Archive for June, 2010

A Workingperson’s Austerity Measures for the Rich

“Fight the rich, not their wars.” – Paul Street

It doesn’t escape my attention that all the “structural adjustment programs” for the developing countries of the 1980s and 1990s and now all of the “austerity measures” proposed by the Washington Consensus – the US government, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO – amount to nothing but class warfare. Over twenty years ago, Noam Chomsky said in an interview that “we have a very class-conscious business class. Labor has been basically destroyed—it never really existed. It tried, but it was crushed. But business is very class conscious, in fact very Marxist. If you read the business journals they sound like vulgar Marxism.” Amen!

Some libertard’s attack “spending.” They tell us all kinds of nonsense about not having the money and blah blah blah. Other than their complete failure to understand how vindicated Keynesianism is in this respect there is another issue that bothers me because there is a bit of truth to what they are saying. We shouldn’t spend more than we have. That is pretty sound. But that is really beside the point… at this point.

Imagine you just had a heart attack.

You, the lazy obese American who eats junk food and doesn’t exercise or take care of your heart.

You’re lying on the floor grasping your chest and thinking, “Holy fuck, this is it! I didn’t tell my kids I loved them this morning and now I won’t get a chance to!”

The paramedics arrive and this is their prescription: “Change your diet. You need to eat healthier and exercise more.”

They walk off.

This doesn’t help you.

True, you are a lazy fatass American who didn’t take care of your heart but what you need right now is a defibrillator. You need medical-fucking-attention, not a lecture on what you should have done to avoid this problem.

And that’s the thing with the anti-spending crowd in a nutshell. They confuse how not to get into a mess with how to get out of one.

Well we are in a mess and we need to get out of it. Here are some Workingperson’s Austerity Measures we should push our government for:

  1. Cut the military budget. We are 5% of the world yet we account for nearly half of global “defense” spending. If we cut it by a factor of ten we would still have the highest expenditure per capita and still be spending more than ten times that of Iran. Of course such a radical cut in spending would require us to end our foreign wars, scale back the size of our navy and air force, close our foreign bases and on top of it we would also radically improve our carbon footprint since the Pentagon is the world’s biggest polluter (excluding whole countries).
  2. Put the income tax rate for the rich back to 91% like it was during the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism. The rich now pay 35%. This is a big part of why our government doesn’t have any money. It should also be noted that our productivity since the height of the Golden Age has increased by more than 350%. This means we could work 3.5x less per week and still be just as productive. All the gains that have accrued from our increased productivity have been sucked up by a class who are paying nearly 60% less in taxes than they were!
  3. Tax investment income as earned income. Right now depending on a number of things the tax rate is between 15% and 40%. And since most investment income is owned by the richest among us this usually means they are paying considerably less than if they were under existing income tax rates.
  4. Tax the $600 trillion financial market bubble. While the $13 trillion housing bubble still may pull the global economy under it is the existing derivative market bubble that is over $600 trillion that will surely be the end of our existing economy and like always the poor and working class are the most vulnerable. We need to bring these trades out in an open exchange and tax them. This will not only increase government revenue but it will be an incentive for financial entities to think twice about their risk taking. Unfortunately, Obama has opposed a plan by Blanche Lincoln, Senator from Arkansas, and the Democrats have been pressuring her to squash her bill. In April the New York Times reported her as saying, “The people of Arkansas never again want to have to foot the bill for what happens on Wall Street. If banks want to be in that kind of risky business, they should have to separate it off in a way that lowers the systemic risk.” The Democrats, who rely heavily on corporate funding from financial institutions, don’t want to rain on their parade.
  5. Don’t let the “death tax” disappear and in fact we should increase it. I am in favor of 100%. I don’t think anyone should get income they didn’t earn. The inheritance of wealth is another factor in creating our income inequality and which allows a select few people to struggle less (their idea of struggling is whether they should buy a bigger yacht or a summer house in Martha’s Vineyard) while everyone else who isn’t so lucky has to climb a steep fucking hill just to live day to day.
  6. Remove the cap on Social Security for individuals and big businesses. Warren Buffett will see less than half of one percent of his annual income taxed for the program while a single-mom working double shifts at IHOP will see 100% of her income taxed for the same program. Despite the fact that minor adjustments similar to those made in the 50s, 60s and 80s would secure the program beyond the end of the century (what other government program can be said to be as solid?) doing away with the cap entirely would allow benefits to actually to be increased to levels that would probably sustain the disabled and elderly who rely it on as either their main or sole source of income.
  7. Fix the healthcare system. I know many delusional liberals would like to think we have done so but they would be dead wrong. We have fixed nothing. Just last week Obama said, “As I said when I met with the insurance executives, it’s not meant to punish insurance companies. […] once this reform is fully implemented a few years from now, America’s private insurance companies have the opportunity to prosper from the opportunity to compete for tens of millions of new customers.” From day one President Obama met in secret with health insurance companies and drug companies, not doctors or single payer advocates, to ensure the private system that is the root of our crisis remains in tact so they can “prosper.” The high premiums and copay’s and ER visits will remain. The bankruptcies will remain. We need a national health care plan that will allow us to spend twice as less, cover everyone and improve our overall quality of health like it is done in the rest of the developed world where healthcare is a human right.
  8. Sign an international cap and trade treaty that has no grandfathering clauses and auctions off 100% of permits. The revenue generated from this should be progressively distributed so that those who are less fortunate will get some help paying their energy bills. There are a lot of criticisms of cap and trade, some legit and some not. We should be trying to strengthen the Kyoto Protocols in certain ways since it is already in place and has a foundation for improvement. A global tax would unfairly punish the developing world that is still developing (because the developed world, via imperialism and colonialism, has stunted their development). We need a system that is fair and that will achieve the underlying goal: reduce the amount of co2 we pump into the atmosphere.
  9. Fix our transportation system. Our leaders are constantly talking about getting off our “addiction to foreign oil,” but they say nothing about our addiction to the private transportation system that is a big factor in the other addiction and climate change. President Obama allocated $13 billion of our tax money to build a rail system in Spain. This is unbelievable. Detroit – Motor City – is being destroyed. The skilled autoworkers are losing their jobs and we are giving billions to Spain for a project we should be building here for ourselves!

