David Harvey's "A Brief History of Neoliberalism": Thom Hartmann's Independent Thinker Book of the Month Review
By BuzzFlash

From Hartmann’s review:

David Harvey  has written the most brilliant, concise, and clear history of neoliberalism  I’ve ever found. It should be required reading in every civics class  in high-school and college in America, and everybody who votes or considers  themselves informed about politics and economics (and the intersection  of the two) should have a dog-eared copy next to their bed or favorite  chair for regular re-reading.

Harvey begins with the imposition of  neoliberalism - a radical economic/political theory that everything will  work out optimally if only the power of democratic governments are reduced  to virtually nothing and the power of economic elites (known as “the  free market”) hold most power in society - in Iraq and Chile. Iraq  was going to be the Great Example for the neoliberals - they were so  convinced of their theory that they didn’t have a Plan B for any time  after the invasion - and it utterly failed. Which is why you only read  about the Iraq experiment in neoliberalism in books written by the few  people, like Harvey and Naomi Klein, who have noticed it.

In Chile it was forced on the people,  through the dictatorship of Pinochet. In The United States it came into  being through subterfuge, through an alliance of big business and inherited  wealth funding think tanks and media to change the minds and thinking  of Americans to accept the notions of the “free market” and  the idea that “big government” is a bad thing. It’s being peddled  in Europe with considerable success (it started in ‘79 with Thatcher  two years before Reagan put it into place here in the US), with France  the most recent country to fall with the election of Sarkozy.

While full of facts and figures and  details (at least a third of the pages in my copy of this book are dog-eared   and marked up), Harvey’s “Brief History of Neoliberalism” is   marvelously readable. In some ways it almost reads like a thriller -   what will these people do next? And over and over again we see not only how they screw things up, but how they work those screw-ups to their   own advantage. Neoliberalism, after all, is all about the economic and   power elites taking more and more of the resources, income, and small-d democratic power away from the masses.  David Harvey has produced a classic  book.

It’s an absolute must-read. It’ll totally  change the way you understand the news (particularly the news you’ll  find in The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times), and your opinion  of the behaviors of your elected officials.

Hawaii Rep. Tom Brower Takes A Sledgehammer (Literally) To Homelessness Problem | Huffington Post

Watch out, Hawaii. Waikiki has a new vigilante on the loose.

Armed with a sledgehammer and a self-righteous mission, State Rep. Tom Brower (D.) walks his district’s streets and parks looking for the nefarious shopping carts used by homeless people.

If the carts have a store’s insignia still on them, Brower gallantly returns them to the rightful owner. If, however, he can’t tell where the carts originated from, he pulls out his trusty sledgehammer.

“If I see shopping carts that I can’t identify,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “I will destroy them so they can’t be pushed on the streets.”

(Before you judge, note that he kindly takes out any belongings in the carts and leaves them on the ground where he found them.)

Brower, according to the Star-Advertiser, is “disgusted” by the city’s chronic homelessness problem and has decided to take a self-proclaimed “tough-guy” approach to solving it. In addition to his shopping cart rampage, he also rouses homeless people if he sees them sleeping at bus stops during the day.

“If someone is sleeping at night on the bus stop, I don’t do anything,” he told the Star-Advertiser. “But if they are sleeping during the day, I’ll walk up and say, ‘Get your ass moving.’”

Some in Honolulu have welcomed Brower’s “grass-roots approach,” but others warn against it’s effectiveness and say it is both extreme and threatening.

“You have to remember that there are people who are traumatized out there,” Connie Mitchell, executive director for the Institute of Human Services, told Hawaii News Now. “To see someone with a sledgehammer sometimes can be re-traumatizing for a lot of people.”

While Brower admits that he’s not “100 percent comfortable” with his actions, he insists that what he’s doing is right.

He also seems unconcerned by the prospect of initiating or escalating an altercation with a homeless person.

“When you are walking down the sidewalk with a sledgehammer,” he told the Star-Advertiser, “people get out of your way.”

We wonder why.

(Photo Credit: AmericaWakieWakie)

Editor’s Note: Please contact Brower and tell him how you feel: 808-586-8520 | Email:

Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor had not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person-to-person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance — under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.
—  Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story

Puerto Rico is mired in debt and US colonialism is one of the main culprits

Puerto Rico, a de facto colony of the US, is usually not in the news outside of the travel and style sections. But as it stumbles towards a September default deadline that threatens to shut down government operations, the island territory has been a fixture in the business press, with headlines like: “Puerto Rico Faces Tough Choices Ahead,” “Puerto Rico Power Authority Deadline Extended,” and “A Desperate Puerto Rico Raises $1.2 Billion in Short-term Financing.”

