To grasp the sheer magnitude of U.S. economic inequality in recent years, consider its two major stock market indices: the Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 and Nasdaq. Over the last 10 years, the values of shares listed on them grew spectacularly. The S&P 500 went from roughly 1,300 points to over 3,800 points, almost tripling. The Nasdaq index over the same period went from 2,800 points to 13,000 points, more than quadrupling. Times were good for the 10 percent of Americans who own 80 percent of stocks and bonds. In contrast, the real median weekly wage rose barely over 10 percent across the same 10-year period. The real federal minimum wage fell as inflation diminished its nominal $7.25 per hour, officially fixed and kept at that rate since 2009.
All the other relevant metrics likewise show that economic inequality in the United States kept worsening across the last half-century. This happened despite “concerns” about inequality expressed publicly across the years by many establishment politicians (including some in the new Biden administration), journalists, and academics. Inequality worsened through the capitalist downturns after 1970 and likewise through the three capitalist crashes of this century (2000, 2008, and 2020). Nor did the deadly pandemic provoke soul-searching or policies adequate to stop, let alone reverse, the ongoing redistribution of income and wealth upward.
No advanced economics is required to grasp that divisions, bitterness, resentment, and anger flow from such a persistently widening gap between haves and have-nots. Among millions who search for explanations, many become prey for those mobilizing against scapegoats. White supremacists blame Black and Brown people. Nativists (calling themselves “patriots” or “nationalists”) point to immigrants and foreign trade partners. Fundamentalists blame those less zealous and especially the non-religious. Fascists try to combine those movements with economically threatened small-business owners, jobless workers, and alienated social outcasts to form a powerful political coalition. The fascists made good use of Trump to assist their efforts.
U.S. history adds a special sharpness to the search for explanations. The dominant argument for capitalism in the 20th century after the 1930s Great Depression was that it “produced a great middle class.” Real U.S. wages had risen even during the Depression. They were generally higher than elsewhere across the globe, and especially in comparison with those in the USSR. High wages showed the superiority of U.S. capitalism according to the system’s apologists in politics, journalism, and academia. Demolition of that middle class at the end of the 20th and into the new century pained especially those who had bought the apologies.
And indeed, the Great Depression and its aftermath had lessened inequality significantly, enabling such a defense of capitalism to have some semblance of validity. However, for that defense to be persuasive required two key facts to be forgotten or hidden. The first is that the U.S. working class fought harder for major economic gains in the 1930s than at any other time in U.S. history. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) then organized millions into labor unions utilizing militants from two socialist parties and a communist party. Those parties were then achieving their largest-ever numerical strengths and social influences. That is how and why together the unions and the parties won the establishment of Social Security, federal unemployment compensation, a minimum wage, and a huge federal jobs program: all firsts in U.S. history. The second fact is that capitalists in the 1930s and afterward fought harder than ever against each and every working-class advance. The “middle-class” status achieved by a large portion of the working class (by no means all and especially not minorities) happened despite not because of capitalism and capitalists. But it was certainly clever propaganda for capitalism to claim credit for working-class gains that capitalists tried but failed to block.
The reduction of U.S. economic inequality accomplished then proved temporary. It was undone after 1945. Particularly after 1970, capitalism’s normal trajectory of deepening economic inequality resumed through to the present moment. Simply put, capitalism’s basic structure of production — how it organizes its enterprises — positioned capitalists to reverse the New Deal’s reduction of economic inequality. Much of the temporary U.S. middle class is now gone; the rest is fading fast. Over the last half-century, U.S. capitalism brought inequality to the extremes surrounding us now. No wonder a population once persuaded to support capitalism because it fostered a middle class now finds reasons to question it.
And here's a video of Richard discussing COVID, the economy, Paul Krugman and more.
We need to develop both our minds and our resources of people worth listening to (as opposed to those shoved down our throats). Richard can help with both.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Wednesday:
Wednesday, February 10, 2021. As the Iraq War continues, a US writer warns against falling asleep while the wars drag on (but seems to forget the Iraq War), more executions in Iraq, and much more.
Starting with some questions from Glenn Greenwald:
Now let's ask a question: How stupid is America?