No doubt we could probably go on but these kinds of “austerity measures” would go a long way in improving our economy. Rather than keeping the exploitation (of the poor and by the rich) in place and shifting the burden to the poor and working class so as not to disrupt the Lords of Capital we should put an end to their tyranny and put in place fair and sound economic policies that lessen inequality, increase employment, take care of our disabled and retirees, preserve our planet, and strike back against the imperialism and colonialism that still plagues us.

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Israeli Aggression on the High Seas and The Right of Self-Defense

What a Memorial Day. While I was enjoying the day off with my family at the pool our 51st state, Israel, was enjoying more aggression. However, this time the victims weren’t Palestinians or the people of Lebanon, the usual victims, but international activists trying to break the illegal blockade of Gaza by delivering humanitarian goods via the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
The nuttiness coming out of Washington and Jerusalem in regards to the attack is really disturbing.An unnamed naval lieutenant told Israel’s Army Radio, “The outcome was different to what we thought, but I must say that this was mainly because of the inappropriate behavior of the adversary we encountered.” You got that? It is “inappropriate behavior” for people to defend themselves against aggression. It’s long been apparent that Israel is out of touch with international law, to put it mildly, but this kind of statement is particularly fucked up.

In response to more ships coming Israel made it be known that, “Next time we’ll use more force.”

White House spokesman William Burton said, “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained, and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.” While Burton and President Obama are wiping away their crocodile tears I will try to help them “understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy” since they claim to be ignorant.

Also, Robert Gibbs, another spokesmen, made quite an insenstive remark when he responded to queries into why the Obama administration has not condemned the attack by saying, “Nothing will bring them back.” Many people may recall how often the phrase “condemn” was used less than a year ago in describing the Obama’s response to the Iranian crackdown on protesters. It should be obvious that when an ally carries out aggression we can be cold and heartless, but when an “enemy” gets aggressive then we gladly condemn them and exploit their victims for political points.

But nothing takes the cake like the Obama administrations blocking of a UN Security Council resolution to investigate the attack. As the Guardian UK noted today, “The United States has blocked demands at the UN security council for an international inquiry into Israel’s assault on the Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza that left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.” Instead, the US has asked Israel, the perpetrator, to investigate itself. That would be like, the US asking North Korea to look into the sinking of a South Korean ship. Some of you might remember, Craig Murray, he was the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan who got fired over his opposition to his governments complicity in the human rights abuses that he witnessed. Anyway, he recently pointed out that ,

The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters), the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.


In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

For decades Israel has waged wars of aggression, taken land by force to build “settlements,” institutionalized apartheid, brutalized and tortured its neighbors, imposed racist laws on its non-Jewish citizens, threatened the region with nuclear weapons and rejected peace offer after peace offer. And its recent attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in which Israel killed more than ten people (with names, personal stories and loved ones who will miss them dearly though remember them for their humanity) and wounded 60, was no different and just another grim example of the ugliness of Israel and by default, the US government.