According to the neoliberal narrative, the rapidly intensifying economic crisis is an open and shut case: Puerto Rico, legally an unincorporated territory of the US, is caught in a debtor’s trap of borrowing to pay for essential operations. And now the bill is coming due. Bloomberg Business likens it to a “consumer using one credit card to pay off another.”

But the real story is more complicated, and more connected to Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the US. Over the years, the US has treated Puerto Rico as a laboratory for population control, conducted naval war games on the island nation for possible Middle East interventions, and used it as a pre-NAFTA staging ground for corporate megastores to develop consumer bases and exploit low-wage labor.

Hitting the island in 2006, Puerto Rico’s economic recession was the culmination of decades of US policies that distorted economic development.

After the US seized the island from Spain at the turn of the nineteenth century, it began destroying Puerto Rico’s agricultural economy — an informal mix of subsistence farmers and small landowners — by allowing US corporations to buy up most of the arable land. By the 1940s, with a militant nationalist movement pushing for independence, the US drew up a plan called “Operation Bootstrap,” replacing the agricultural economy with one powered by light manufacturing, tourism, and services.

Designed to enrich US corporations, the economic approach momentarily produced a small middle–class, and throughout the Cold War the US showcased Puerto Rico as an anticommunist alternative to Cuba. Yet because of its colonial status, Puerto Rico was never allowed to negotiate bilateral trade agreements and has had to adhere to fiscal policy directed by the US. External control and extraction of profits stunted the country’s productive base, leading to an economic crisis that the pro-independence left had long predicted.

While Puerto Rico’s problems are often portrayed as having begun with the 2006 recession, its pattern of borrowing to keep the economy afloat began over thirty years ago. In the 1980s, as the mainland recession dragged down Puerto Rico’s economy, the government began taking out loans from US banks to cover deficits.

This was compounded by the ten-year phaseout, starting in 1996, of the notorious Section 936 of the IRS tax code, which was designed to stimulate job creation but instead enabled mass cash outflow from the island. (Even today there are stories of bags of cash being driven from the island’s overflow of Walmarts directly to the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport.)

Still, Puerto Rico isn’t merely a case of a battered and defenseless island territory being gutted by rapacious outside interests. University of Puerto Rico economics professor Argeo Quiñones Pérez said has doubts about a simple North-South explanation:

More than anything [Puerto Rico’s problems] were self-imposed, the result of actions by a clique of government administrators and finance capital and their intermediaries on the island. Instead of forging development they maintain a system of extracting surplus that is shared by local businessmen and global interests.

This would explain the recent move by Puerto Rico’s centrist governor, Alejandro García Padilla, to raise the sales tax to 11.5% (the highest in the union) from the current 7.5%. Padilla’s austerity agenda, which includes cutbacks in public sector employment, is harming workers already reeling from a 13.7% unemployment rate — especially since the government is now the country’s largest employer, following the exodus of pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Lilly and the ongoing shuttering of Sears outlets.

Pacts between US corporations and local elites are not unusual in Latin America, nor are the problems facing Puerto Rico — violent crime, emigration, and economic crisis — that recent. The debt crisis is also not making headlines in the mainstream and business press because the US’s colonial experiment is finally being recognized as an abject failure.

Instead, the newsworthiness of the debt crisis stems from the fact that US investors, acting through hedge funds, are heavily invested in bonds issued by Puerto Rican government agencies, which owe a substantial chunk of the $73 billion. To help service this debt, Puerto Rico began floating bonds that attracted American “mom and pop” investors looking to the municipal bond market to enlarge their retirement nest egg.

They were lured by the triple-tax-exempt status of Puerto Rico government-issued bonds (interest paid is free of all city, state, and federal taxes). These investments are now in jeopardy in part because Puerto Rico is having difficulty paying pensions to its government workers — the country currently faces a $34 billion shortfall.

Puerto Rico has thus gotten caught up in a high-stakes financial casino game where its stunted economy and small domestic market fuel manic investing that seeks to avoid taxation at all costs. Like the drunken sailors that once mobbed Havana’s jazz bars, hedge funds such as UBS, Franklin Templeton, and Oppenheimer have rolled the dice that investing in Puerto Rico’s debt will pay off big.