Pretty damn stupid, apparently. Dr. Margaret Flowers suffered a real loss last year and I am so sorry about that. But we don't give out hugs and kisses here so let's get to her nonsense at BLACK AGENDA REPORT.
The anti-war movement, Margaret wants you to know, must not go to sleep under Biden.
Who's sleeping, Margaret?
"She said that US interventions in Iraq would improve the lives of Iraqis."
"She" is Ireland's trash Samantha Power who apparently decided to become an American citizen because the US had a bigger military she could harness for her War Dreams. Sticky sheets throughout the teenage years as she pleasured herself to War Porn, then American citizenship and the pretense that she was destroying lives as she called for war, war, war and more war!
That sentence about Samantha Power in quotes?
That's it for Iraq in the column.
I'm not in the damn mood.
Why do members of Congress think they can get away with doing nothing regarding Medicare For All?
Because the American left gives them a pass every damn time.
No one paid for selling the Iraq War, true. Equally true, no one paid a price for lying that they'd end the Iraq War even though, all these years later, it goes on and on.
Margaret's got plenty of time for Afghanistan. Even for Venezuela and Iran. But Iraq gets a single sentence.
I also think the claim that they went silent when Barack Obama became president is a falsehood.
When one of the founders of CODEPINK became a bundler for Barack, CODEPINK began 'bird dogging' candidates. Not Barack. Never Barack. Not even in March 2008 when Samantha Power had to leave Barack's campaign for telling the BBC that Barack's promise to end the Iraq War was just words and nothing binding. He would, she said on camera, decided what to do after he became president and not be bound by any campaign promise.
Do you know that?
If you don't and you were at least 13 in 2008 you can thank liars like John Nichols who worked overtime to hide that truth for you. Or Tom Hayden who knew of the interview that March -- I know, we discussed it together in person and on the phone -- and yet he waited until July of 2008 to write about it and then, whore that he is, pretended (a) he had just heard of it and (b) blamed Hillary Clinton and her campaign for not making an issue out of it. (Hillary's campaign did try to make an issue out of it including issuing multiple press releases. Barack, however, had already gotten heavy protection -- no, not the Secret Service, the US press.)
CODESTINK used their 'activist' organization to clear the path for Barack to the party's nomination. So, Margaret, let's stop with the pretense that it was after Barack became president (January 20, 2009) that the peace groups fell silent. Equally true, the whore of all whores, United for Peace and Justice, used the day after the 2008 election to announce that they had accomplished their mission and were folding tent.
Now I could ignore the article's inability to deal with those truths.
I can't ignore the absence of Iraq.
US troops remain in Iraq. The Iraqi people continue to suffer.
Nearly 18 years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqi civilians are still feeling the impact of the chaos that followed.
In the new documentary Iraq’s Assassins, releasing Feb. 9, FRONTLINE examines one outgrowth of the political instability and sectarian divides that were inflamed in the invasion’s wake: the rise and prominence of Shia militias with ties to Iran.
These militias played a prominent role in the fight to defend Iraq from ISIS. But in Iraq’s Assassins, journalist Ramita Navai travels to Iraq to investigate allegations that they are now threatening and killing critics and activists with impunity.
We have no follow through in this country, apparently. We say a lot of words and then, minutes later, we move on to some new cause.
You think Nancy Pelosi didn't notice that?
Nancy, of all people. should have faced accountability. She said give the Dems one house of Congress in the 2006 mid-terms and they'd end the war. They were given both house of Congress in that election. And the results and the turnout convinced them to keep the war going because it could be used to turn out votes in the 2008 presidential election.
She suffered no real fall out.
In a face to face with THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, she faced the closest thing to pushback for her failure. And what did she do?
She blamed her failure to end the Iraq War on . . . Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Most Americans who care about Iraq don't even know that. She tossed Harry under the bus and did so quickly and without blinking -- and the facial skin hadn't been pulled as far back so she could still blink in those days.
Now, in 2021, instead of dealing with any of those realities, a supposed cry to action reduces Iraq to one sentence. A sentence about Samantha Power. That's it.
The US government never gave a damn about the Iraqi people but who knew so many people in the supposed peace movement felt the same?