Israel previously offered to take the aid through one of its ports and to distribute it for the organizations, but it’s clear that this only served to keep the illegal blockade reinforced. The US has parroted this line and in fact CNN reported,

However, the U.S. deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, said the relief aid being transported to Gaza should have gone by accepted international mechanisms set up because of the Israeli blockade.

“These non-provocative and non-confrontational mechanisms should be the ones used for the benefit of all those in Gaza,” Wolff said. “Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances.”

The Israeli imposition is not internationally accepted and it most certainly is provocative and confrontational. They were in effect saying, “The unlawful blockade remains and if any aid gets through it is through us, and if you try to break it we will break you.” In fact Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said, “it will use all the means at its disposal to prevent the vessels from violating” the blockade. A clear threat – which is also illegal.

The Israelis and Americans are right about one thing: this flotilla is politically-motivated. They’re damned right that this is about “violating” the blockade. Abso-fucking-lutely. While Israel says, “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) international humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International and Oxfam and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs beg to differ.

It also comes as no surprise that the Israeli government is saying the people on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla used “violence” first. However, Israel has now admitted that the only guns confiscated were pistols taken by the invading soldiers. Army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich could only, per the Guardian UK, “Asked to list weapons on board she said there were knives, scissors, night vision binoculars, many metal bars and sharp objects. She claimed they had been prepared in advance and added that throwing soldiers off the boat was not the actions of a humanitarian organisation.” It is not a crime for people to be “prepared” to defend themselves nor is it a crime to expel invading soldiers. I think it’s obvious what Leibovich is doing. Trying to keep the focus on the victims while demonizing them, but outside of the US no one is falling for this tactic.

These people are not occupying Israel by violent means.

They are not imposing an illegal blockade on Israel by violent means.

They are not seizing their ships in international waters and trying to block Israel from delivering aid.

Israel is doing this.

When Israel sicked their “commandos” on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla they initiated the violence. That was the spark that ignited the resistance waged by the people on the boats. That is, assuming the Israeli claims are accurate. To be honest, even if they are it doesn’t change anything. Israel still provoked them and they had a right to resist.

Moving on…

Several years ago in an orchestrated PR stunt, Israel claimed to have ended the occupation of Gaza, which had illegally been under Israeli occupation for nearly 40 years due to what Zeev Maoz calls a “war of choice.” (When we are talking about Iraq invading Kuwait or a South Korean ship sunk by North Korea then the proper nomenclature is “aggression.”) But Gaza has never had independence. Even afterwards little had changed. They still don’t control their airspace or sea space. And ever since they elected Hamas in a free and fair election they have been victims of collective punishment and are still under an illegal and brutal blockade imposed by Israel and propped up by my government, the United States of America.

This is not the first or the second time an international community of activists has tried to break the siege. It’s been tried by boat and by marchers. Each time unsuccessful.

But folks can be stubborn. And determined.

Some of us take human freedom, dignity and liberty seriously.

So, naturally they keep trying.

And they tried again.

This time Israel told those on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to go back from where they came. As the Israeli paper, Ha’aretz put it, “Israel says six-ship flotilla ignored orders to turn back from course to Gaza.”

What right does Israel have to “order” people in international waters to turn back from an attempt to deliver aid to Gaza? None.

And after the fact apologists for the raid tried to claim that they were just trying to ensure no weapons were being delivered to Hamas. The problem is the boats were inspected numerous times. Israel knew about this flotilla in advance and in their warnings they not once mentioned this as a concern. Regardless, they still don’t have a right to deny shipment of weapons.

So, in international waters Israel seized the ships with their Navy.

This is aggression.

Per *Article 51, Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, the people on those boats had a right to individually or collectively resist, by violence if necessary. And the activists did. And, predictably, Israel escalated. It committed a massacre. Israel killed, according to Free Gaza, one of the participating organizations, 19 people and wounded more than 60 – punishment for resisting Israel’s physical attempt to block food and medical aid to the supposed free people of Gaza who are suffering under an illegal embargo for the “crime” of electing a government that isn’t a tool of the Israelis. It’s a moot point for Israeli apologists to point out Hamas has carried out acts of terrorism and has previously said it wants the destruction of Israel. Israel has a much longer list of acts of terrorism it has committed, not to mention crimes against peace and acts of aggression. Also, while Israel has rejected peace offers for decades Hamas has made many offers in recent years to negotiate and end to hostilities that are in compliance with international law.

Israel is not defending itself. People were defending themselves and others from Israel.

One more time: Israel used military force in international waters to stop the delivering of humanitarian aid to the very people Israel is brutalizing. And in doing so the people on those boats apparently resisted.

That was their right.

That was self-defense.

* “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

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