But this has created economic chaos. According to the Center for a New Economy (CNE), a moderate Puerto Rican think tank, the ratio of total government debt to GNP grew from about 30% in 1962 to 74% in 1975. Although it decreased to about 60% by 2000, CNE director Sergio Marxauch says that by 2012 the ratio had risen to 100.6%. Puerto Rico’s economy is clearly unsustainable, barely able to generate enough capital to service its debt.

When the island began to struggle with its bond payments, Wall Street banks like Barclays and Morgan Stanley swooped in to extract billions in underwriting fees and unfavorable debt swap termination fees.

The exacting toll of hedge fund investors and debt restructuring costs has deepened Puerto Rico’s economic troubles. There’s been a series of downgrades by the same agencies (Standard & Poors) accused of unethically propping up investment ratings of investment houses that played a major role in the 2008 recession. And according to official records, in 2012, the government gave Wall Street banks $4.1 billion in bond payments (principal and interest), derivatives, and issuance costs, or five times what it spent on economic development.

Meanwhile, urgent needs like repairing crumbling infrastructure and investing in alternative forms of energy — given the severe crunch at the Puerto Rico Power Authority, which is on the brink of default — have been mostly ignored, save for when the Obama administration briefly distributed federal stimulus funds.

Puerto Rican bonds’ triple-tax-exempt status, which attracted speculators from investment houses like the Oppenheimer Fund, is a product of the country’s colonial relationship with the US. While the tax benefit is only available in certain US states (and one must be a resident of that state to receive it), all municipal bonds issued by US territories and possessions carry the liberal exemption.

Local interest rates have been driven even higher by inflated rates caused by the debt crisis. To add insult to injury, the recent credit downgrades allowed Wall Street to demand hundreds of millions more in short-term lending fees, credit-default-swap termination fees, and higher interest rates. (Between 2012 and 2014, Puerto Rico paid nearly $640 billion to terminate swaps in addition to $12 million annual swap payments.)

Last month, the Puerto Rican Government Development Bank saidthat it might have to forgo debt-servicing payments starting in September 2015. This contradicts a previous statement by García Padilla that any talk of not repaying debts is “folly,” and it could simply be a ploy to coax intervention from a US government (which while slow to act thus far, will ultimately want to avoid the bad publicity of its colonial experiment collapsing). Regardless, the possible moratorium avoids the root of the problem, and is just a band-aid for a hemorrhaging system.

As Quiñones Pérez told me, “If we keep doing the same things that brought us here, we will surely reach default. Austerity will only make the crisis more profound.”

The government’s response to the debt crisis has been sluggish at best. While the tenure of García Padilla’s predecessor, Luis Fortuño, included severe cuts in government employment and Scott Walker–like repression of labor and student protests, García Padilla has embraced a milder form of austerity that nevertheless values privatization and deficit reduction over inequality reduction.

His administration has been unabashedly pro-business: at a April 2014 conference, the secretary of development and commerce, Alberto Bacó, pitched Puerto Rico as a tax shelter for renegade billionaires — the “Singapore of the Caribbean.”

Opening the island up to more external investment capital has also been one of the administration’s central priorities. Puerto Rico’s February 2015 summit, designed to attract US investors, featuredformer New York City mayor Rudolf Giuliani — peddling his Giuliani Partners consultancy — as its keynote speaker. Giuliani’s appearance, according to Bacó, “reinforces the international recognition of our government’s commitment to economic growth.” A more recent iteration of the event, held in May, focused on investors from Latin America and Spain.

When he isn’t buttering up billionaire hedge-fund managers, García Padilla has focused his attention on trying to restructure the country’s debt in an attempt to protect the country from bankruptcy or default, something it cannot technically do under US law.

Yet while García Padilla is promoting tax breaks and a corporate rate as low as 4 percent — and favors balancing the budgets on the backs of unionized workers like teachers — business has taken umbrage at this move: his La Ley de Quiebra Criolla (The Law of Boricua Default) was immediately challenged by two lawsuits, one filed by Blue Capital Management, and another by Franklin Funds and Oppenheimer Rochester Funds, who together hold about $1.7 billion in bonds issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

In February, district court ruling struck the law down as unconstitutional, but Puerto Rico’s government has appealed the decision. A new proposal by the government attempts to restructure PREPA’s debt, but will most likely lead to further rate increases for consumers.

Both Padilla and Pedro Pierluisi, the leader of the pro-statehood party, have advocated for bill called the Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act, but it has languished in the House since February. The business community clearly objects, but even if it passed, it would just mean further severe austerity. The legislation is designed to allow government entities to restructure their debts to get around the lack of bankruptcy protection. Yet that process would most likely entail further cuts in services and pensions.

