Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the two 9/11s: for whom the bell tolls...

As President Obama's address last night showed, American militarism touts itself as doing good things in the world, and preserving decency for the last 60 years (it joined to fight the Nazis, a cause in which it in the main - i.e. not with concentration camps for Japanese-Americans - did justice, just before). In the case of Syria, through the help of Putin, Obama may have achieved a victory without war: reducing the use of chemical weapons. "Muscular" realists will be happy at what he has done (I am happy if he achieves this). It is good that he did not remember September 11th by launching war...


9/11 is rightly a day on which the now increasing horror of war among the American people, one which stopped Obama from firing the missiles last Saturday, has come to the fore.


But the falsehood in Obama's speech needs to be recognized. The American army cuts its teeth, largely by winter massacre, on ethnic cleansing of indigenous people. It has waged imperial interventions in many countries in Latin and Central America since the Monroe Doctrine: Chile, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guyana, Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil... It committed genocide in Vietnam, and has overseen ethnic cleansing (by Sunni and Shia leaders, sometimes with American backing) in Iraq. I leave aside the vast underbelly of military aid and training to many repressive regimes around the world - Egypt and Israel are two leading and sad examples (every helicopter in the Occupied Territories is an "Apache," appropriating the name of one ethnic cleansing for another...).


It was "Tomahawk" missiles that the U.S. would have (might still) hurl at Syria...


That America plays an exceptional role in the world is true, as an empire, run mainly by an elite of rich people, and despite Obama's words, unsurprisingly mainly a bad and brutal one (there have been no good Empires).

Humility is in order here - Barack often praises Martin Luther King, but he has "forgotten" King's powerful speech at the Riverside Church, April 3, 1967, breaking with the war in Vietnam. Better that America and its President seek peace in the world, and abjure the wanton use of force.


The root of these polices aimed centrally toward nonwhite people but harming most Americans as well is captured by Ariel Dorfman. When he worked for the Allende regime, Chile was the leading, most long-lasting and stable democracy in the Spanish-speaking world ("it can't happen here," was a common thought). Spain was still run by the fascist Francisco Franco for example, until 1975; democracy had been overthrown in Argentina, and the like. In 1973, Chile was admirable, in exactly the sense that Obama appealed to about American democracy last night (perhaps more admirable since it was less genocidal and expansionary). That democracy was overthrown by the work of the war criminals (unfortunately, the accurate term for American Presidents, Bush just played a particularly egregious role in this regard) Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Dorfman's story is particularly moving about his friend, Claudio Jimeno, again depending on time and circumstance, any of us... Listen also to Peter Kornbluh on the Pinochet file on Democracy Now here.


The triumph of the "Chicago boys" and Milton Friedman in Chile - see Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine - led to the dramatic undemocracy of distribution there. The reemergence of democracy, a triumph of decency, has taken place, but it has yet to make right the awful income inequalities which have also since ravaged - made worse the huge inequalities in - the rest of the world (consider the misery in Greece or Spain today, with American "policy" heavily at work).

As the second article from today's Times underlines ("Top 10% Took Home Half of U.S. income in 2012"), however, what happened in Chile violently (the satellites) has happened since Reagan - and is only worsening - in the United States "peacefully" as well:

"The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country's total income in 2912, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant date a century ago..."

Presdiential (American) brutality in Chile on 9/11 leads to brutality here. State policy, often beneath a radar of elite bipartisanship, is connected. Democratic internationalism, that we must all stick together to fight this, is the only answer.


The figures for wealth, rarely gestured at, are many multiples of income. Among the grasping, this leads to the obscenity of Romney or Cantor or Robert Rubin or Larry Summers or Lloyd Blankfein or many others on Wall Street who do not know that the rest of us, "the lazy, shiftless ones who live off the government," exist. (Summers worries publicly about inequality but has done much for the unrestricted speculation and income increase in the very wealthy and economic depression for the rest).

The bell, as one might put, in Dorfman's words, tolls for each of us.


9/11: The Day Everything Changed, in Chile

Associated Press
Military jets bombed the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, in the 1973 coup against President Salvador Allende’s government.
Published: September 7, 2013

IF I am alive today, if 40 years later I am able to tell the story of the Chilean coup of Sept. 11, 1973, it is thanks to the blind generosity of my friend Claudio Jimeno.

I remember him now as I saw him then, when I said goodbye without knowing it was goodbye, not knowing he would soon be dead and I would survive, neither of us knowing that the military would kill him instead of me.

