Archive for February, 2012

The most radical thing we can do . . .

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The world sucks. Seriously. There is hardly a social topic that is not mired in some form of crisis or crises.

And there is this small number of people who want to change it. Radicals, progressives, anarchists, socialists, feminists, and so on. They agitate and propagandize and theorize. “This is the problem,” they say. “This is the solution.” The “solution” is almost always some spectacle.

“Let’s have a march.”

“Let’s occupy a public space.”

“Let’s make signs.” “

“Let’s mic-check.”

“Let’s vote.”

“Let’s be disobedient.” “

“Let’s take action.”

All of this and more is fine, and is needed (well, probably not voting), though perhaps it’s a bit premature.

Question: Who is the “us” in “Let’s”?

Question: If there is an “us,” then who is the “them”?

With a culture that nurtures passivity, seclusion, consumerism and more anti-social qualities, it’s difficult for me to believe we can organize successful social movements before we address this. And to be honest, I don’t think it will be that hard to do.

I remember reading The Fire and the Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez—which is a wonderful book by the way—and there was an account of when the EZLN first came down from the mountains. On the verge of re-creating Che Guevara’s error in Bolivia they paused and reconsidered their tactics. Before they tried to organize the people into a people’s army they threw parties, and got to know one another. They perfected the art of listening, and it was this that led to the infamous sign on Federal Highway 307 in Chiapas, Mexico: “ESTA USTED EN TERRITORIO ZAPATISTA EN REBELDIA. AQUI MANDA EL PUEBLO Y EL GOBIERNO OBEDECE.” Translation: You are entering Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people rule and the government obeys.

It was ten years of developing the communal culture before the Zapatistas were ready to take it to the next level on that infamous day: January 1, 1994.

I think we can learn a lot from their history.

If you are like me you probably know next to nothing, and have next to nothing to do with nearly everyone you work with. We go to work, put in our 40 hours, draw a check, and go hide ourselves in our homes, only to come out to shop or go back to work. Now you see me, now you don’t. It’s magic.

How can we possibly organize ourselves if we don’t even know each other?

Should we just continue gathering the 1% from thousands of communities and sing Kumbayah, leaving the 99% (pun intended) to go about their business unaffected and unaware of who we are?

Probably even more importantly, we need to know our neighbors outside of a brief hello and comment on the weather. We need to revive communal relations that once were the basis of our social bonds, and which have been replaced with television, the internet and shopping. The politics and the organizing and the action will come later. In fact, it can only come later.

Throw a block party.

Have a barbecue.

Go bowling with your coworkers.

Re-develop social bonds.

At this point that is the most radical thing we can do.

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Book Review: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment
AK Press; 2012

Vijay Prashad, the Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (2007) and Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting (2002), is set to have his eighth book published this April: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press).

Anyone looking for a good primer on recent events in what Prashad calls MENA (Middle East and North Africa) would find Arab Spring, Libyan Winter a must read. Prashad brings into focus the historical, social, economic and political currents that underlie the events in the region, allowing readers to get a clearer picture of what is transpiring.

Prashad opens his book by noting that,

Revolutions have no specified timetable. Karl Marx used the image of the Mole to stand in for Revolutions to explain their hard-working and unreliable nature. The Mole spends its time making tunnels underground, and then, when you don’t expect it, breaks the surface for a breath of air. “Well burrowed, Old Mole,” Marx wrote: the breaking free to the surface is the spectacular part of the Revolution, but it is the burrowing, the preparing that is the most important part.

The importance of the preparation becomes central to distinguishing what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, or what is happening in Bahrain—the Arab Spring, which makes him the first part of the book—with what happened in Libya, who Prashad says “faced a complex situation” and “was not fated for an easy Arab Spring.” The events that unfolded in Libya are the second part to the book; i.e., the Libyan Winter.

Even though Qaddafi had given his regime over to the Atlantic states as an ally in the War on Terror and as a provider of oil, the erratic nature of his decision making and the blocked transit to a full neoliberal dispensation inside the country earned him few friends in the Atlantic capitals. The Atlantic powers made a deal with the Saudis and the Gulf Arab states that allowed the latter to silence dissent on the Arabian peninsula (Bahrain and Yemen), if they would deliver the Arab League and so the United Nations for a NATO-led intervention in Libya.

Naturally, it was the “neoliberal ‘reformers’ ” that the West backed and “who were able to set the pace of the Libyan revolt.”

