyer can seize properties through foreclosure.

That's Just Big Finance

All of these scams probably add up to a fraction of what the financial industry has gained from the Treasury's bailouts and the free money the Fed has showered on them.

But it's not just Wall Street that's profiting from the wreckage of our once-mighty economy. Good old fashioned wage theft is on the rise. With all sorts of subsidized programs to retrain workers – and with Americans feeling, rightly, that they need as much education as possible -- fly-by-night diploma mills are proliferating. Walmart, which had seen its profits languishing, is now making a killing on the cheap goods it imports from its overseas sweatshops.

It's the essence of the Shock Doctrine: never let a crisis pass without exploiting the potential to profit.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bank of America using Private Intel Firms to Attack Wikileaks

Bank of America using Private Intel Firms to Attack Wikileaks


In a document titled "The WikiLeaks Threat" three data intelligence companies, Plantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, outline a plan to attack Wikileaks. They are acting upon request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm working for Bank of America. The Department of Justice recommended the law firm to Bank of America according to an article in The Tech Herald. The prosed attacks on WikiLeaks according to the slides include these actions:

  • Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions of sabotage or discredit the opposing organizations. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.
  • Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed not to be secure they are done.
  • Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.
  • Media campaign to push the radial and reckless nature of WikiLeaks activities. Sustain pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates concern and doubt among moderates.
  • Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behavior of employees.

PDF - 4.5 Mb
Original document converted to PDF (4.5MB)


Data intelligence firms proposed a systematic attack against WikiLeaks

by Steve Ragan - Feb 9 2011, 20:28
Data intelligence firms proposed a systematic attack against WikiLeaks. (IMG: WikiLeaks)

Data intelligence firms proposed a systematic attack against WikiLeaks. (IMG: WikiLeaks)

After a tip from Crowdleaks.org, The Tech Herald has learned that HBGary Federal, as well as two other data intelligence firms, worked to develop a strategic plan of attack against WikiLeaks. The plan included pressing a journalist in order to disrupt his support of the organization, cyber attacks, disinformation, and other potential proactive tactics.


The Tech Herald was able to get in touch with Glenn Greenwald for his reaction to being singled out in the WikiLeaks proposal. He called the report creepy and disturbing. Moreover, he commented that the suggestions for dealing with WikiLeaks, along with the assumption that the organization could be undermined, were “hard to take seriously.”

The listed mitigations, such as disinformation or submitting false documents, have been discussed before. In 2008, the Pentagon had similar ideas, so that aspect of the document was nothing new.

Greenwald, as a journalist, is a prolific writer on media topics. He is a harsh critic of political figures and the mainstream media. The suggestion made by the proposal that he would pick career over cause is “completely against” what he is about, he told us.

“The only reason I do what I do is because im free to put cause before career,” he said.

Pointedly, he reminded us that his work includes taking aim at political figures, which could be a source of professional leverage with scoops or favors, as well as news organizations who could offer him gainful employment. None of these actions paints a picture of a man who would pick career over his passion.

Update 2:

WikiLeaks is hosting an official mirror of the sixth and final draft of the report. You can see a copy here.

Update 3:

Palantir Technologies has severed all ties with HBGary Federal and issued an apology to reporter Glenn Greenwald. More details here.

Update 4:

Berico Technologies has cut ties as well. More information is here.

Original Article:

The tip from Crowdleaks.org is directly related to the highly public attack on HBGary, after Anonymous responded to research performed by HBGary Federal CEO, Aaron Barr. Part of Anonymous’ response included releasing more than 50,000 internal emails to the public. For more information, the initial coverage is here.

What was pointed out by Crowdleaks is a proposal titled “The WikiLeaks Threat” and an email chain between three data intelligence firms. The proposal was quickly developed by Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies, after a request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm that currently counts Bank of America as a client.

The law firm had a meeting with Bank of America on December 3. To prepare, the firm emailed Palantir and the others asking for “…five to six slides on Wikileaks - who they are, how they operate and how this group may help this bank.”

Hunton and Williams were recommended to Bank of America’s general council by the Department of Justice, according to the email chain viewed by The Tech Herald. The law firm was using the meeting to pitch Bank of America on retaining them for an internal investigation surrounding WikiLeaks.