Claudio and I met in 1960 as freshmen at the Universidad de Chile, where his toothy grin and shock of black hair had earned him the nickname of Conejo (rabbit), which was to follow him till the day he died. He was dating Chabela Chadwick, a chemistry student, and when I started going out with Angélica, who would later become my wife, the four of us would join our enthusiastic classmates for dances and beach picnics and, especially, for protest rallies. For what most united Claudio and me and our girlfriends, beyond sharing heartaches and doubts and hopes, was a fierce thirst for social justice in a continent of frustrating poverty and misdevelopment.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Chileans, Claudio and I were fervent supporters of the Socialist Salvador Allende, who — at a time when guerrilla warfare was raging across Latin America — believed that a nonviolent revolution in our country was possible and proclaimed that we could create a more just and sovereign society through peaceful and democratic means. Our dream seemed to become reality when, 10 years later, Allende won the 1970 presidential election.

Dreams and reality, however, do not go hand in hand that easily.

By mid-1973, Allende’s government was under siege and was threatened with the increasing likelihood of a coup. When Fernando Flores, a member of the president’s staff, asked me to serve as his cultural and press adviser, I did not hesitate. One of my most urgent responsibilities was to sleep once every four nights at La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, keeping watch so that I could communicate any emergency immediately to Allende. The other nights rotated among three other advisers, one of whom was Claudio Jimeno.

When I discovered I was slated to spend the night of Monday, Sept. 10, at La Moneda, it was the most natural thing in the world to exchange shifts with my old buddy. Claudio offered to take my turn and give me his stint on Sunday, the 9th, so that I could show my 6-year-old son, Rodrigo, the gallery displaying the portraits of the presidents of Chile and allow him, before his mother came to pick him up, to experience the palace as night fell, the magic of a thousand lights coming on.

Claudio’s kindness did not surprise me. In those perilous times, we watched our kids playing without being sure we’d see them again the next day, so each hour with them was priceless. Claudio looked forward to some quiet time at home with Chabela and their two children that Sunday.

And thus it was that Claudio Jimeno would be the one to answer the phone at dawn on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 1973, and learn that a military coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet was in progress. And it would be Claudio who called Allende, and Claudio who fought by his side at La Moneda. It was Claudio who was taken prisoner and then tortured and then became one of Chile’s first desaparecidos, never to be seen again. I woke up that morning next to my beloved Angélica and tried to but could not make it to La Moneda, and now four decades later, I find myself here, commemorating my friend and what was lost and what was learned, recalling, because Claudio cannot, how we kept hope alive in the dark. Here I am, unable to visit Claudio Jimeno’s grave because, to this day, his executioners refuse to reveal where they buried his shattered body.

My friend’s fate prefigured what was in store for Chile.

Ahead of us were decades of repression and dread, of sorrow and struggle. Even when we managed to finally defeat the dictatorship, our transition to a full democracy was severely constricted. Pinochet’s sinister Constitution, approved in fraudulent elections in 1980, is even now the supreme law of the land, making urgent reforms exceptionally difficult to carry out.

But that Sept. 11, 1973, tragic as it was for so many Chileans, had consequences far beyond our remote shores. The failure of the Chilean revolution had significant repercussions in Europe, where it led to a fundamental reorientation of the left in several countries (notably, Spain, France and Italy) and to certainty that in order to generate radical transformations in society, a broad consensus was needed, rather than a razor-thin electoral majority.

In the United States, the (not entirely) covert intervention of the C.I.A. in Allende’s downfall was one of several factors that paved the way for Congressional investigations that established laws that limited the extent to which the executive branch could interfere in the affairs of foreign governments. This opened a discussion that is more than relevant today, as it is clear that American presidents continue to believe that it is their right to meddle, intrude and spy wherever they believe the interests and security of their country are in peril — in other words, anywhere and everywhere.

More crucially, however, the most lasting legacy of Chile’s Sept. 11 were the economic policies implemented by Pinochet. My country became, in effect, a laboratory for a neoliberal experiment, a land of unrestrained greed where extreme denationalization of public resources and suppression of workers’ rights were imposed on an unwilling populace. Many of these merciless policies were later deployed by leaders across the globe.