“If you were to tell me that this law is part of a context where there is major reform of the political and economic system and social relations then I would say, ‘this looks like Argentina’s process,’” Quiñones says. “But this looks more like Detroit — their strategy is to drastically cut retirement funds.”

Puerto Rico’s government, unlike Argentina’s, has shown itself far less willing to confront the unfairness of the US’s economic hegemony and far more willing to follow the neoliberal model of shifting the burden onto workers. Even worse, it cannot file for bankruptcy like Detroit.

Neoliberal prescriptions for righting Puerto Rico’s economic course are pretty consistent. A recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York report entitled “An Update on the Competitiveness of Puerto Rico’s Economy” suggested “Steps Toward Fiscal Sustainability” like stimulating economic growth, reforming the tax collection system (Puerto Rico has a vast underground economy), cracking down on public sector corporations, and of course, striving for a balanced budget. But these pieces of advice, as well as the Obama administration’s opposition to a bailout (which would amount to a scratching-the-surface form of reparations), overlook the dangerous reality of unsustainable debt.

Quiñones suggests something different: “We have to create sustainable economic growth, intervene in evasive local bank practices, the preferential treatment given to the business sector, and end the revolving door between the government, its agencies, the financial world, and corporate law firms.”

The lack of momentum for independence also leaves the status quo or US statehood the principal options, and the two dominant parties have demonstrated a stubborn allegiance to neoliberalism, whether in its cruel or kinder form. Increasingly, voters are disillusioned with the politics that have ruled the island since its takeover by the US.

New political parties like All Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico, Solidarity Union Movement, and the Working People’s Party (PPT) have emerged as voices of resistance, less concerned about whether Puerto Rico should seek independence or American statehood and more interested in issues like job growth, education, the environment, and race and gender discrimination.

They are no longer willing to wait for Washington’s implementation of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 (which was intended to help resolve the status issue). For its part, the PPT is an explicitly socialist formation that has denounced the 11.5% sales tax proposal and education privatization, and endorsed the recent student protests against increased university fees.

García Padilla has not welcomed this threat to the island’s three-party system. His Commonwealth Party has engaged in a harassment campaign to slow down the re-certification process of the PPT, by claiming an unusually high rate of “incompatible signatures” on endorsements submitted by the party. University of Puerto Rico–Carolina professor Manuel Almeida notes that this is “a delaying tactic that will ultimately deny the party federal matching funds,” hampering their ability to air campaign ads.

Once touted as an exception to the rule of poverty in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico finds itself the victim of American imperialism, devoured by the globalizing thrust of finance capital. Corrupt banking and investment practices have cloaked its glaring productivity failure, and local elites benefit from growing inequality.

Any movement for independence must carry an agenda wider than nationalist symbolism and work towards a broad agenda against class, race, and gender marginalization, and for environmental reform. But even before its territorial status is addressed, there is much work to be done to ameliorate the growing effects of acute austerity.

After the music dies down and the dancing stops, Puerto Rico’s fate must be dealt with in a way that recognizes its human rights and dignity and fulfills the modicum of citizenship granted to its inhabitants so many years ago.

#FueElEstado: How the Mexican Government Is Guilty of State Crime in Ayotzinapa Case

By Ricardo Lezama

​The Mexican government is undertaking radical reforms favoring private investors at a blitzkrieg pace. Dismantling public institutions in this manner has a destabilizing effect on the Mexican public’s ability to sustain themselves, diminishes our quality of life and has led to our mass economic migration to Western countries. Like the ongoing privatization of PEMEX and recent attempt to narrow curriculum at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, the attack on Ayoztinapa students intended to cripple their ability to fulfill fundamental educational and social needs in rural Mexico. Perhaps the thinking was that once the students were placed into a more precarious position, the Mexican State could advance a ‘solution’ in the form of technocratic educational reforms. Therefore, we believe that the attacks in Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26, 2014, were motivated by the federal government’s desire to advance radical economic and educational reforms without opposition.

​The Mexican government’s attack against Ayotzinapa students was an extremely flagrant human rights violation. In fact, the National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico has enough evidence to call it a ’forced disappearance.’ The Ayotzinapa case ranks high in depravity even when comparing its details to other well documented state crimes. In recent memory, attacks against Mexican social activists, students and other civilians have risen in frequency and sophistication, involving coordination between multiple state actors. Along with these acts of state sponsored terrorism, there exist media narratives that serve to justify or absolve state complicity in these violent acts.