Ironically, it was the neoliberal reforms in Egypt and Tunisia that led to the uprisings that toppled the governments. If a new government can come to power in Libya and neoliberal reforms be implemented then Libyans may finally get their “Spring.”

Another interesting issue Prashad writes on is how “We,” on the outside (presumably the West), “tend to exaggerate the authority of the clerics, or at least to treat it as natural, as eternal.” That “clericalism in the Arab World and in Iran the upper hand in oppositional struggles” is, according to Prashad, largely due to the “calcification of the secular regimes of the national liberation era,” as well as “the deterioration of the Third World Project,” and “the promotion and funding of the advance guard of Islamism through the World Muslim League by the Saudis from Chechnya to Pakistan and Indonesia, with its greatest impact through small Salafist bands across North Africa and the Middle East.”

However, Prashad argues that “[t]he clerics do not command the total field,” and that in places like Egypt where liberal reformers like Mohamed el Baradei are increasing their presence in the political scene, “the gap between El Baradei’s liberal bloc and the Islamist bloc is narrower than one might expect.”

Prashad also writes of the interests of the U.S. in subverting progress in Egypt. One character he focuses on is Frank Wisner, who Prashad calls the “Bagman of the Empire,” since Wisner is the “hinge between” what Prashad says is “the close nexus of Capital and Empire.” This is to ensure the stability of what is called “the four pillars of US foreign policy”: (1) “US reliance upon this region for oil, which must be allowed to flow freely into the car culture of Europe and the United States”; (2) maintaining “Egypt as a firm ally”; (3) having a “policy in the region [which] is to protect Israel,” and which Egypt has played an essential part in since the 1970s; and (4) keeping the region under U.S. influence so as to “encircle Iran.”

The second half of the book, as noted above, primarily deals with Libya. It goes through the 1969 revolution and ends shortly before the bombing, capture, torture, sodomization and murder of Qaddafi. And while it covers more information than what was normally found in the media, especially the quality of social conditions as compared with others in the region, I would have liked to have seen more coverage of what black Africans endured. It is their story of being targeted with violence and ethnic cleansing which largely went untold. Whereas the rebel propaganda about an imminent massacre in Benghazi was used to get intervention, the all-too-real humanitarian crisis black Africans went through never received the attention or care. But that being said Prashad does penetrate the depths of the conflict more than many of his leftist contemporaries.

Arab Spring, Libyan Winter comes out April 10, 2012, and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to have a better understanding of what led to the events, what actually happened, or is happening, and what lies ahead.

And coming up in June The New Press will publish Prashad’s ninth book: Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today.

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New York Times Advocates Market Economy in China

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

When I came across this recent New York Times article (“A Call for Beijing to Loosen Its Grip on the Economic Reins“) in the business section I had a pretty good idea of who was doing the calling: international banksters.

And much more predictable than the fact that the Times ran such a piece that calls for China to become a market economy is that the caller was none other than the World Bank.

A new study by the World Bank and a Chinese government research organization warns that the country’s economic growth is likely to diminish over the next few decades unless China alters its development model and rethinks the role of government in managing the economy.

The co-produced study “calls on Beijing to complete the transition to a market economy, scale back the power of state-owned companies, encourage private enterprise and confront rising inequality and environmental degradation.” This, so we’re told, is the recipe to stave off “economic growth [that] is likely to diminish over the next few decades.”

There is just so many things wrong with that statement.

For starters, the idea that a market economy encouraging private enterprise will boost economic growth is absurd. It flies in the face of the history of economic development. South Korean economist Ha-joon Chang says such ideological pronouncements are based on a “myth,” and that instead, developed economies relied on “ladders” to ascend to their status. Ladders which the developed world kick away when developing economies try to use them.

Also, to assert that such a transition goes hand-in-hand with an effort to “confront rising inequality and environmental degradation” is even more absurd. In China such inequality and degradation has been closely linked to their opening up to foreign markets, and besides, China is already “leading global race to make clean energy” as the New York Times knows. And the U.S. economy itself can attest to the fact that a looser grip on the economy is no protector against such tragedies. The U.S. has not only the highest income inequality in the developed world, but it also has the largest carbon footprint per capita—and let’s not forget the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where dolphins and whales are continuing to die at twice the normal rate and due to market forces.