Here's another Tweet:
So the Iraqi people can be noted. The way their lives have been impacted can be discussed. Just apparently not in an article that says we must not go to sleep under Biden.
Go to sleep? Margaret, it appears we're sleeping when we can't address Iraq.
And our failure to continue pressing on Iraq sends the message to our elected officials that we're just cranky children who will tire ourselves out if they just let us cry ourselves to sleep. No need to address our issues.
Staying with Iraq, AFP reports:
Iraq on Tuesday hanged five people convicted on “terrorism” charges in a
notorious southern prison, security sources said, despite an
international outcry in recent months over the country’s execution
The five men, all Iraqi, were executed in the Nasiriyah prison in Dhi Qar province, the only one in Iraq that carries out capital punishment, the security sources said.
Iraqis fearfully refer to Nasiriyah jail as Al-Hut, the Arabic word for “whale,” describing it as a vast prison complex that “swallows” people up.
Human Rights Watch described the mass execution order as politically motivated, rather than a move made out of concern for justice.
"This announcement, unfortunately, speaks to a concern we have had for many years in Iraq that the death penalty is used as a political tool more than anything else," Belkis Wille, the watchdog's senior crisis and conflict researcher, told Rudaw English in January.
As noted in yesterday's snapshot, PBS' FRONTLINE is featuring a report on Iraq. At their website, Privanka Boghani interviews the filmmaker and reporter behind IRAQ ASSASSINS, Ramita Navai:
Ramita Navai has been reporting for years on the rise of Shia militias in Iraq, their links to Iran and allegations of abuses carried out against Sunni civilians. In her latest documentary for FRONTLINE, Iraq’s Assassins, Navai investigates accusations that these militias have unleashed a wave of assassinations against activists and critics. In the runup to the film’s February 9 premiere, FRONTLINE spoke with Navai about her past reporting and what had changed when she returned to Iraq in September 2020.
What she found surprised her: “When I first covered [the militias], even though we were exposing Shia militia abuses, they were still very much seen as heroes, especially by the Shia population,” Navai said. “That has completely changed.” She says she wasn’t expecting “how, in these few years, they’re now viewed with absolute fear and they’re viewed as villains. They’re no longer seen as the heroes they once were.”
Below, Navai discusses the mass protests in Iraq, the Iran-backed Shia militias now accused of killing their critics and why the militias view activists as a threat.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you explain to an American audience the protest movement in Iraq that took on these powerful Iranian-backed Shia militias? How unusual is that?
I would say these are the most significant protests since the invasion [of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition in 2003]. Importantly, they’re nonsectarian. So you’ve got Iraqis uniting. Also, they’re intergenerational, and this is the first time that Iraqis of all sects have joined together to demonstrate against the [Iranian-backed] Shia militias, and to demonstrate against what they see as Iranian interference in their country.
And it’s very much a kind of nationalistic protest, [with] Iraqis saying, “We want foreign interference” — which isn’t just the U.S. this time — “foreign interference that’s the U.S. and Iran, we want them out.”
What demands are they making? And was there an event that sparked this movement?
There were mass protests in 2018, so this has been building up. In 2019, the situation got really bad. It was a hot — and when I say hot, we’re talking really hot; we’re talking temperatures in the 40s and in the 50s [degrees Celsius, equivalent to 104 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit] — a hot, long summer with, for a lot of people, either no electricity or disrupted electricity. So, very limited or no access to basic services. And that’s how these protests started.
The anger turned toward the Shia militias and toward Iran because of what people saw as corruption being behind the lack of services. … “There’s money coming in. The state has the money, so where has the money gone? Why can’t they provide basic services, like electricity? It must be down to corruption.” That was the turning point. … [P]rotests started on October 1, 2019. They spread like wildfire from Baghdad to the south. They were in all the Shia cities and towns, throughout Iraq.
You were on the ground in Iraq in 2016 for Iraq Uncovered, reporting on some of these same militias as they were fighting ISIS. Did anything surprise you about them when you returned in the fall of 2020?
So many things surprised me. When I first covered them, even though we were exposing Shia militia abuses, they were still very much seen as heroes, especially by the Shia population. That has completely changed. I was really surprised by that — at how, in these few years, they’re now viewed with absolute fear and they’re viewed as villains. They’re no longer seen as the heroes they once were.