​Initially, the attack on the Ayotzinapa students was justified in the name of law and order by some local media outlets The attacks against the Ayotzinapa students were first presented as simply heavy handed acts by the police on unruly students. Fortunately, the students had documented the violence and had anticipated omissions and defamation (see timeline). This is partly why the students were able to strongly declare that they were targets and victims of state repression, a point now well understood globally.

​Another important point is the fact that despite being less than two miles away from the scene, the Mexican military never intervened in defense of the students. Contrary to English-speaking media accounts, narco-traffickers were not the main perpetrators of the attacks in Iguala, Guerrero that night. If mentioned at all, the presence of the Mexican military has only been glossed over by the U.S. English speaking media.

​Shortly after the second attack, at around 11:30 pm, the Mexican army is confirmed to be present around the perimeter of the bus terminal where the students were attacked. The soldiers intercepeted Omar Garcia and a wounded Edgar Andres Vargas as they tried to coordinate ambulances. Garcia asked the soldiers for help. Instead, the soldiers chose to beat the students while they were in an Iguala hospital. As they struck them with their rifles, the soldiers yelled “you asked for it … for doing what you do” (se lo buscaron por lo que hacen). The statement is quite revealing because it indicates the soldiers were aware of the attacks occurring in Iguala.

The soldiers interrogated and held the students against their will for several hours. During the interrogation, they obtained personal information from the students and told them “you will never be seen again” if they did not cooperate and provide true details. Today, the entire world knows that another group of unidentified assailants made good on their intent to disappear 43 students. In other words, those were not empty threats that the soldiers issued against the students. ​Furthermore, the Mexican military has a long history of repressing active sectors of the Mexican population. Since the 1960’s, the Mexican military has been implicated in the disappearance and murder of civil activists, students, and opposition politicians. In other words, those were not empty threats that the military made against the students.

​Mexican government forces used a methodology honed during the ‘counter-insurgency’ operations executed against Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez. These two activists were graduates of the Ayotzinapa Normal and established various civic organizations in Guerrero in addition to resorting to armed struggle after exhausting peaceful political activity. Those disappeared Ayotzinapa students reflected the marginalized society they sought to empower through education. They were primarily poor and agrarian. Instead of teaching agrarian techniques and social activism, the government wanted Normales like Ayotzinapa to teach English and technical skills oriented towards an urban service sector economy. In a post-NAFTA world, that technocratic requirement on Normalista education is a way to make Mexico a cheap supplier of outsourcing services.

​Much has been said about the lack of a federal and state police response during the attacks. In all likelihood, those judicial elements missing in action were coordinating the attack from afar. Recall that students were told by media outlets that they were forbidden from reporting on the events by state officials. Under that premise, we can see how the Mexican government had an incentive to slow down the investigation as much as possible. Nearly 4 hours after the first attack, reporters finally observed an 8-man military squad arrive to the first crime scene. No forensic team is in sight and it begins to rain heavily in Iguala. The evidence is now visibly washed away. These reporters feel the soldiers have a strange sense of hostility and disinterest in the crime. What is quite telling is that the time of the arrival of forensic experts, federal and state police is extremely delayed. They arrive at 4:00 am the next day, at almost exactly the same time in which Murillo Karam says the presumed assailants disposed of bodies believed to belong to the Ayotzinapa students.

​The hypocrisy of the Mexican government regarding the Ayotzinapa case is extremely transparent – their own statements give their cynicism away. Murillo Karam, Mexico’s Attorney General, declared that it was a good thing military personnel did not intervene in the shootings. Karam reasoned that if the Mexican soldiers intervened in the Iguala shootings, then they would have done so only in favor of the police. However, the fact of the matter is that the Mexican army did intervene in favor of the municipal police and we are left to wonder how and why.

Karam’s statement regarding their presence indicates that the Mexican government is pre-emptively justifying the fact that the Mexican military was present in Iguala during the shootings. Since that is the case, the Mexican People are left with one solution: a bottom-up series of protests and expressions of discontent that demands changes in government from the top down. The protests of November 20th were just the opening salvo to a popular firestorm of change.

See Ayotzinapa Timeline and Questions

Ricardo Lezama is a linguist from Santa Ana, California, and is the founder of Follow him on Twitter at @ricardoblezama.
U.S. Senate: Senators of the 114th Congress
Senators of the 114th Congress






So 85 people have more wealth than half the world’s population, that’s about 3.6 billion people with less wealth than 85 people. And people are asking, “what if some sit around doing nothing and sponge off the government. while the rest of us work hard.” So yall think these 85 people are working harder than 3.6 billion people? The 3.6 billion people who likely have generated all of these 85’s wealth. And this is your argument against communism? Your incredibly, willfully, poor understanding, of communism?