The Times article recognizes that “China’s growth” has been “remarkable . . . over the last three decades,” and while there is no disagreement that “the country’s development pattern has been uneven and is unsustainable,” it is telling that the “paper of record” doesn’t compare China’s average growth of 10% with what has been the average annual growth for the U.S. over the last three decades: 2%.

And if the Times really wanted to go further they could look at the economic growth for the U.S. during the so-called Golden Age from the late 1940s to the early 1970s when the state had a more protectionist role: about 4%. That is an instructive lesson about the differences between a market economy and a more interventionist, or protectionist economy. Any sensible person realizes that the choice is not between a “free market economy” or a “planned economy,” but how to democratize a planned economy.

International financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF are notorious for doing the dirty work of the developed economies, especially the U.S. And not that China needs this pointed out, but if they wanted to see what a market economy encouraging private enterprise looked like they could turn their gaze south to Africa. It is in Africa, where Chang’s proverbial ladder has been kicked away, that the World Bank has said the rates for foreign investment returns are the highest, but that is not at all that is high. No other continent on the planet has as high of poverty.

According to the Times,

The study said that state-owned enterprises should be more commercially oriented, and that the government needed to improve financing opportunities for private companies and to expand the overhaul of the banking and financial sectors.

The writing on the wall is clear: open up to foreign cartels!

Here China can look to the U.S. to see what such improvements in “the overhaul[ing] the banking and financial sectors” have been for the country.

The financialization of the economy has its roots in the 1970s. This signaled the end of the Golden Age and has led directly to the Great Recession. Comparing the two periods shows that since the ’70s unemployment has been higher and growth lower. The manufacturing base has diminished, lowering wages for the working class and playing an important role in the trading deficit.

According to leftist dissident Noam Chomsky, “By the mid-1930s, even though the situation was objectively much harsher than today, the spirit was quite different.” Chomsky told the participants at Occupy Boston late last year that by the ’30s “a militant labor movement was organizing,” and that “under popular pressure, New Deal legislation was passed.” But those gains have been targeted for dismantling ever since, and “now there’s a sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair.” Chomsky says that “this is quite new in our history,” and that the “change in the American outlook has evolved since the 1970s” where “the economy shifted to financialization,” and a “vicious cycle between finance and politics accelerated” where more and more “wealth [became] concentrated in the financial sector.” Noting the relationship between politics and this new shift in the economy, Chomsky said that, “Politicians, faced with the rising cost of campaigns, were driven ever deeper into the pockets of wealthy backers.”

The Times article closes with the ironic comment about the concern that “China could face serious economic and social risks in the future, challenges likely to be amplified as it tries to cope with an aging population, a weak social safety net and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.” The irony is that this is precisely the problem the U.S. faces, and is due to the market system. The U.S. is staring straight into a serious economic and social nightmare as the baby boomers begin to retire, the social safety net is continually weakened, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen—all for the sake of an out of control financial sector that is cannibalizing the economy—what leftist economist Robin Hahnel calls “economic suicide.” And now the same banksters want to further their exploitation of China by asserting that what has proven so disastrous for the American population, though good for the so-called “one percent,” will be the magic cure for China.

Naturally, the New York Times is right there helping spread such lousy propaganda.

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A Lubricant for Intervention: NYT Continues to Get It Wrong on Syria

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Vijay Prashad, author of the upcoming book Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press; 2012), told Democracy Now! that “the nature of the NATO intervention” in Libya was “the use of human rights as a lubricant for intervention.” This is nothing new. This was the same nature of the faux-humanitarianism advanced in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. And is being pushed in regards to Syria as we speak.

It compliments what Jean Bricmont, author of Humanitarian Imperialism, said when he called attention to how “humanitarian intervention goes only one way, from the powerful to the weak.”

Though “the weak” have to be of value to the empire and not already under its influence (unless, as is the case in Uganda, the intervention is on behalf of the state). Human rights abuses are routinely tolerated and even supported in subordinate states. It is only when an “enemy” commits abuses (real or imagined) that can be exploited for strategic advantage that the U.S. feigns concern and cries something must be done.

