30 Years of Unleashed Greed

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Scheer

It is class warfare. But it was begun not by the tear-gassed, rain-soaked protesters asserting their constitutionally guaranteed right of peaceful assembly but rather the financial overlords who control all of the major levers of power in what passes for our democracy. It is they who subverted the American ideal of a nation of stakeholders in control of their economic and political destiny.

Between 1979 and 2007, as the Congressional Budget Office reported this week, the average real income of the top 1 percent grew by an astounding 275 percent. And that is after payment of the taxes that the superrich and their Republican apologists find so onerous.

Those three decades of rampant upper-crust greed unleashed by the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s will be well marked by future historians recording the death of the American dream. In that decisive historical period the middle class began to evaporate and the nation’s income gap increased to alarming proportions. “As a result of that uneven growth,” the CBO explained, “the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979:

The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. … The share of after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income more than doubled. …”

That was before the 2008 meltdown that ushered in the massive increase in unemployment and housing foreclosures that further eroded the standard of living of the vast majority of Americans while the superrich rewarded themselves with immense bonuses. To stress the role of the financial industry in this march to greater income inequality as the Occupy Wall Street movement has done is not a matter of ideology or rhetoric, but, as the CBO report details, a matter of discernible fact.

The CBO noted that in comparing top earners, “The [income] share of financial professionals almost doubled from 1979 to 2005” and that “employees in the financial and legal professions made up a larger share of the highest earners than people in those other groups.”

No wonder, since it was the bankers and the lawyers serving them who managed to end the sensible government regulations that contained their greed. The undermining of those regulations began during the Reagan presidency, and so it is not surprising that, as the CBO reports, “the compensation differential between the financial sector and the rest of the economy appears inexplicably large from 1990 onward.” Citing a major study on the subject, the CBO added, “The authors believe that deregulation and corporate finance activities linked to initial public offerings and credit risks are the primary causes of the higher compensation differential.”

So much for the claim that excessive government regulation has discouraged business activity. The CBO report also denies the charge that taxes on the wealthy have placed an undue burden on the economy, documenting that federal revenue sources have become more regressive and that the tax burden on the wealthy has declined since 1979.

In the face of the evidence that class inequality had been rising sharply in the United States even before the banking-induced recession, it would seem that the Occupy Wall Street protests are a quite measured and even timid response to the crisis.

Actually, the rallying cry of that movement was originally enunciated not by the protesters in the streets, but by one of the nation’s most respected economists. Last April, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote an article in Vanity Fair titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that should be required reading for those well-paid pundits who question the logic and motives of the Wall Street protesters.

“Americans have been watching protests [abroad] against repressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few,” Stiglitz wrote. “Yet, in our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.”

Maybe justice will prevail despite the suffering that the 1 percent has inflicted on the foreclosed and the jobless. But to date those who have seized 40 percent of the nation’s wealth still control the big guns in this war of classes.

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Gujarat Campaign “Fast” Lane

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

location_map_of_GujaratNEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: The three-day fast of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, which concluded this Monday (September 19), has raised many eyebrows as well as questions. It is difficult for secular observers and critics to accept reasons given by Modi for his Sadbhavna (goodwill) fast, aimed towards “peace, unity and harmony.” Modi apparently has taken this step with the hope that its political importance and media coverage will help change his own image from that of a communal, extremist to a secular Indian who believes in development of all. In his words: “Every chief minister has a national role. My work is to do something good on Earth. It is for others to give it words.”

Dismissing “news” about this fast being a reflection of ambition to become the country’s prime minister, Modi said: “I want to tell the world that sabka saath, sabka vikas (cooperation of all, development of all) is the way of development. Gujarat has got a name in development. I have worked for development of all. I have given this an ideological base.”

