24 avril 2009

La présidence Obama a-t-elle mis fin à la crise ?

Ce n’est pas en tout cas l’opinion du prix Nobel d’économie, et néo-keynésien de gauche, Paul Krugman dans sa chronique du New York Times (texte 1). J’ajouterais la touche marxiste suivante : si la crise financière connaît une accalmie aux ÉU grâce aux 10 billions $ consacrés à sauver les banques — elle n’a jamais commencé au Canada sauf quelque peu au Québec parce que le capital financier québécois est davantage branché sur Wall Street que sur Bay Street (ex les PCAA) — la crise économique continue de plus belle et elle finira de nouveau par rattraper les banques qui replongeront (idem au Canada).

L’auteur anticapitaliste étasunien Mike Davis, dont plusieurs livres ont été traduit en français (ex. City of Quartz, Los Angeles capitale du futur ; Génocides tropicaux ; Paradis infernaux, Les villes hallucinées du néo-capitalisme) conclut que les 100 premiers jours de la présidence Obama sont un « désastre historique » qui plonge les ÉU encore plus dans la guerre, qui continue en vitesse supérieure le sauvetage des banques initiée par la présidence Bush et qui s’apprête à décevoir les syndicats, les Latinos et les écologistes tout en les démobilisant (texte 2).

Le commentateur de la revue The Nation, une des plus importantes revues de gauche aux ÉU, Dave Zirin, nous met en garde contre l’illusion créée par l’hystérie des Républicains qui accusent de « socialiste » le président Obama. Cette hystérie tient à la fois du racisme et de la peur d’une grande mobilisation populaire une fois surmontée la déception envers la présidence Obama, comme à partir de 1935 vis-à-vis la présidence Roosevelt (texte 3). L’auteur mentionne quelques signes de mobilisation qu’il espère avant-coureurs.

Au Québec, l’issue victorieuse de la grève militante et déterminée des professeures de l’UQAM, en solidarité avec la grande majorité des étudiantes qui les ont appuyées par des grèves intermittentes, n’est-elle pas aussi un signe avant-coureur ? Ne cherchez pas sur le site web de Québec solidaire la moindre allusion à cette grève qui a pourtant duré sept semaines. C’est motus et bouche cousue.

Marc Bonhomme, 24 avril 2009

New York Times

April 17, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist

Green Shoots and Glimmers


Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, sees “green shoots.” President Obama sees “glimmers of hope.” And the stock market has been on a tear.

So is it time to sound the all clear? Here are four reasons to be cautious about the economic outlook.

1. Things are still getting worse. Industrial production just hit a 10-year low. Housing starts remain incredibly weak. Foreclosures, which dipped as mortgage companies waited for details of the Obama administration’s housing plans, are surging again.

The most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly — that the economy isn’t plunging quite as fast as it was. And I do mean scattered: the latest edition of the Beige Book, the Fed’s periodic survey of business conditions, reports that “five of the twelve Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline.” Whoopee.

2. Some of the good news isn’t convincing. The biggest positive news in recent days has come from banks, which have been announcing surprisingly good earnings. But some of those earnings reports look a little ... funny.

Wells Fargo, for example, announced its best quarterly earnings ever. But a bank’s reported earnings aren’t a hard number, like sales; for example, they depend a lot on the amount the bank sets aside to cover expected future losses on its loans. And some analysts expressed considerable doubt about Wells Fargo’s assumptions, as well as other accounting issues.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs announced a huge jump in profits from fourth-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2009. But as analysts quickly noticed, Goldman changed its definition of “quarter” (in response to a change in its legal status), so that — I kid you not — the month of December, which happened to be a bad one for the bank, disappeared from this comparison.

I don’t want to go overboard here. Maybe the banks really have swung from deep losses to hefty profits in record time. But skepticism comes naturally in this age of Madoff.

Oh, and for those expecting the Treasury Department’s “stress tests” to make everything clear: the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, says that “you will see in a systematic and coordinated way the transparency of determining and showing to all involved some of the results of these stress tests.” No, I don’t know what that means, either.

3. There may be other shoes yet to drop. Even in the Great Depression, things didn’t head straight down. There was, in particular, a pause in the plunge about a year and a half in — roughly where we are now. But then came a series of bank failures on both sides of the Atlantic, combined with some disastrous policy moves as countries tried to defend the dying gold standard, and the world economy fell off another cliff.

Can this happen again? Well, commercial real estate is coming apart at the seams, credit card losses are surging and nobody knows yet just how bad things will get in Japan or Eastern Europe. We probably won’t repeat the disaster of 1931, but it’s far from certain that the worst is over.

4. Even when it’s over, it won’t be over. The 2001 recession officially lasted only eight months, ending in November of that year. But unemployment kept rising for another year and a half. The same thing happened after the 1990-91 recession. And there’s every reason to believe that it will happen this time too. Don’t be surprised if unemployment keeps rising right through 2010.

