Woodchip Select is a selection of reprints from our chipstack and abbreviated articles or features, the full versions of which can be accessed by clicking on the link at the end of the article or by returning to the Gazette's home page.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Obama's Poisoned Condolence

On the occasion of Hugo Chavez's death, President Obama's condolences are a stunning example of his country's imperialist hypocrisy and arrogance. "At this challenging time of President Hugo Ch├ívez's passing,"  Obama said, "the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

Most stunning in this poisoned condolence is the absence of any recognition of Chavez's role in bringing a measure of structural relief to the masses of Venezuela's poor. If the streets of Caracas are filled with mourners it is only because Chavez brought them the food, the housing, the medical care, the educational opportunities and the employment denied to them since the country's founding. 

Chavez's socialistic reforms were far from perfect or complete but they were leaps forward from what had been.  But not a word of this in Obama's condolence.  Why not?  Because Obama and the regime he leads couldn't give a shit.  People talk about what is important to them and if they don't talk about something it is because it is either shameful or not important.

We say "regime" because, in truth, Obama is not the head of a country but of a global apparatus that uses countries for its own selfish and destructive ends.  He is simply the Chief Toady of a gaggle of official toadies who scurry, palaver and machinate on behalf of hedge funds, banks and global corporations.  Their vision for the world is a two-tier society comprised of Owners and their retainers of managers, technocrats and thugs, insulated from and lording over masses of desperate worker-drones and still greater masses of people left to be starved and stepped over.

To put it simply, Obama's vision of America in the future is of what Venezuela used to be.  Of course, neither he nor the corporate mudia want to acknowledge that Chavez put the lie to their regime. And of course, the rest of what Obama says is a stinking lie. 

For those who might not see it, let us provide a translation.

"The United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people..."  Translation:  "We don't recognise the political legitimacy of the government in power." Normally, nation states deal government to government.  By drawing a distinction between the government and the people it represents, Obama sought to by-pass and marginalise the former.

"... and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."  Translation: "The United States is ready to re-model Venezuela's government."  Obama's self-evident platitude has to be read in light of what preceded and what follows.  All governments seek to develop "constructive" relationships with others and the fact that Obama restated the obvious constituted an implicit statement that such a relationship does not exist at present, which is why Obama supported the people of Venezuela and stands ready to bring about change in  "As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history...." 

And what kind of change might that be?  

"The US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."  Translation: the United States remains committed to free-trade on terms beneficial to  the U.S. corporatocracy, to the laws which protect those economic privileges and property rights.

When a creature like Obama or Clinton use the word "democracy" they are referring to the America's long standing policy of creating "zones of democratic freedom" -- a diplomatic term of art meaning a country or region subserviently coupled to American economic interests and adhering to such political and juridical norms as will protect and promote those interests.  Simply put, "zones of democratic freedom" are to the United States what "client states" and "colonnae" were to Rome.

Of course the pax americana is drecked out in the happy-talk of Jeffersonian Liberalism.  "Respect for human rights" means "respect for free speech" which in turns effectively means "respect for the power of corporate media to flood the airwaves with its mono-culture of thought."  Oh yes, to be sure, every poor, hungry, descalzado, on the street has just as much right as anyone else to speak his mind; but in a free democratic society it is not for us to make sure that everyone's voice gets an equal airing.  

Chavez saw through this despicable charade and how U.S. dominated corporate media were pursuing a regime of infotainment aimed at turning Venezuelans (as they have turned Americans) into self-alienated, acquiescent morons.  The historical narrative these media pursue is, of course, the one that most justifies their past and benefits their future.  The cultural ideal held up by this media, of course, promotes their economic interests and political entrenchment. 

Ten years ago, while in Oaxaca, Mexico, we saw a stunning example of how this  propaganda works.  Oaxaca is a state with a high concentration of Mixtec and Zapotec indians who, as a rule, have copper coloured skin and vaguely oriental features. But hanging in the clothing sections of Walmarts, Sears and other outposts of American consumer goods and junk, were big posters of skinny, white, pouting, Calvin Klein French boys and girls to match.  What kind of message does this convey to a young Mixtec, other than: you should aspire to what you can never be?

This is what I mean by "self-alienation" and what Chavez and Che and others on the Ibero-American left refer to as U.S. cultural imperialism.   Global capitalism carries with it a global culture that serves its interests and ipso fact represses the true popular interests of others.  It has already destroyed Mexico.  Why not Venezuela.

Obama has made clear the extent to which the United States is prepared to "constructively" go.  It was obvious as of last year that Chavez was not long for this world, and that an "opportunity for change" would soon open up in Venezuela.  So what did Obama say?  He "warned" that the United States would not tolerate Iranian interference in South America.

Seriously, Iran needed to be reminded of the Monroe Doctrine?  Struggling as it is under a U.S. and Israeli engineered economic blockade, Iran is hardly in a position to invade the Americas.  But as a member of the oil producing block with some independent technological expertise of her own, Iran is in a position to help form and to strengthen regional retaining walls against U.S. and  Western European domination.  Obama's warning was a signal to Iran, to back off from  America's upcoming opportunity to develop a "(re)constructed relationship" with Venezuela. 

While the Venezuelan people mourn, the drones in Albrecht's Cave are hammering overtime.  Ahh, the allure of the ring!


Monday, March 4, 2013

The 1% and the 25%

A report over the weekend in the New York Times, described how pay-day lenders were circumventing New York's "strict" usury laws by charging up to 800% interest and, with bank connivance, repeatedly debiting a borrower's overdrawn checking account thereby running up over-draft fees in hundreds and even thousands of dollars to the banks' delight.

New York's "strict" anti-usury laws limited interest to 25%. 


There was a time when most states in the Union limited interest to 6 or 7 percent.  The California Constitution limited it to 10 percent per annum; ancient Roman law to 12 percent yearly.

There was a time when virtually every religion considered the charging of any interest to be morally wrong.  Jews were forbidden to charge interest among themselves.  Christianity denied the Sacraments to anyone who charged interest to anyone.  Most people regarded usury as repugnant.  Said Cato

"And what do you think of usury?" — "What do you think of murder?"

And it is a form of murder, as much as it was murder to force concentration camp inmates to work for under 1000 calories a day.    Usury is the equivalent of a starvation wage.

It is the generally accepted view that government borrowing at rates in excess of 7 percent is unsustainable in the long run.  In other words, when a government is forced to pay more than 7 percent interest will be unable to to meet its domestic obligations and the country will go into starvation mode or, as it is called these days, "austerity".

If 7 percent interest is unsustainable for a sovereign state, how in the world is 20 percent sustainable by a working stiff?  It isn't.  It is a prescription for homelessness and starvation.  Cato was right: usury is murder.

The point here is not to provide a comprehensive analysis of interest, opportunity costs, usury and the various calculations of debt to income or gross domestic product. The basic fact is that credit has become an essential lubricant to world economies and charging for the borrowed use of money is regarded as an equally necessary aspect of credit.  In a complex global finance-economy, the types of interest, their modes of calculation and their short or long term sustainability are subject to hundreds of permutations.

But the fact also remains, that over the historical long term, interest rates in excess of 7 to 12 percent have been regarded as usurious because they are not sustainable, even when regarded in isolation and without regard to a borrower's other costs of living and obligations. 

New York's "strict" usury law of 25% already allows for the progressive extermination of the working class. Charges of 800% and overdraft penalties at equivalent rates are murder. This is the blood that feeds the 1%