The three-day fast has certainly helped Modi gain substantial media-coverage and socio-political attention. Yet, except for his own political colleagues, the others are not willing to believe Modi’s claims about development of “all.” Besides, three days, even three decades, are not sufficient to forget the 2002 Gujarat-carnage, when the state government failed to provide adequate security to Muslims who were targeted by right-winged elements linked with saffron brigade, with which Modi is also strongly associated. The wounds of Muslim sufferers have not healed yet and will never heal for those who lost their near and dear ones and possessions. The sufferers have not yet received any compensation. There has been no news of Gujarat government having played even a minor role in rehabilitating the troubled Muslims. The criminals have not yet received adequate punishment. In other words, justice and prospects of a better future in Gujarat still remain dismal for Muslims who faced the 2002-carnage. 

Despite Modi having begun his fast on his birthday (September 17), he claimed: “I have never celebrated my birthday. This is the only day of the year I don’t meet anyone, I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t celebrate my birthday. But because Saturday and Sunday was convenient, that’s why I chose this day, this has got nothing to do with my birthday.”

Modi is not unaware of the fact that Gujarat-carnage is projected as a dark chapter in history of India and his political image. Amazingly, the very politician who at one time justified and also allegedly played a prominent role in fuelling the communal carnage now talks in a totally different tone. Refusing to take any responsibility, Modi said: “What moral responsibility for riots am I being asked to take? My government did its best.” He even said: “I have suffered in my heart for those who suffered and were victims of the 2002 riots. We acted with power and toughness to get life back in order.”
Indicating that Gujarat will not witness the 2002-carnage again, Modi said: “I want to assure the country and all communities that we will not go below the parameters of humanity. Every second of my life is devoted to the people of the country.”

Around 30-40 years ago, “there was complete communal disharmony” provoking “violence and curfew” on even small discords leading to, as Modi said: “When a child was born he/she learnt the word curfew before learning mummy and papa.” Now, Modi claimed: “There is no sign of disharmony. Gujarat has realized the strength of brotherhood. And this learning has not come through any preaching or advice, but through the fruits of development. Our growth has assured us that unity is our strength.”

While Modi may have accepted and started saying that “communal politicking” is not his political agenda, his opponents, including political rivals, riot victims and social activists still refuse to accept his rhetoric. Several civil rights activists, a group called Jan Sangarsh Manch (JSM) and a large number of riot victims gathered near a mosque at Narodia Patia to protest against Modi’s Sadbhavana-fast. They called their demonstration Sachi Sadbhavna (True Goodwill). However, even before the event began, the policemen trooped in and detained more than 50 activists for several hours on the ground that they did not have the administration’s permission to protest (September 18).

Not willing to be outdone by Modi, Congress leaders in Gujarat began their fast an hour earlier than him. They also strongly criticized Modi for wasting taxpayers’ by holding a “five-star” fast. “If there is a justifiable cause for fast by the chief minister, we can understand it. He is saying this fast is for sadbhavna, but his fast is based on farce, falsehood and corruption,” Shankersinh Vaghela said.

While Modi held his fast in an air-conditioned hall, Vaghela and Arjun Modhwadia held theirs called, Satyagrah (for truth against misdeeds of Modi government) on a footpath in front of Sabarmati Ashram. Describing Modi’s fast as “corruption,” Vaghela said: “What was the necessity to spend several millions of public money? If he (Modi) wanted to fast, he could have done that at home also.” Modi’s fast was a tamasha (show), Vaghela said.

Questioning Modi’s claims of development, Vaghela listed several allegations of corruption against Gujarat government. Besides, he said: “The state public debt has mounted to billions, about which the people of Gujarat are not aware. This is the kind of development he is talking about.” “We want to show to the people that this is a corrupt government,” Vaghela said.

Referring to Gujarat-carnage, Vaghela said: “Now, Modi wants to project himself as a messiah of the minorities by undertaking such a fast and wants to show that he is their protector.”

Irrespective of what their actual intentions are, with Gujarat to go for assembly polls in 2012, clearly both the parties- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have begun their campaigns by making lots of voice about their “fasts.”

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