“They basically want to sue them to put an injunction on releasing any data,” an email between the three data intelligence firms said. “They want to present to the bank a team capable of doing a comprehensive investigation into the data leak.”

Hunton and Williams would act as outside counsel on retainer, while Palantir would take care of network and insider threat investigations. For their part, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal would analyze WikiLeaks.

“Apparently if they can show that WikiLeaks is hosting data in certain countries it will make prosecution easier,” the email added.

In less than 24-hours, the three analytical companies created a presentation filled with publically available information and ideas on how the firms could be “deployed” against WikiLeaks “as a unified and cohesive investigative analysis cell.”

On January 2, The New York Times wrote about a late night conference call held by Bank of America executives on November 30. The reason for the call was to deal with a statement given by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange on November 29, where he said that he intended to “take down” a major American bank. The country’s third largest financial institution needed to get the jump on WikiLeaks, so they started scouring thousands of documents, and auditing physical assets.

Shortly after the late night conference call, the email from Hunton and Williams was sent. Booz Allen Hamilton, according to the Times, was the firm brought in to help manage the bank’s internal review.

A month after the proposal for the initial December meeting on WikiLeaks was created, email messages from HBGary Federal show plans for a meeting with Booz Allen Hamilton. The meeting was set after Barr emailed Hunton and Williams about information he was gathering on WikiLeaks and Anonymous. Later, this information would be the direct cause of Anonymous’ attack on HBGary.

On page two you will find an overview of the proposal developed by the three data intelligence firms.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The False Narrative of the Corporate Media

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

The False Narrative of the Corporate Media

Obama Becoming Business Friendly

The unrelenting narrative from the corporate media – that Obama must mend fences with American business – is disconnected from the reality of Obama’s policies and appointments. It is inconsistent with the rise in the stock market, the record profits and the hordes of cash big business is sitting on.

There is no question that small businesses are still being choked by the unavailability of credit and that the lack of job creation is preventing a real economic recovery, but the businesses Obama spoke to when he visited the Chamber of Commerce are not in that category. In recent years, the national Chamber has evolved into a spokesperson for transnational corporations, not Main Street America’s businesses. They have pushed U.S. job killing policies that send jobs overseas so transnational corporations can reap the biggest profits from the cheapest labor.

Rather than scolding the Chamber for killing American industry, Obama kow-towed to them. He seeks to raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign and neutralize opposition from concentrated corporate capital. As a result his promises to the Chamber were a policy agenda that will fail to ignite the U.S. economy but continue to grow the power of concentrated corporate interests, especially transnational corporations.

The business agenda Obama promised will be good for big business interests but bade for the U.S. economy, workers and small business interests. It included:

• A freeze on domestic spending for five years, excluding the military and national security. This McCain campaign promise opposed by Obama during his campaign will result in austerity budgets for programs that attempt to meet the needs of Americans while the military and national security budgets continue to devour more and more federal spending. In fact, Obama failed to mention the urgent need to dramatically reduce the rapidly rising military and intelligence budgets, which make up more than half of federal discretionary spending, so as not to offend the Military Industrial Complex.

• Obama continued the falsehood that Social Security and Medicare are the driving force of deficit spending, when, in fact, both are contracts with American workers for essential health care and retirement services funded by payroll taxes. This contract, paid for by American workers, must be honored. Social Security in particular has built up over $2.5 trillion worth of Treasury Bonds at the end of fiscal 2009. These produce more than $100 billion annually in interest. Social Security will continue to remain solvent by merely raising the cap on the Social Security tax so the wealthy pay their share will ensure retirement security long into the future. To really control debt the U.S. must lower health care costs. The Obama reforms will not do this. Only improving and expanding Medicare to cover all Americans will accomplish this objective. If you are concerned with deficit spending, you should support single payer health care.

• Obama promised to reduce the corporate tax, another McCain campaign proposal that the Obama campaign called a “gift basket” for corporate America. In fact, 72 percent of foreign corporations and about 57 percent of U.S. companies doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005. Revenue from the corporate income tax fell from between 5 and 6 percent of GDP in the early 1950s to 2.1 percent of GDP in 2008. At a time when corporations are seeing record profits and sitting on huge cash reserves, of $2 trillion, while failing to hire Americans, Obama gently urged them to get back into the economy was inadequate.

