Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Siege of Venezuela and The Travails of Empire


Not on CNN or MSNBC. Four of the huge pro-government rallies held throughout Venezuela on February 1st 
(Photo: PSUV)

Here’s the bullet-point version:
  • It’s imperialism.
  • It’s American imperialism, a bipartisan national project.
  • American imperialism is the global management of capitalist class power.
  • It’s a binary situation in which one side or the other will win via the use and threat of armed force.
  • It’s trouble for Venezuela and for imperialism.
  • There’s no such thing as Progressive Except Imperialism.

Here’s the long rant:

The United States government’s new offensive against Venezuela is an act of naked imperialism.

I predicted last year that Venezuela would be the first new country hit by the Trump administration’s indispensable need to establish its American-exceptionalist, “Presidentialist,” bona fides. It is the Goldilocks target. Not too small: It is, in fact, a significant country with world's largest oil reserves, and a proclaimed socialist government that's been a thorn in the gringo boot on Latin America for almost twenty years. Not too big: It’s no military match for U.S. & Latin American proxy armed forces, and nobody will start WWIII to defend it. Just right: A decisive win, at little apparent cost. And just the kind of amuse-bouche needed to get the U.S. population’s juices flowing for a more costly and difficult attack on the ultimate target—Iran. At least, that’s the way they think.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

For What It’s Worth: The Yellow Vests and the Left

Veronique de Viguerie

Something’s happening here…
Class Act
The “yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) movement has upended French politics, at least.
It has delivered a sharp and refreshing smack in the face to the smuggest of smug, entitled neoliberal brats, Emmanuel Macron, forcing him to retreat on substantive tax and minimum wage issues. It has also raised a raft of issues from wealth inequality (including demands for higher taxes on the rich) to a rejection of austerity and the dreaded Frexit.
Most importantly, it has acted outside the gatekeeping of traditional opposition parties and institutions--including those of the left, which have all been thoroughly decaffeinated and beguiled by the fantasia of Third-Way EU becoming “Social Europe.” The Yellow Vest movement is millions of people out in the street, engaged in militant, confrontational protest, talking to and acting with each other unsupervised, telling the governing elite: “Va te faire foutre!”.
A self-mobilization of the working class: This is the specter of Europe past, which Third-Way politicians and intelligentsia thought they had once and for all banished to the netherworld a few decades ago. The Yellow Vest movement, now spreading to other counties, is striking a new body blow to the teetering edifice of neoliberalism that has been built on the bones of the working-class lives in Europe and America over those decades.
This explains why the American mainstream media has avoided focusing on the Yellow Vest movement. The left, on the other hand, must be overjoyed, right?
Well, it’s more like: Comme-ci, comme ça.
Why? “Identity politics” is, of course, the term that immediately comes to mind, though that term oversimplifies, particularly regarding the French context. As C. J. Hopkins put it: "Nothing scares the Identity Politics Left quite like an actual working class uprising.” Scares and confuses.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)

-Apocryphal (often spuriously attributed to Mark Twain)

Three assertions:
  • There is no such thing as “taxpayer money.”

  • Taxes do not pay for government spending. (Nor does debt. No revenue is needed.)

  • Leftists who continue to talk as if “taxpayer dollars” must be collected to “pay for” government programs are undermining Medicare-for-all and every other progressive policy initiative. 

I know these assertions run counter to an economic ideology that has been ingrained in us as obvious and irrefutable, known for sure. And I know how easy and seemingly effective it is to say things like: “Look at all the taxpayer dollars going to the military. We should spend some of those taxpayer dollars on healthcare instead.” But I want to show, with specific examples, why using this language is a bad idea—a really bad idea.


Maggie’s Farm

There are two reasons why it's important to stop talking like this: 1) Because it's not true, and 2) Because it perpetuates an ideology of how money and public financing work that is not only false, but profoundly reactionary and politically damaging—that is designed to, and will, impede achieving the most basic progressive goals.

Let's deal with the second point first, since I know a lot of leftists won’t overcome their resistance to understanding and promoting an economic proposition that runs counter to the common wisdom unless they can see the political point of it.