“Something That Might Be Called Neocon:“ Hillary Clinton & Corporate Feminism – by Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra

Mar. 3 2015

Her decades of service on corporate boards and in major policy roles as   First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State give a clear indication  of where she stands. One of Clinton’s first high-profile public positions was at Walmart, where she served on the board from 1986 to 1992. She “remained silent” in board meetings as her company “waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers,” as an ABC review of video recordings later noted.

Clinton recounted in her 2003 book that Walmart CEO Sam Walton “taught me a great deal about corporate integrity and success.” Though she later   began trying to shed her public identification with the company in order to attract labor support for her Senate and presidential candidacies, Walmart executives  have continued to look favorably on her, with Alice Walton donating the  maximum amount to the “Ready for Hillary” Super PAC in 2013. Walton’s $25,000 donation was considerably higher than the average annual salary for Walmart’s hourly employees, two-thirds of whom are women.


Regarding non-discrimination, Clinton’s record is also worse than her reputation suggests. Her old company Walmart, widely accused of discriminating against women employees, was recently praised by the Clinton Foundation for its “efforts to empower girls and women.”


Clinton herself is widely recognized to have been one of the administration’s most forceful advocates of attacking or expanding military operations in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria and of strengthening U.S. ties to dictatorships  in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, and elsewhere. Maybe the  women and girls of these countries, including those whose lives have  been destroyed by U.S. bombs, can take comfort in knowing that a  “feminist” helped craft U.S. policy.  

Secretary Clinton and her team worked to ensure that any  challenges to U.S.-Israeli domination of the Middle East were met with  brute force and/or various forms of collective punishment. On Iran, she  often echoes the bipartisan line that “all options must remain on the   table”—a flagrant violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition of “the threat or use of force” in international relations—and brags in Hard Choices that her team “successfully campaigned around the world to impose crippling sanctions” on the country.  

She ensured that Palestine’s UN statehood bid “went nowhere in  the Security Council.” Though out of office by the time of Israel’s  savage 2014 assault on Gaza, she ardently defended it in interviews. This context helps explain her recent praise for Henry Kissinger,  renowned for bombing civilians and supporting regimes that killed and  tortured hundreds of thousands of suspected dissidents. She writes in  the Washington Post that she “relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state.”

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What is Neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism is a big word. One could even call it jargon-y. However, an understanding of neoliberalism is critical to comprehending today’s global economy. Thus, this attempt to explain what neoliberalism is. Neoliberalism has three manifestations: (1) an ideology that the state’s primary role is to protect property rights, free markets, and free trade; (2) a mode of governance based on a logic of competitiveness, individuality, and entrepreneurship; and (3) a policy package designed to slim down social welfare and integrate countries into the global economy (Steger 2009; Steger and Roy 2010; Harvey 2005).

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Dubai erupted onto the world stage as a media and tourism spectacle. A small emirate that had transformed from an ancient mercantile port into a “global city” in a matter of decade, it was breaking world records and luring tourists and investors with man-made islands in the shape of palm trees and over-the-top luxury hotels and shopping malls. At the beginning of the millennium, Dubai seemed to many to exemplify what Jean and John Camaroff have described as “millennial capital” – a neoliberal fantasy-world of consumerism and real-estate speculation built on the backs of transnational, transient, majority proletariat population.


The human elements of the city seem to exist at extremes, with wealthy – and exploitative – Gulf Arabs and international business tycoons on one end, and the downtrodden construction and maids, mostly from South Asia, on the other. In fact, the majority of the attention to South Asians and other migrant groups in the Gulf, both popular and academic, echoes the Comaroff’s arguments about capitalism and class at the turn of the millennium by focusing either on the lack of human rights afforded to migrant workers, or on the absent of forms of civil society in the authoritarian Gulf sates that disfranchises both foreigners and citizens alike, albeit in different was. The millennial story about Dubai emphasizes a new form – or “second coming” – of rampant neoliberal capitalism, with both its spectacles and abuses. 

—  Neha Vora, Impossible Citizens: Dubai’s Indian Diaspora

Sam Durant
Mirror Travels in Neoliberalism

The work of Sam Durant investigates utopia and its failure in relation to protest and countercultures movements in American political history. In his sculptures, installations, and drawings, Sam Durant connects and overlaps several references to the popular, artistic and political history from the 60’s and 70’s.