• Obama promised less regulation, pledging to reduce regulation without pointing out that the deregulation era that began with Reagan and continued with every president, Democrat and Republican, was a primary cause of the economic collapse, as even Alan Greenspan, the former libertarian-leaning Federal Reserve Chairman has admitted.

• Obama promised more corporate trade agreements with developing nations. These types of trade agreements have created a huge trade deficit and the net loss of 5.1 million manufacturing jobs and 43,000 factories since America started its experiment with the current trade model in the 1990s. The Korea pact which Obama trumpeted is projected to cost another 159,000 U.S. jobs.

The Chamber speech and Obama’s recent appointments have the media claiming a new business agenda. His recent appointments of William Daley, a JP Morgan executive and former board member of the Chamber of Commerce as his chief of staff, Gene Sperling, formerly with Goldman Sachs, to head Obama’s National Economic Council, and Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric to head the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, are certainly pro-business. The latter selection is particularly obnoxious since GE has cut 10,000 jobs in the U.S. while creating 30,000 jobs in India in the last decade.

But these appointments are consistent with the appointments in his first two years. The previous chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, received more donations from Wall Street than any other member of Congress. His Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner, was the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York where the failure to control Wall Street gambling was the chief cause of the economic collapse. Larry Summers was appointed head of the National Economic Council even though he played a large role in deregulating the derivatives market and repeal of Glass-Steagall, two major contributors to the economic collapse.

And, his policy proscriptions have also been in favor of concentrated businesses. His health reform gives hundreds of millions to the insurance industry in new annual tax subsidies and strengthens their grip on health care. His financial reform was inadequate, did not confront the causes of the collapse and was applauded by the financial industry. He has failed to deal with urgent environmental issues and did not even mention climate change in the State of the Union. Wars have escalated, expanding to a third front Pakistan, while escalating in Afghanistan and failing to truly get out of Iraq. Obama has produced record weapons and war budgets, record intelligence budgets and record arms sales.

While Obama is a brilliant communicator who suggests a progressive agenda rhetorically, his appointments and policy proscriptions have been consistently corporatist in nature favoring big business over the necessities of the American people.

The corporate media spin that Obama is now becoming business friendly is false. He has always been business friendly. Every proscription to critical issues facing the nation has consistently been to add to the profits of concentrated corporate power. What Obama is doing now is laying out his continuing agenda for big business to position him with them for the next election.

Americans who hope that a different President Obama will appear if he is re-elected need to keep the agenda laid out before the Chamber of Commerce in mind. These are the promises he is making to the big business community as he begins preparation for his re-election. The billion dollars he seeks for his re-election campaign will come primarily from concentrated corporate capital and they will not donate unless they are assured that their agenda is Obama’s

Kevin Zeese is executive director of Voters for Peace. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

This article was posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at 8:00am and is filed under Corporate Globalization, Disinformation, Economy/Economics, Obama.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Did the President Cross the Road? To Kneel Before the Corporate Throne of the Chamber of Commerce



Why Did the President Cross the Road? To Kneel Before the Corporate Throne of the Chamber of Commerce

Obama seems eager to be liked by the Chamber. But at whose expense?

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Editor's note: It's interesting how two analyses of the same event -- in this case President Barack Obama's speech to the Chamber of Commerce on Monday -- can be so different. In the article below, David Swanson interprets key portions of the President's speech as a capitulation to the Chamber and its right-wing agenda, especially when it comes to Obama's freezing domestic spending for the next 5 years. Obama appeared to blame entitlements for the deficit, and he avoided factoring in defense and military spending as potential solutions, even though the U.S. spends more on its military than the rest of the countries of the world combined.

Over in AlterNet's
Hot News and Views, Jed Lewison, writing for the Daily Kos, strongly argued that Obama challenged the Chamber to support his agenda, and found his speech to be strong and heartening. We'll let you decide who you agree with.

Why did the President cross the road? To kneel before the corporate throne of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And here's what he had to say there on Monday.