And of course that something is quite narrow, and doesn’t include national liberation. Rather, what is often sought is what the New York Time’s Thomas Friedman said of Iraq in 1991: “an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.” As Friedman reported that summer, “for a variety of reasons the Bush [Sr] Administration was prepared to live with the Iraqi leader,” and that, “Few in the Administration, though, want to admit that stark conclusion publicly, because to speak the words aloud would require doing something about them, and the fact is that President Bush has been ambivalent about Mr. Hussein’s fate since the day the war ended.” The reason we are told, is that the Persian Gulf War “fought to restore the status quo. And, as every American policymaker knows, before Mr. Hussein invaded Kuwait he was a pillar of the gulf balance of power and status quo preferred by Washington.” When President Bush called for the 1991 uprising to overthrow the regime he did so in hopes that “Washington would have the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein,” but when the uprising failed to be “Mr. Hussein’s generals [attempting] to bring him down,” then the U.S. sided with Saddam against the uprising, and the butchery that followed, due to U.S. support, was still used to demonize Saddam in the years to come.

In a recent Times article by Ethan Bronner (“Israel Watches Syria, Hopefully, but Warily“) dealing with Israel’s position on intervention in Syria we read something similar. While “the downfall of Mr. Assad would deal a major blow to Iran and so would be welcome” to Israel, the problem is that “without a central authority, Syria could descend into being a land of chaos and terrorist bases on Israel’s northeast border.” Furthermore, Bronner writes that according to Israel “a vast majority of the Syrian security forces remain loyal to Mr. Assad, and that will not change soon.”—i.e. there is not much of a chance for “the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted [Syrian] junta without [Bashar al-Assad].”

And of course the “humanitarian” luricant is not missing from Bronner’s piece:

the predominant view in Israel today is . . . that Mr. Assad must go, not only because he has killed thousands of civilians, but because he is a linchpin in the anti-Israel Iranian power network that includes Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

It’s just a coincidence that another reason Mr.Assad “must go” is that “he is a linchpin in the anti-Israel Iranian power network,” as if his departure would be a must even if he were an ally.

Throughout Bronner’s piece is the sourcing to Israeli officials, but of course there is no balanced sourcing to Syria, Iran, Russia or China. There is no mention that the Syrian government is fighting armed groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. There is no mention of how these forces have carried out terrorist attacks and killed journalists, not just Syrian security forces.

In the most recent Times article, “Syria Tallies Votes on New Charter as Battles Continue,” is another example of revealing propaganda. Journalists Neil MacFarquhar and Alan Cowell don’t fail to facilitate the pro-intervention lubricant when they write of “the bloody crackdown,” and how British Foreign Secretary Hague displayed contempt at the voting on a new charter by saying, “To open polling stations but continue to open fire on the civilians of the country has no credibility in the eyes of the world.” And when talking of the previous attempt by the West via the UN (which Russia and China vetoed), MacFarquhar and Cowell write that, “Mrs. Clinton referred to the joint veto by Russia and China as ‘despicable,’ ” and how, “She went on to say ‘And I ask, whose side are they on?’ ”

Like the Bronner article, there is a lot of important context missing, it is horribly one-sided and clearly politicized in favor of the U.S. and the West—as always. And Secretary Clinton’s comment is beyond cynical. She knows perfectly well that Russia and China have said the previous UN Security Council resolution was flawed since it only called on Syria to ceasefire and withdraw, whereas they want all parties to carry out an immediate ceasefire, withdraw, and negotiate a peaceful settlement. This reasonable position is, for the top statesperson of the U.S., “despicable”, and her asking whose side Russia and China is on only illustrates how impartial the U.S.: not at all.

Even now, the so-called “Friends of Syria”—the U.S. and its allies who recognize the National Syrian Council as the legitimate representatives of the opposition—have issued a “demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad implement an immediate ceasefire.” Considering the side the rebels are on, it is as Bricmont noted above: “humanitarian intervention goes only one way, from the powerful to the weak.”
And MacFarquhar and Cowell know this too since they refer to Russia’s President Putin’s recent article where he accused the West of “lacking the patience to work out an adjusted and balanced” resolution, and wrote that, “All that remained [of the position of Russia] was to demand that the armed opposition do the same as the government — namely, withdraw their fighting units and detachments from the cities.” Their problem is that this comment is missing in the Times article. There is no indication of what their position is, or how they responded to Secretary Clinton outside of not wanting the West “to employ the Libyan scenario in Syria.” You have to go to sources like Lebanon’s The Daily Star to find that news fit to print.