Durant re-presents iconic symbols from popular music, art, white student protest, and Black Power, reflecting an intensely utopian yet nihilistic moment, when a counterculture both succeeded and failed at changing the world.

“When I was 26, I went to Indonesia and the Philippines to do research for my first book, No Logo. I had a simple goal: to meet the workers making the clothes and electronics that my friends and I purchased. And I did. I spent evenings on concrete floors in squalid dorm rooms where teenage girls—sweet and giggly—spent their scarce nonworking hours. Eight or even 10 to a room. They told me stories about not being able to leave their machines to pee. About bosses who hit. About not having enough money to buy dried fish to go with their rice.

They knew they were being badly exploited—that the garments they were making were being sold for more than they would make in a month. One 17-year-old said to me: “We make computers, but we don’t know how to use them.”

So one thing I found slightly jarring was that some of these same workers wore clothing festooned with knockoff trademarks of the very multinationals that were responsible for these conditions: Disney characters or Nike check marks. At one point, I asked a local labor organizer about this. Wasn’t it strange—a contradiction?

It took a very long time for him to understand the question. When he finally did, he looked at me like I was nuts. You see, for him and his colleagues, individual consumption wasn’t considered to be in the realm of politics at all. Power rested not in what you did as one person, but what you did as many people, as one part of a large, organized, and focused movement. For him, this meant organizing workers to go on strike for better conditions, and eventually it meant winning the right to unionize. What you ate for lunch or happened to be wearing was of absolutely no concern whatsoever.

This was striking to me, because it was the mirror opposite of my culture back home in Canada. Where I came from, you expressed your political beliefs—firstly and very often lastly—through personal lifestyle choices. By loudly proclaiming your vegetarianism. By shopping fair trade and local and boycotting big, evil brands.

These very different understandings of social change came up again and again a couple of years later, once my book came out. I would give talks about the need for international protections for the right to unionize. About the need to change our global trading system so it didn’t encourage a race to the bottom. And yet at the end of those talks, the first question from the audience was: “What kind of sneakers are OK to buy?” “What brands are ethical?” “Where do you buy your clothes?” “What can I do, as an individual, to change the world?”

Fifteen years after I published No Logo, I still find myself facing very similar questions. These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement.

The irony is that people with relatively little power tend to understand this far better than those with a great deal more power. The workers I met in Indonesia and the Philippines knew all too well that governments and corporations did not value their voice or even their lives as individuals. And because of this, they were driven to act not only together, but to act on a rather large political canvas. To try to change the policies in factories that employ thousands of workers, or in export zones that employ tens of thousands. Or the labor laws in an entire country of millions. Their sense of individual powerlessness pushed them to be politically ambitious, to demand structural changes.

In contrast, here in wealthy countries, we are told how powerful we are as individuals all the time. As consumers. Even individual activists. And the result is that, despite our power and privilege, we often end up acting on canvases that are unnecessarily small—the canvas of our own lifestyle, or maybe our neighborhood or town. Meanwhile, we abandon the structural changes—the policy and legal work— to others.”

- Naomi Klein

anonymous asked:

Hi how does atla espouse neoliberal values? Not a troll question I'm just curious thanks!

I don’t think it’s a troll question at all! 

So before I dive right into this question, I’ll start by borrowing a definition of neoliberalism from Lisa Duggan’s essay “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism:”

“Neoliberalism, the brand name for the form of procorporate, “free market:’ anti-“big government” rhetoric shaping U.S. policy and dominating international financial institutions since the early 1980s, is associated primarily with economic and trade policy… The primary strategy of turn of the millennium neoliberalism is privatization, the term that describes the transfer of wealth and decision making from public, more-or-less accountable decision-making bodies to individual or corporate, unaccountable hands.”

So while the TV series of Avatar: The Last Airbender does not delve too much into neoliberalism, the comics and the ultimate existence of Republic City in The Legend of Korra, are most certainly inline with these values.  In fact, our beloved Asami discusses in “Reunion” that she (the owner of a private company) built much of the infrastructure of Republic City’s public parks and roads.  The idea that a democracy is the ultimate form of government and must replace all failed states, as Wu suggests as a solution for the Earth Kingdom, is exactly inline with much of the rhetoric of current neoliberalist ideology. 