Why? “V-shaped” recoveries, in which employment comes roaring back, take place only when there’s a lot of pent-up demand. In 1982, for example, housing was crushed by high interest rates, so when the Fed eased up, home sales surged. That’s not what’s going on this time: today, the economy is depressed, loosely speaking, because we ran up too much debt and built too many shopping malls, and nobody is in the mood for a new burst of spending.

Employment will eventually recover — it always does. But it probably won’t happen fast.

So now that I’ve got everyone depressed, what’s the answer? Persistence.

History shows that one of the great policy dangers, in the face of a severe economic slump, is premature optimism. F.D.R. responded to signs of recovery by cutting the Works Progress Administration in half and raising taxes; the Great Depression promptly returned in full force. Japan slackened its efforts halfway through its lost decade, ensuring another five years of stagnation.

The Obama administration’s economists understand this. They say all the right things about staying the course. But there’s a real risk that all the talk of green shoots and glimmers will breed a dangerous complacency.

So here’s my advice, to the public and policy makers alike: Don’t count your recoveries before they’re hatched.

Plutocrats 1, Workers 0

Mike Davis, SocialistWorker.org, April 24 2009

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Millions of people looked forward to Barack Obama's presidency with a sense of pride and hope. But Obama's first 100 days have raised critical questions about the limits of what we can expect from a Democrat in the White House--and what it will take to get the change we want.

What do you think of Obama's 100 days? And what does the left need to do now to move the struggle forward? We asked a group of writers and activists for their answers to these questions. This commentary is from Mike Davis, a veteran socialist activist and author of many books, including Planet of Slums [2], In Praise of Barbarians [3] and City of Quartz [4].

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IT'S TIME to put hope back in the dream chest and take out class anger. Having won the helm in the midst of a hurricane, Obama is resolutely steering the ship of state on the same catastrophic course as his predecessor. A turn toward the left may be real trend in the electorate, but it is illusory or worse at the level of the empire and macro-economy.

True to his campaign promise, the new president is expanding NATO's dirty war in Afghanistan across the Khyber Pass, with the clear risk of igniting a civil conflict of incalculable destructiveness inside Pakistan that could ultimately provoke a nuclear confrontation with India.

By any sober standard, this is a dramatic recapitalization of Bush-era adventurism, not its incremental liquidation, as some former antiwar activists seem to believe. As we all know, the neo-Kissingerian "realism" that Obama's victory has restored to power in the State Department and the Pentagon is the same power politics that bombed Hanoi and Belgrade.

The new administration, moreover, has ratified and consolidated last autumn's coup d'etat inside the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. As non-radical columnists in the financial press have repeatedly emphasized, this is not only the largest transfer of wealth (from the people to bank bondholders) in American history, but also the most staggering theft of the state power by an economic interest group. Summers, Bernanke, Geithner, Furman, Rattner...what are they, if not the long-caricatured "executive committee of the bourgeoisie"?

Certainly the so-called stimulus bill contains some urgent and humane relief, but it is too meager to arrest the collapse of local and state budgets, much less restart the world economy. Moreover, the mega-bailouts will eventually suck all the Keynesian oxygen out of the atmosphere and asphyxiate federal spending on human needs.

Not merely is Obama, like Roosevelt, trying to save capitalism, but the axial priority of his new administration (cf. Gordon Brown) is the rescue of globalized finance. (The New Deal, by the way, took the side of mass-production industry against the banks, especially the House of Morgan.)

Certainly the technology industries also figure prominently in the White House agenda (the Green initiatives are de facto industrial policy for Silicon Valley and the Puget Sound), but what could be more emblematic of neoliberalism than the absence of any Democratic plan targeted to save manufacturing jobs?

Many progressives, of course, will condemn this judgment as too hasty and simplistic, ignoring the complex of forces acting upon White House, as well as other, more agreeable items on Obama's initial balance sheet: children's health care, the closing of CIA prisons (cross your fingers), the appointment of Hilda Solis, regulatory reforms, the expansion of federally protected wilderness areas and so on. They will also point to the promises of national health care, the return of the U.S. to the Kyoto process, labor law and immigration reforms, and new appointments to the federal courts.

But the more realistic view--absent an epic increase in popular mobilization--is that the Employee Free Choice Act will either be defeated or emasculated, while immigration reform will be dead on arrival, thanks to the nativist wing of the Democrats. Rahm Emmanuel has conceded as much in recent interviews.

Similarly, the White House is signaling that there is plenty of room for negotiation with the HMOs for a low-end compromise that preserves their profits and pivotal role in keeping poor Americans unhealthy. Cap and trade, for its part, is a bankrupt approach to global warming that will only become more irrelevant if Obama succeeds in pushing the global mitigation goalposts back from 2020 to 2050.

The system, however doomed, has comfortably accommodated to a vacuum of large-scale social protest, and as a result, the Hundred Days are a historic disaster, not a flawed victory, for a progressive agenda. Far from raising the level of activism, the consolidation of the Obama victory has demobilized struggle, even in the streets of Detroit.

Yes, maybe I'm a raving anarchist. But please try this mental experiment: subtract the charisma of the chief executive and see what remains in Washington. Clinton III, with its fundamental commitments to Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and (now) Google. Don't you hate it?