Consider the logic of this language: If government spending depends on tax revenue, if the government—the public authority—is an empty pocket that has to be filled with dollars that originate in the private pockets of “taxpayers,” that means public wealth depends on private wealth. That means private wealth is the source, the wellspring from which the public treasury draws; It means that, without large concentrations of private wealth (which are subject to the highest rates of taxation), the public authority cannot function.

Is that not precisely the theoretical grounding of capitalist socio-economic theory in its most regressive Thatcherite form?

If that's true, we are then in a polity where those who pay more dollars in taxes have a prima facie credible claim to demand more influence on the use of those dollars by the public authority—i.e., more political power. After all, the government depends on them; they are its donors, the breadwinners of this household, the source of its wealth. In a taxpayer/donor-financed polity, you can debate whether "taxation is theft" and to what extent “winners”—i.e., meritorious taxpayers—are paying for “losers” and “moochers”—i.e., “undeserving” non-taxpayers. It’s a polity where social programs of universal benefit exist at the sufferance—whether forced or voluntary—of the wealthy, subject to constant negotiation about how far that should go.

This is the paradigm of noblesse-oblige, welfare-state capitalism, whether more or less “generous,” where the public authority—the federal government—must go hat in hand to the wealthy to pay for public services.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Be Careful What You Ask For: Wasting Time with Manafort, Cohen, and Russiagate

Twitter/@dserman2407

So, Paul Manafort, described by the New York Times as “a longtime lobbyist and political consultant who worked for multiple Republican candidates and presidents,” was convicted of bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account. And Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, pled guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud (making false statements to obtain loans), and breaking campaign finance laws by paying off two women who claimed to have had sexual affairs with Trump. Because Cohen says those payoffs were made at Trump’s direction, that is the one charge that directly implicates Trump.

On the basis of the these results, the NYT editorial board insists: “Only a complete fantasist … could continue to claim that this investigation of foreign subversion of an American election, which has already yielded dozens of other indictments and several guilty pleas, is a ‘hoax’ or ‘scam’ or ‘rigged witch hunt.’” Democrats concur, saying the results “put the lie to Mr. Trump’s argument that Mr. Mueller was engaged in a political investigation.”

But these crimes are tax fraud, money laundering, and credit app padding that have nothing to do with Donald Trump, and campaign-finance violations related to what a critic of Trump aptly describes as “a classic B-team type of bumbling screw-up of covering up mistresses.” I question the level of word play, if not fantasizing, necessary to claim that these crimes validate “this investigation of foreign subversion.” None of them has anything to do with that. The perils of this, that, these, and those.

Do these results disprove that the Mueller probe is “a political investigation”? I think they imply quite the opposite, and quite obviously so.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker Serves Up A Doozie

State Department
On July 8th, The New Yorker published a short piece by Adam Entous, under the graphic above, titled “The Maps of Israeli Settlements That Shocked Barack Obama.” In the article, Entous purports to tell us the heretofore unknown inside story of how the Obama administration came to the surprising realization that Israeli settlements were taking over the West Bank. In the kind of irony The New Yorker might best appreciate, the magazine’s latest promotional tag line is: “Fighting Fake Stories With Real Ones,” and this Adam Entous article is the epitome of fake.



As Entous narrates it, in 2015, the third year of Obama’s second term, as his “Presidency was winding down,” a gentleman called Frank Lowenstein—who was, and still is, the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State—stumbled upon a map of West Bank settlements “that he had never seen before.” Though Lowenstein—as, you know, Special Envoy for Palestinian Negotiations and all—had seen “hundreds of maps of the West Bank” and had one “adorning” his office, this “new map in the briefing book” was a revelation to him. It showed clearly that “not only were Palestinian population centers cut off from one another but there was virtually no way to squeeze a viable Palestinian state into the areas that remained.”

Shocked, shocked, Lowenstein scurried off to show the map to Secretary of State John Kerry, telling him: “Look what’s really going on here.” After studiously having the map’s information “verified by U.S. intelligence agencies,” Kerry then unfurled the map on a coffee table in the White House for President Obama to see. As Ben Rhodes, “one of Obama’s longest-serving advisers,” recounted, Obama, too, was “shocked” at Israel’s “systematic” use of settlements to “cut off Palestinian population centers from one another.”

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