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.”

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Sacrificing Gaza: The Great March of Zionist Hypocrisy



The Great March of Return is a startling, powerful expression of Palestinian identity and resistance. Thousands of Palestinians have come out, bravely and unapologetically, to say: “We refuse to remain invisible. We reject any attempt to assign us to the discard pile of history. We will exercise our fundamental right to go home.” They have done this unarmed, in the face of Israel’s use of deadly armed force against targets (children, press, medics) deliberately chosen to demonstrate the Jewish state’s unapologetic determination to force them back into submissive exile by any means necessary. By doing this repeatedly over the last few weeks, these incredibly brave men, women, and children have done more than decades of essays and books to strip the aura of virtue from Zionism that's befogged Western liberals' eyes for 70 years.
What the Israelis have done over the past few weeks—killing at least 112 and wounding over 13,000 people (332 with life-threatening injuries and 27 requiring amputation)—is a historical crime that stands alongside the Sharpeville Massacre (69 killed), Bloody Sunday (14 killed), and the Birmingham Fire Hoses and Police Dog Repression as a defining moment in an ongoing struggle for justice and freedom. Like those events, this month’s slaughter may become a turning point for what John Pilger correctly calls “the longest occupation and resistance in modern times”—the continuing, unfinished subjugation of the Palestinian people, which, like apartheid and Jim Crow, requires constant armed repression and at least occasional episodes of extermination.
The American government, political parties, and media, which support and make possible this crime are disgraceful, criminal accomplices. American politicians, media, and people, who feel all aglow about professing their back-in-the-day support (actual, for some; retrospectively-imagined, for most) of the Civil-Rights movement in the American South and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but continue to ignore the Palestinian struggle for justice against Zionism, because saying peep one about it might cost them some discomfort, are disgraceful, cowardly hypocrites.
You know, the millions of ant-racist #Resistors who are waiting for a quorum of Natalie Portmans and cool elite, preferably Jewish, personalities to make criticism of Israel acceptable before finding the courage to express the solidarity with the Palestinian people they've always had in their hearts. Back in the day, they’d be waiting for Elvis to denounce Jim Crow before deciding that it’s the right time to side with MLK, Malcolm, and Fred Hampton against Bull Connor, George Wallace, and William F. Buckley.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Warm War: Russiamania At The Boiling Point



Is it war yet?
Yes, in too many respects.
It’s a relentless economic, diplomatic, and ideological war, spiced with (so far) just a dash of military war, and the strong scent of more to come.
I mean war with Russia, of course, although Russia is the point target for a constellation of emerging adversaries the US is desperate to entame before any one or combination of them becomes too strong to defeat.  These include countries like Iran and China, which are developing forces capable of resisting American military aggression against their own territory and on a regional level, and have shown quite too much uppitiness about staying in their previously-assigned geopolitical cages.
But Russia is the only country that has put its military forces in the way of a U.S. program of regime change—indirectly in Ukraine, where Russia would not get out of the way, and directly in Syria, where Russia actively got in the way. So Russia is the focus of attack, the prime target for an exemplary comeuppance.
Is it, then, a new Cold War, even more dangerous than the old one, as Stephen F. Cohen says?
That terminology was apt even a few months ago, but the speed, ferocity, and coordination of the West/NATO’s reaction to the alleged nerve-agent poisoning of the Skripals, as well as the formation of a War Cabinet in Washington, indicates to me that we’ve moved to another level of aggression.
It’s beyond Cold. Call it the Warm War. And the temperature’s rising.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What To Expect From A Trump-Kim Meeting

CNN
Nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s delightful to watch Donald Trump discombobulate the bipartisan American national security and foreign policy establishment with his impulsive assent to talks with DPRK leader, Kim Jong-un. He’s got the Republican and Democratic party and media figures in a tizzy trying to figure out how to respond to such seemingly radical out-of-the-box peace-mongering, which disrupts the ways in which the Republicans want to valorize, and the Democrats demonize, Trump for their respective bases.
It’s particularly instructive to see Democratic pundits like Rachel Maddow sniping at Trump for the kind of peace initiative they would have lauded from any Democratic president. Just as they did with welfare in the 90s, the Democrats are now trying to outflank the Republicans on the warfare front. It’s hard to figure out whether Republicans or Democrats are more embarrassed by the prospect of a successful Trump-Kim summit. Another example of the salutary Trump-effect: stripping the pretense that either pole of the two-party system has any real interest in stable, global peace. 
Neither party should worry, however. There’s only a small chance such an encounter will lead to a lessening of tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the net result, even in the best case, will not fundamentally change the dangerously aggressive posture of the United States in the world. Indeed, it will likely increase the chances of war elsewhere. In a very real sense, all the possible outcomes are bad.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Honoring Robert Parry

(Diane Duston/AP)
Robert Parry’s death is a profound loss to our country as a political and intellectual community. It’s a shame that most Americans don’t know that—and, indeed, don’t even know who Robert Parry is. That ignorance is a sign of how impoverished our political and intellectual community has already become.
Those of us who have been following his work for decades know how principled and reliable, and what a great resource, that work was. We took him for granted as a touchstone of journalist integrity, to which we could always return to get a take on important issues that, whether we agreed with it or not, was unfailingly honest, thoroughly-researched, and demanding of our attention.
We also took for granted his own life story of being blocked from doing that honest, principled work in the mainstream media, and having to continue his career through a self-financed independent newsletter and website (Consortium News), a trajectory that guaranteed his continuing integrity and his relative obscurity.
We took too much for granted.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending, and Modern Monetary Theory




Taxes do not fund government spending.

That’s a core insight of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) whose radical implications have not been understood very well by the left. Indeed, it’s not well understood at all, and most people who have heard or read it somewhere breeze right past it, and fall back to the taxes-for-spending paradigm that is the sticky common wisdom of the left and right.1

This, despite the fact that the truth of the proposition is obvious if you think through just a few steps about the process of money-creation. What makes it hard to see is the dense knot of conventional theory and discourse in which we are entangled, and which seems impossible to cut as cleanly as MMT suggests.

But the discussion around the newly-enacted Republican tax bill has brought the issue of tax policy to the forefront again, and it’s time for the left to realize how fundamentally wrong that common wisdom is, and how continuing to argue within the phony terms of the taxes-for-revenue paradigm occludes and reproduces a persistent reactionary fiction regarding what taxes are for.

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The Warm War: Russiamania At The Boiling Point

Is it war yet? Yes, in too many respects. It’s a relentless economic, diplomatic, and ideological war, spiced with (so far) just ...