Though it led to a scandalous disparity in income distribution and created conditions congenial to our latest planetary financial crises, the Chilean free-market model retains its appeal. Pinochet’s drastic privatization of Chile’s pension plans is, for instance, constantly trotted out as an example of how to “solve” the “problem” of Social Security. And a recent unsigned editorial in The Wall Street Journal suggested that “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.”

Fortunately, Chile did not just export the nastiest experiences stemming from the military takeover. It also has served as a model for how an unarmed people can, through sustained nonviolence and civil disobedience, conquer fear and bring down a dictatorship. The thrilling democracy and resistance movements that have sprung up on every continent during the last few years prove that the future does not have to be heartless, that the Chilean Sept. 11 was not the end of the quest for freedom and social justice that Claudio Jimeno died for, and that perhaps his sacrifice was not entirely in vain.

And yet, I cannot console myself, 40 years later. I still remember his rabbit grin as he said goodbye to me at La Moneda on the night of Sept. 10, 1973.

The next day, that terror-filled Tuesday in Santiago, changed many things forever, including political and economic conditions that altered Chile and, arguably, the world. But when we look back at the past we need to be reminded that ultimately history comes down to real human beings, men and women who are grievously affected, to each and every Claudio Jimeno of our species, one by one by one.

It comes down to what is irreparable and needs to be mourned: Claudio cannot, as I do each morning, waken to the endless sound of birds.

Claudio Jimeno, the friend who died instead of me 40 years ago, will never see his grandchildren grow up.

Ariel Dorfman is the author of the play “Death and the Maiden” and, most recently, a memoir, “Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile.”


The Rich Get Richer Through the Recovery

For a very instructive graph on how this is getting worse, see here.

The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant data a century ago, according to an updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.

The top 1 percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans, one of the highest levels on record since 1913, when the government instituted an income tax.

The figures underscore that even after the recession the country remains in a new Gilded Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Depression of the 1930s, if not more so.

High stock prices, rising home values and surging corporate profits have buoyed the recovery-era incomes of the most affluent Americans, with the incomes of the rest still weighed down by high unemployment and stagnant wages for many blue- and white-collar workers.

“These results suggest the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s,” Mr. Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in his analysis of the data.

The income share of the top 1 percent of earners in 2012 returned to the same level as before both the Great Recession and the Great Depression: just above 20 percent, jumping to about 22.5 percent in 2012 from 19.7 percent in 2011.

That increase is probably in part due to one-time factors. Congress made a last-minute deal to avoid the expiration of all of the Bush-era tax cuts in January. That deal included a number of tax increases on wealthy Americans, including bumping up levies on investment income. Seeing the tax changes coming, many companies gave large dividends and investors cashed out.

But the economists noted that the trends looked the same for income figures including and excluding realized capital gains — implying that the temporary tax moves were not the only reason the top 1 percent did so well relative to everyone else in 2012.

More generally, richer households have disproportionately benefited from the boom in the stock market during the recovery, with the Dow Jones industrial average more than doubling in value since it bottomed out early in 2009. About half of households hold stock, directly or through vehicles like pension accounts. But the richest 10 percent of households own about 90 percent of the stock, expanding both their net worth and their incomes when they cash out or receive dividends.

The economy remains depressed for most wage-earning families. With sustained, relatively high rates of unemployment, businesses are under no pressure to raise their employees’ incomes because both workers and employers know that many people without jobs would be willing to work for less. The share of Americans working or looking for work is at its lowest in 35 years.

There is a glimmer of good news for the 99 percent in the report, though. Mr. Piketty and Mr. Saez show that the incomes of that group stagnated between 2009 and 2011. In 2012, they started growing again — if only by about 1 percent. But the total income of the top 1 percent surged nearly 20 percent that year. The incomes of the very richest, the 0.01 percent, shot up more than 32 percent.

The new data shows that the top 1 percent of earners experienced a sharp drop in income during the recession, of about 36 percent, and a nearly equal rebound during the recovery of roughly 31 percent. The incomes of the other 99 percent plunged nearly 12 percent in the recession and have barely grown — a 0.4 percent uptick — since then. Thus, the 1 percent has captured about 95 percent of the income gains since the recession ended.

Mr. Saez and Mr. Piketty have argued that the concentration of income among top earners is unlikely to reverse without stark changes in the economy or in tax policy. Increases that Congress negotiated in January are not likely to have a major effect, Mr. Saez wrote, saying they “are not negligible, but they are modest.”

Mr. Saez and Mr. Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, plan to update their data again in January, after more complete statistics become available.

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