Impregnated in Putin’s comment about the need for the rebel forces to also “withdraw their fighting units and detachments from the cities” is something else that doesn’t get any discussion in the Times (or the Western press for that matter): the rebels are operating from residential neighborhoods (itself a serious war crime), much like the “media center” in the apartment building complex that was bombed last week and which killed two Western journalists embedded with the Free Syrian Army. When British Foreign Secretary Hague criticizes Syria for “open[ing] fire on the civilians of the country” there is no rebuke from the West aimed at the rebels for putting civilians in danger. The silence just shows how selective and political all this is.

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Western Journalists Killed in Syria Were Embedded with ‘Free Syrian Army’ in an Apartment

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment
Marie Colvin and Paul Conroy were killed in Syria this work while embedded with the Free Syrian Army

There has been a lot of coverage about the two Western journalists who were killed in Syria earlier this week. While it is noteworthy that there was (predictably) considerable less attention and outrage at a French journalist killed in Syria, especially after it was revealed the victim was killed by armed opposition forces, there is another aspect about the recent killings of the two journalists that is (predictably) not being emphasized on: they were not only embedded with the Free Syrian Army, but the “media center” they were operating from was in an apartment building—a residential building.

According to Spiegel Online, “They had been in the back of the apartment serving as the “media center” when the first missile shook the room.” Later the article notes that, “Increasingly little word was coming from the surviving activists in the “media center,” which was moved from the third to the first floor of a residential building.”

Initially, articles were questioning whether or not the Syrian government was specifically targeting these journalists. Case in point, this recent article by the New York Times says that “citizen journalists in Homs have been killed recently in what activists interpret as part of a deliberate campaign to choke off news of the opposition.” The article also notes that “the two journalists died after shells hit the house in which they were staying. . .”

What is interesting about the coverage is that there is no questioning the FSA for using residential buildings for military operations even though that is a serious war crime. It is using the people as a human shield, and increases the civilian casualty rate.

So when the Times reports that, “The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé also said in a statement that he had called on the Syrian government to order an immediate halt to the attacks on Homs and to respect its ‘humanitarian obligations,’ ” it is strange how there is no mention of the “humanitarian obligations” of the Free Syrian Army, nor was any similar statement issued when Gilles Jacquier was killed at a pro-government rally last month by the resistance, along with Belgian journalist Steven Visner and seven civilians. Rather, Juppé called on the Syrian government “to ensure the security of international journalists on their territory, and to protect this fundamental liberty which is the freedom of information.” To be sure, for the recent incident, Juppé didn’t call on the FSA to provide similar protections.

This is all a part of the overall coverage, or lack of, that is coming out about Syria. Not only is their quite a bit of silence about the political, religious, and sectarian views of the “resistance,” and their support coming from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, but much of the relevant context is missing. All one is likely to find is a repetitive anti-Assad presentation. Assad is evil incarnate, the “resistance” are glorious liberators battling a genocidal dictator. The truth is not nearly so black and white.

The government retains a lot of support and has shown considerable constraint over the last year—much more than I would expect from the U.S. and other nations who are shedding crocodile tears. When the Arab League sent in an observer mission in December and January progress was made, but when the observer mission issued its report (which noted its success and warned that its discontinuation could lead to a worsening of situation), which was suppressed and the mission suspended the U.N. Security Council quickly tried to push through a resolution that only called for the Syrian government forces to cease fire and withdraw. With Syria facing a foreign-directed rebellion and no serious prospect of a fair settlement coming from either the Arab League or the UN, but rather a concerted effort for regime change, it’s not surprising that they moved in on the rebel stronghold. How indiscriminate the regime is being is hard to tell since the only information we have to go on is coming from the rebels, and even they admit they are operating from “residential buildings.”

A noteworthy observation is that it is never entertained in the Western press as whether or not the Syrian government has any legitimacy to use force to put down an armed and foreign-backed rebellion. If roles were reversed and the U.S., or France, was subjected to such foreign intervention, how do we think the government would respond and would we find it acceptable?

Back to the Spiegel article. It closes by saying:

[Omar Shaki, a rebel spokesman for the Free Syrian Army] compares the situation to Srebrenica, the Bosnian town where more than 8,000 Muslims were massacred in 1995. “And here, too,” Shakir says in a bitter tone, “the international community will send an investigative commission after the fact. But we don’t need an investigative commission! We need an end to the bombardment. Please help us, or everyone here will die!”