In addition, the private sector of Republic City certainly seems rather unconstrained, as there are no mentions of limits, in fact there is only encouragement on the part of President Raiko for both Asami and Varrick to build weapons to protect the city.  This, coupled with the fact that the only villains given complete redemption arcs are capitalists, Hiroshi and Varrick.  Some might point out that Zaheer helps Korra, and while he is cooperative, he remains behind bars at the end of the season, suggesting that the only productive anarchy is one that is highly controlled (ironic). 

Another key component of neoliberalist values is the Avatar’s cooperation with the police force, which is directly in relation to capitalism, as police were initially created to combat crowds not crime (i.e. strikes, riots, etc) in order to keep industries going.  In his essay “Discipline and Punishment,” Foucault discusses how industry funds the state and the state in turn funds industries, creating the military-industrial complex seen in our own country and, by extension, the Avatar universe.  Factories require a cheap labor force, and organized labor like unions are in direct conflict with that.  There is a hint of the exploitation of youth with high amounts of chi (like Mako) that work in the factories with their lightning bending.   

It’s not until capitalism creates a wage-gap (as is inevitable) that there we start to see gangs, NOT the other way around.   In fact in comparison with the other ideologies in this series, Capitalism stands out for its complex and thorough treatment, as opposed to the reductionist approach to Communism, Theocracy, Anarchy, and Totalitarianism, one of my biggest critiques of the series as whole.  Instead of just one character bearing the burden, we are given three fleshed-out capitalists - Hiroshi, Varrick, and Asami. 

The one marked difference from the military-industrial complex of our world and the Avatar world is simply that it is not centered around patriarchal values - in fact, the key positions of the industry and of the police are women, and women who are willing to leave their jobs behind to follow the Avatar.  And perhaps it is also important to note that the only time that Korra challenges these instutions are when they are being lead by men (Tarrlok and Hiroshi).

How does this complicate the sexual politics of the Avatar universe?  Is this just not a use of marginalized groups in these fields to assimilate us to neoliberal values? Can a series, purportedly built on Daoist philosophies, really marriage values in complete contradiction to Buddhism? And even more troubling, yet, is Asami’s union with the Avatar ultimately an attempt at redemption for capitalism, coded in these neoliberal signifiers and hidden under the guise “progress,” which is the basis of Duggan’s essay?  

I can’t answer these questions, as I can’t speak for Bryke.  I can say that a child watching the series will most likely interpret the finale more as Korra finding happiness rather than Korra choosing capitalism.   My only hope is in analyzing the last lines of the series, we can unravel Bryke’s true intentions. 

It would make sense that following the destruction of Republic City (including Future Industries) and Asami’s forgiveness of Hiroshi, that she may finally be able to let her business go.  As LoK Gifs and Musings has pointed out in a number of analyses, Asami time and time again is willing to sacrifice her business to help the Avatar.  Dispensing her wealth for the sake of others is at the core of her character, and honestly with the destruction of Republic City at the end of the series, it’s also understood that Future Industries was obliterated as well, and unlike the the last three conversations about new democracy (Wu), future war (Mako), and rebuilding Republic City (Tenzin), we get this little gem of hope in the sea of neoliberalism, in the form of Asami’s last line:  

“I’ve always wanted to see what the spirit world’s like.” 

And so, in the last few lines of the series, Bryke makes their closing argument.  The ending is NOT about Korra choosing Asami’s world of capitalism, but rather Asami choosing to embark on her own spiritual journey.   There is a hope that two girls walking off into a spirit portal hand-in-hand, amongst the ruins of a fallen Republic, will return with new perspective, and as we’ve seen through their amazing collaborative abilities, perhaps can bring about a truly “new age.”  

And so how does one answer to the prospect of taking the most important person in your life on an adventure that might change their entire world view? 

“Sounds perfect.”  


As anyone who’s watched a TED talk, read a David Brooks column, or attended an Aspen Ideas Festival can tell you, there’s hardly a single issue currently vexing Americans that the 1 percent doesn’t think can be solved with more “education.” Urban poverty? Education! Stagnant wages? Education! Police brutality? Education! (No, really,  Thomas Friedman basically made this argument.) If you can think of a problem that might be at least mitigated by redistribution, you can bet that there’s some sage of the plutocracy out there insisting that we focus on education instead. Which is a bit ironic, really, because one of the key attributes of the political landscape in the U.S. today — and one that makes fighting inequality, politically, such a heavy lift — is the American people’s ignorance

Specifically, their ignorance when it comes to just how unequal their country’s distribution of wealth really is.