I was really unprepared for how the Shia militias are now terrorizing not only Sunnis but their own. This is a really dramatic and important change. Now, this shift is exactly why hundreds and thousands of Shia Iraqis took to the streets, demonstrating against them.
The video below is the documentary in full.
In other Iraq news, RISK MAP notes protest continue in Kut:
Since 2016, I have visited over a dozen camps across Iraq housing families accused of having a father, husband, or son affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). I have spent dozens of hours sitting in the tents of women struggling to figure out how they can get out of the camp, where they are effectively being confined by security forces as punishment for what their relative might have done, so they can offer their children the chance to have a normal life. While all these interviews have been heart-breaking, my visit to Ishaqi camp is the one that has haunted me the most.
In early December 2018, after hours of negotiations, a unit of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, nominally under the control of the prime minister) finally let me into the infamous camp in Salah al-Din governorate. Unlike other camps, it had no presence or services from international or local organizations. The fighters themselves were the camp’s “management.” Most organizations that tried to enter the camp had been turned back by the fighters, who ran the site as a prison. Of the more than 400 residents, I saw only about 30 men, all older than 60.
At one point I was able to slip away from the fighter assigned to monitor my interviews. The moment he was out of earshot, women stopped talking about the horrific camp conditions, including the lack of fuel and the chronic diseases, and instead started rapidly firing names at me -- dozens and dozens of names of men. They said that a month after security forces brought them to the camp there was a nearby bombing. Afterward, the fighters promptly rounded up all 52 men in the camp between the ages of 17 and 57, accusing them of some link to the bombing, and took them away, along with a few younger boys. Their family members never heard from them again or knew their fate.
For 30 minutes, all I did was write down names, including of boys as young as 10. Before I left, at the request of the women, I tore the filled pages out of my notebook and hid them in my pocket so that the guards would not find them if they searched me.
A few weeks ago my heart sank when I saw a local news article that dispelled any hope that the men whose names I had taken down may be alive, perhaps in a secret prison somewhere. The authorities had just discovered a mass grave next to the camp, which apparently contained the remains of more than 50 people, including children as young as 8 or 10.
I am losing track of the number of times I have documented allegations of killings in Iraq, only to read in the news several months or years later that a mass grave was discovered right where the killings allegedly occurred. And yet I cannot remember a single time where any mass killings by Iraqi forces were investigated.
Until late 2020, tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly women and children, were living in camps, some that functioned as de facto prisons, because the government and their local community wanted to punish them for their relative’s perceived roles in ISIS by preventing them from returning to a normal life. This changed in October, when the government moved to close all camps across the country, stripping the families of access to food, water, shelter, and health care, and leaving them with nowhere to go and no men left to earn a living.
The authorities closed Ishaqi camp in November. The residents were freed but as with many of the others freed from the camps, other units of fighters are controlling their villages and are not allowing them to return home. So they have been left to fend for themselves. Women across Iraq in the same position have told me and others that they feel unsafe and are at risk of sexual violence.
The mostly women and children who were held prisoner in Ishaqi camp for years deserve to go home, or make a new home elsewhere, and the government should be throwing its full might behind protecting and supporting them.
But these former residents also deserve to know what happened to their loved ones, and impunity for abusive security forces needs to end. The Iraqi authorities can begin to address this apparent atrocity by opening a credible investigation into the incident, starting by locating the former camp residents, many of whom are currently living in squalid conditions in an abandoned train station nearby, to interview them about the details of their relatives’ disappearance and take DNA samples to help identify the remains of those found in the mass grave.
The international community has a role to play too. In 2017 the United Nations Security Council decided to create a team, UNITAD, to help the Iraqi government document and prosecute the grave crimes committed by ISIS, including by exhuming mass graves in Iraq. But it chose to exclude from UNITAD’s mandate investigations into the grave crimes that Iraqi security forces committed in the battle against ISIS.
One-sided justice in Iraq will not serve anyone’s interests, and the families from Ishaqi camp deserve justice for abuses against their loved ones just as much as every victim of ISIS does. The international community needs to have the courage to push as hard for judicial investigations into these abuses as well