First of all, the account of what happened in Srebrenica is wrong (see Edward Herman’s The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics for more information). Second, take note that a rebel spokesman is claiming “everyone here will die!” unless the West intervenes and overthrows the government. Other than that there is something to the comparison. For Srebrenica—as is the case for Syria—it was the U.S. support for a terrorist army, seeking to destabilize and overthrow the government, aimed at broader goals of bringing the region under U.S. influence that escalated conflicts resulting in a battle that was hyped, exaggerated, and made part of a “truth-creation” (Ed Herman) to further implement those goals by getting a direct imperial intervention under the banner of “humanitarianism,” or what is now called the Right to Protect doctrine.

Jean Bricmont, the author of Humanitarian Imperialism, sums up the situation in Syria very well, and don’t bother looking for its equal in the New York Times:

The main target of the humanitarian interventionists is the concept of national sovereignty, on which the current international law is based, and which they stigmatize as allowing dictators to kill their own people at will.  The impression is sometimes given that national sovereignty is nothing but a protection for dictators whose only desire is to kill their own people.

But in fact, the primary justification of national sovereignty is precisely to provide at least a partial protection of weak states against strong ones. A state that is strong enough can do whatever it chooses without worrying about intervention from outside. Nobody expects Bangladesh to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States.  Nobody is going to bomb the United States to force it to modify its immigration or monetary policies because of the human consequences of such policies on other countries. Humanitarian intervention goes only one way, from the powerful to the weak.

As tragic as the death of the two journalists is it is important to keep this in context and not fall into the propaganda trap of enabling the foreign powers who are behind this conflict and pushing for regime change and war. Only the political value of the incident can explain why such an outrage has occured over these deaths, and not that of Gilles Jacquier and Steven Visner, especially once it was revealed who was behind the attack. Interestingly enough, when the New York Times recently mentioned Jacquier’s death in relation to that of Corvin and Conroy, there was no mention of who killed them—just that they were killed.

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With Record High Profits, President Obama Offers to Cut Corporate Taxes!

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

”Obama Offers to Cut Corporate Tax Rate to 28%.” No, this is not a satirical piece from The Onion. This is the headline for a recent New York Times article.

President Obama will ask Congress to scrub the corporate tax code of dozens of loopholes and subsidies to reduce the top rate to 28 percent, down from 35 percent, while giving preferences to manufacturers that would set their maximum effective rate at 25 percent, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

But why?

Republicans and business groups complain that the 35 percent corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world, leaving American companies at a competitive disadvantage. They typically seek a 25 percent rate, with many of them saying that the current tax breaks should be kept in place as well.

If the corporate tax rate was such a “competitive disadvantage” then one must wonder three things:

  1. Why does the U.S., by far, have the world’s largest economy?
  2. Why are U.S. corporations experiencing record profits (during the so-called Great Recession)?
  3. Why are American CEO’s, by far, making the most money?

The next largest economy (per capita) is Japan, and their corporate tax rate is 40.69%.

But there is more to it than that. At a time when our debt is piling up, how can it possibly make sense to reduce our stream of revenue? If I owe X amount in bills, and bring in Y amount in revenue, then reducing Y is not a sound idea. I can only imagine what my wife would say if I came home with a smile on my face and announced, “Good news: I took a paycut!”

In 1982 the corporate tax rate was 49.699%, however our debt as percentage of our GDP was only 29.5%. Right now the corporate tax rate is 35%, though our debt is 67.8% of our GDP. Again, when bills are piling up it is not a good idea to reduce your revenue, and the idea that it is to be competitive is without merit, because as noted, we have the world’s largest economy, are experiencing record profits, and apparently can afford to pay CEO’s hundreds of times the average worker salary, which is astronomical when compared to other developed economies we are supposedly trying to be competitive with.

However, the Times reports that “an overhaul of the corporate code is unlikely this year, given that political backdrop and the complexity of an undertaking that would generate a lobbying frenzy as businesses vie to defend old tax breaks or win new ones.”

We can interpret this a number of ways. On one hand, the proposal is a campaign stunt by President Obama to move further to the right and get the blessings from traditional Republican business interests, thus increasing his chances of getting re-elected. On the other hand, while Obama has also proposed “a minimum tax on multinational corporations’ foreign earnings, the official said, to discourage ‘accounting games to shift profits abroad’ or actual relocation of production overseas,” there is a good chance that this won’t happen (remember the “public option”?) since such “an undertaking that would generate a lobbying frenzy as businesses vie to defend old tax breaks.”