President Obama again stressed that he wanted to freeze non-war/military spending well into the next president's tenure:

"That's why I've proposed that we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Understand what this means. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and bring this spending -- domestic discretionary spending -- down to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was president. That was a long time ago."

President Obama again pretended that Social Security is breaking a budget that it is not in any way a part of, and that Social Security is in trouble. (In reality the damage he did to it a few months back could be repaired and more by simply requiring people with large incomes to pay in at the same rate as people with small ones):

"Because the driving force on our deficits are entitlements spending. And that's going to require both parties to work together, because those are some tough problems that we're going to have to solve. And I am eager to work with both parties and with the Chamber to take additional steps across the budget to put our nation on a sounder fiscal footing."

Which branch of the government is the Chamber exactly? I need one of those Constitutional refreshers that Congress attaches to bills now. And how can the Chamber support, i.e. destroy, Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid if it is not a branch of government?

Obama avoided, at least for a while, the topic of spending on that majority of the budget that goes to the military and wars, and which he has proposed not to freeze. There were more important matters to attend to first. Such as lowering corporate taxes (who knew there still were any?):

"Now, another barrier government can remove -- and I hear a lot about this from many of you -- is a burdensome corporate tax code with one of the highest rates in the world. You know how it goes: because of various loopholes and carve-outs that have built up over the years, some industries pay an average rate that is four or five times higher than others. Companies are taxed heavily for making investments with equity, yet the tax code actually pays companies to invest using leverage. As a result, you've got too many companies ending up making decisions based on what their tax director says instead of what their engineer designs or what their factories produce. And that puts our entire economy at a disadvantage. We need something smarter, something simpler, something fairer. That's why I want to lower the corporate rate and eliminate these loopholes to pay for it, so that it doesn't add a dime to our deficit. And I'm asking for your help in this fight. I think it can be done."

And removing regulations:

"Which brings me to the last barriers we're trying to remove, and those are outdated and unnecessary regulations. I've ordered a government-wide review, and if there are rules on the books that are needlessly stifling job creation and economic growth, we will fix them. Already we're dramatically cutting down on the paperwork that saddles businesses with huge administrative costs. We're improving the way FDA evaluates things like medical devices, to get innovative and lifesaving treatments to market faster. And the EPA, based on the need for further scientific analysis, delayed the greenhouse gas permitting rules for biomass."

Obama threw in praise for regulations along with his promise to reduce them. And then he came, in a roundabout way, to the topic of war:

"And I'm reminded, toward the end of the 1930s, amidst the Depression, the looming prospect of war, FDR, President Roosevelt, realized he would need to form a new partnership with business if we were going to become what he would later call the 'arsenal of democracy.' And as you can imagine, the relationship between the President and business leaders during the course of the Depression had been rocky at times. They'd grown somewhat fractured by the New Deal."

Somewhat fractured? Yes, I suppose an attempted coup qualifies. The funny thing is, though, that FDR did not propose any of the remedies laid out above. He did, however, spend tons and tons of public dollars on the military.

"Some, like the head of GM, hadn't previously known the President, and if anything had seen him as an adversary. But he gathered his family and he explained that he was going to head up what would become the War Production Board. . . . And in the years that followed, automobile factories converted to making planes and tanks. And corset factories made grenade belts. A toy company made compasses. A pinball machine maker turned out shells. 1941 would see the greatest expansion of manufacturing in the history of America. And not only did this help us win the war; it led to millions of new jobs and helped produce the great American middle class."

Never mind that investing in peaceful jobs would have produced more and better paying jobs. Obama's pretense that investing in war saved the economy illustrates where he is headed. If he wanted jobs he could invest in green energy or infrastructure or education and produce many more jobs with a broader impact on the whole economy. Instead he wants to turn plowshares into swords. He wants to push the war economy to the breaking point.

Obama could have walked a block east and visited the AFL-CIO, which would have gone right along with his agenda. But he didn't want to. He doesn't want unions interfering in the Chamber's winning of the future. He doesn't, in other words, want a middle class. He wants to be liked by the boys at the Chamber. He may even aspire to running the place someday. That vision might be characterized by some people as embodying the audacity of hope. I have other words for it.