Bursting Washington's bubble

Dave Zirin, SocialistWorker.org, April 23, 2009

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Millions of people looked forward to Barack Obama's presidency with a sense of pride and hope. But Obama's first 100 days have raised critical questions about the limits of what we can expect from a Democrat in the White House--and what it will take to get the change we want.

What do you think of Obama's 100 days? And what does the left need to do now to move the struggle forward? We asked a group of writers and activists for their answers to these questions. This commentary is from Dave Zirin, a columnist for TheNation.com [2] and author of A People's History of Sports in the United States [3] and Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports [4].

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IF WE'VE learned nothing else in the last six months, it is that there are some very powerful people who suffer from what is being called Baracknophobia. This is the irrational fear of right-wing Republicans who suffer from the delusion that Barack Obama is a dangerous radical aiming to overthrow the entire U.S. political system.

Barack Obama--as he would be the first to tell you--is no radical. He has an Iraq withdrawal plan praised by John McCain. He has an Afghanistan war plan praised by William Kristol. He will not investigate or prosecute the torture that occurred under the Bush regime. And he has handed trillions of tax dollars to the banks while leading the charge against nationalization.

And yet Baracknophobia festers. All you have to do is turn on Fox News and watch some very powerful politicians, as Stephen Colbert puts it, "crank up the crazy and twist off the knob."

There's Newt Gingrich, saying, "We are ushering in socialism to America." There's Michael Steele, the man who says he will bring the urban/suburban hip hop vibe into the Republican Party, imploring people to rise up against socialism. There's Jim Cramer, the CNBC broadcaster who Jon Stewart pantsed on the Daily Show, saying, "We've elected a Leninist!"

My goodness.

I will say that as a socialist, it is wonderful to have the most hated politicians on the planet use the word as an insult. It's like being called ugly by a frog. They are, as columnist Matt Taibbi put it, fighting for the Heavyweight Championship of Stupid.

But Baracknophobia also contains an edge of racism and violence. There was the cartoon in the New York Post that had the officers shooting the monkey, with a caption: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

There's the lunatic Glenn Beck on Fox News, who said Obama and Rep. Barney Frank were "bloodsuckers," and the way to stop them is to "drive a stake through the heart." And there's Michele Bachman--she wants residents of her state "armed and dangerous," because Obama will be sending children to "re-education camps." And there are those who held the Fox News-sponsored protests around the country on April 15: the teabaggers.

So how do we explain all the craziness?

On the one hand, it is a howl of their irrelevance. The Republican Party and its election manual of tax cuts for the wealthy, war abroad and bigotry seem about as in step as the flat earth society.

The right also feels Baracknophobia not because of any position Obama stands for, but because of what we saw in Chicago's Grant Park on November 4, and because of the 2 million people who came out in the bitter D.C. cold on Inauguration Day. There is hope, and nothing scares those who traffic in hate and fear more than hope.

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WE HAVE a very real opportunity right now amid the crisis and hope swirling around us to rebuild both the left and radical struggle in this country.

And you see that connection between change in the White House and people's confidence to fight at some of the recent struggles. There are the signs at gay marriage rallies that say, "Yes we can!" There was successful divestment at Hampshire College from corporations to contribute to Israel's war machine.

There was the historic victory of the Smithfield workers organizing a union at a massive pork processing plant in North Carolina. Smithfield worker Aleisha Rascoe told the local paper: "If we can change the White House, we can change the hog house. And we did, we made history all in the same year."

But while we celebrate the inspiration, we also have to be clear that Obama doesn't support gay marriage or divestment from Israel, and his attitude toward unions, if his lack of initiative around the proposed Employee Free Choice Act is any indication, is half-hearted.

There's only one conclusion to draw for our side: Now is not the time to cheerlead Obama just because those who oppose him on the right are knuckle-dragging lunatics. Now is the time to agitate--to make him hear our voices loud and proud.

Obama speaks about Washington, D.C., being a bubble. The bubble needs to pop, and we need to be heard. If we allow the decisions that affect our lives to be made behind closed doors, we are cutting our own throats.

Now is the time for the left to exercise its political independence. Now is the time for us to revisit the political tradition of radical struggle in this country. Now is the time for us to pose our own solutions for what is clearly a broken system. Now is the time for us to call for an end to the wars abroad, and an end to the drug war at home. And now is the time to animate our struggles with the idea that another world is not only possible, but necessary.

We have to demand more. As the great historian Howard Zinn said in a speech:

Some people might say, "Well, what do you expect?" And the answer is that we expect a lot. People say, "What, are you a dreamer?" And the answer is, yes, we're dreamers. We want it all. We want a peaceful world. We want an egalitarian world. We don't want war. We don't want capitalism. We want a decent society. Are we dreaming? We better hold on to that dream--because if we don't, we'll sink closer and closer to this reality that we have, and that we don't want."

The road may be long, but the wind is at our back. Obama said in a recent meeting with CEOs, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." We need to say to Obama, "If you don't mind, please get out of the way."