The Times reports another gold nugget related to the above proposal: “Corporate taxes make up an increasingly small share of the federal government’s revenue, in part because of tax-avoidance maneuvers by businesses.”

From the Chicago Sun Times last year (this is worth quoting at length):

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Clearly lowering the tax rate is unnecessary since so many not only don’t pay, but get millions back!

To their credit the Times do report that “the administration and Congress would have a political and mathematical challenge in eliminating or reducing tax breaks enough to lower corporate rates as they propose to do without adding to deficits,” and that, “For tax purposes, however, the administration would have a challenge in defining manufacturing to determine what companies would benefit from a lower rate.” But much of the information I cover above is missing, though certainly relevant. Again, this looks more like a campaign stunt to push the Democrats even further to the right, so as to ensure President Obama’s re-election. If Obama does get re-elected the past four years tells me he will more likely get the tax rate lowered while quickly giving up on closing the loop-holes.

We need to remember that both parties are essentially right-wing political parties, in that both serve business interests over the general population (i.e. the poor, disabled, working class, and retired). Traditionally the Republicans have represented the labor-intensive industries—i.e. the same manufacturing industries Obama is trying to appeal to with his proposal to cut taxes to no more than 25%—while the Democrats have traditionally represented the capital-intensive industries—i.e. banks and media. Neither party runs on a social, or working class platform, and it shows with the general public having very unfavorable views of both parties, and especially Congress as an entity. Available public opinion polls also shows the American people are very much aware that government is considerably more influenced by business than labor. That Obama is pushing further into Republican territory should be a warning sign of what’s to come.

Categories: Uncategorized

New York Times Attempts Damage Control on U.S. Koran Burning

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The ever faithful servant to the American Empire, the so-called “paper of record,” provided its usual service today. As violent protests over the burning of Korans by American soldiers in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan enter its second day the Times found it appropriate to label the incident an “error” in their article “Koran Burning in NATO Error Incites Afghans for 2nd Day.”

Could anyone imagine a newspaper calling the September 11th terrorist attacks, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an “error”?

The Times reports that, “The renewed protest came in spite of efforts by the NATO commanding general, John R. Allen, who recorded a statement on Tuesday and sent it to local television and radio networks here, explaining that the burnings had been unintentional.” [emphasis added]

Is it enough for the Times that a commanding general says it was “unintentional”? Apparently it is.

But no worries, “Within a few hours of learning about the episode, General Allen ordered an investigation, and by day’s end he issued an order for every coalition soldier in Afghanistan to complete training in the next 10 days in ‘the proper handling of religious materials.’ “

The Times does not point out an obvious discrepancy: How can General Allen possibly know the incident was “unintentional” if the investigation has not been completed, and they have already ordered “every coalition soldier in Afghanistan to complete training” on how to behave?

Of course we must give props to the Times for noting that, “10 years into the Afghan war, foreign officials and Afghans alike were shocked that any member of the foreign forces in Afghanistan did not know just how offensive desecrating the Muslim holy book could be, or recognize the potential for violence it could unleash.”

Allow me to ask another heretical question: what person over the age of two needs “training” on how to be respectful?

Also, could anyone imagine the reponse to Imperial Japan, or Al Qaeda, sayinig that they would put their forces through some sensitivity training?

Let’s not bullshit ourselves. We invaded and are occupying Afghanistan. We are not defending ourselves, and we are certainly not liberating Afghans. We are aggressors. This is a war of aggression. Soldiers are not trained to be sensitive and bleeding-heart liberals. They are trained to kill, and to do that they are exposed to a brainwashing process where “the enemy” is dehumanized and presented as evil incarnate.

That’s why we go through this every war. Firebombing Dresden, nuking Japan, shooting refugees in Korea, My Lai, the 1991 Turkey Shoot on the Highway of Death in Iraq, the Grdelica train bombing in Serbia, the Uruzgan massacre in Afghanistan, the kill teams in Afghanistan, the SS flag in Afghanistan, the Haditha massacre in Iraq, and countless more examples (see here).

So it is a bit absurd to think “training” young men—that are coming from a jingoistic society and trained to view their enemies as untermenschen—to be respectful and act “proper” will amount to diddly-squat.

The appropriate response is to not have some commanding general routinely blow smoke up our asses and say they will conduct an investigation, and put the trained killers through a sensistivity training program. No, the appropriate response is to end the war.

Categories: Uncategorized