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I sincerely hope the MAGA’s down south are enjoying the bountiful economic gifts the cheeto-in-cheif and his republican bag men are bestowing upon them.  I mean the establishment of an military oligarchy in the US was well under way under Obama, but at least he made the obligatory nods to democracy and caring for the American people (while of course, still screwing them).  Nuance isn’t a thing anymore in terms of US domestic policy.  It is being sky-written for the populace to see, you (the general public) are paying for the military and corporations first and maybe, if there are few scraps left in the budget, you may get some society and civilization as a part of the bargain.

The New Gilded Age is proceeding quite monstrously in the USA.  Perhaps this latest give away to the military industrial complex will fuel the rise of organized labour and demands that US society should prioritize its citizens, rather than its military.   William Hartung writes with great detail on what is going on in the budgeting process:

 

“While domestic spending fared better in the recent congressional budget deal than it would have if Trump’s draconian plan for 2018 had been enacted, it still lags far behind what Congress is investing in the Pentagon.  And calculations by the National Priorities Project indicate that the Department of Defense is slated to be an even bigger winner in Trump’s 2019 budget blueprint. Its share of the discretionary budget, which includes virtually everything the government does other than programs like Medicare and Social Security, will mushroom to a once-unimaginable 61 cents on the dollar, a hefty boost from the already startling 54 cents on the dollar in the final year of the Obama administration.

The skewed priorities in Trump’s latest budget proposal are fueled in part by the administration’s decision to embrace the Pentagon increases Congress agreed to last month, while tossing that body’s latest decisions on non-military spending out the window.  Although Congress is likely to rein in the administration’s most extreme proposals, the figures are stark indeed — a proposed cut of $120 billion in the domestic spending levels both parties agreed to. The biggest reductions include a 41% cut in funding for diplomacy and foreign aid; a 36% cut in funding for energy and the environment; and a 35% cut in housing and community development.  And that’s just the beginning.  The Trump administration is also preparing to launch full-scale assaults on food stampsMedicaid, and Medicare.  It’s war on everything except the U.S. military. 

Corporate Welfare

The recent budget plans have brought joy to the hearts of one group of needy Americans: the top executives of major weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).  

And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate.  According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States.  In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.”

Civil society is for chumps after all…

 

We’ve had a few pieces on the disconnect between the public and the political process.  This essay by Richard D. Wolff looks to answering the question why, despite there being two different political parties in the US, that the overall arc of the US body politic maintains the same general direction.

 

“In short, “democracy” has been applied to societies whose political/residential sphere was at least formally democratic but whose economic sphere was decidedly not.

The ideological rigidity of most brands of anti-statism across US history served nicely to keep the focus forever on state/public versus individual/private in thinking and acting about social change. Democracy was redefined in practical terms as the liberty of the individual/private from the intrusion of the state/public. The democratic quality of the individual/private enterprise – the central structure of the economy – was exempted from analysis or even from view in terms of its structural incompatibility with democracy. Legalistic equations of capitalist corporations with individual personhood also helped to distract attention away from the undemocratic structure of the corporation. Likewise, the US government’s commitment to a “democratic foreign policy” fostered the reproduction elsewhere of the same undemocratic economic structure that characterized the US.

The right wing of US politics has long understood and responded to social movements for equality and democracy as threats to capitalism. Its leaders built their coalitions by working to mobilize public opinion against those movements as threats to the “American way of life.” It built its ideology on the notion that democracy meant a state kept from intruding on the lives and activities of persons and enterprises rendered as equivalently “individuals.” Equality to them meant equality of opportunity, not outcomes: and then only if opportunity was strictly disconnected from the wealth, income and social position each individual was born into.

The left wing of US politics has always tried hard to sustain the notion that capitalism was not only compatible with egalitarianism and democracy. It would also be strengthened, not threatened, by moving capitalist society closer to equality and democracy. In practical terms it contested against the right wing by insisting that the mass of people – the workers in capitalist enterprises – would become disaffected from and disloyal to capitalism if it indulged its anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic tendencies. Capitalism, it argued and argues, will be strengthened not threatened by less inequality and more democracy.

Both left and right – and their expressions in the leaderships of the Republican and Democratic Parties – live in fear, conscious or otherwise, that the mass of people, the working class, will become disaffected from capitalism. “Populist” is the currently popular epithet that expresses this fear.  Both parties contest for the support of the leaders of capitalism – major shareholders and the corporate boards of directors they select – by offering their alternative strategies for avoiding, controlling, or safely channeling mass disaffection with capitalism.”

Want to know moar, citizen? Check out Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky.

    Some historical context By Tom Englehardt showing the lead up to the bright and cheery future we now inhabit.

 

“In the end, those seeds, first planted in Afghan and Pakistani soil in 1979, led to the attacks of September 11, 2001.  That day was the very definition of chaos brought to the imperial heartland, and spurred the emergence of a new, post-Constitutional governing structure, through the expansion of the national security state to monumental proportions and a staggering version of imperial overreach.  On the basis of the supposed need to keep Americans safe from terrorism (and essentially nothing else), the national security state would balloon into a dominant — and dominantly funded — set of institutions at the heart of American political life (without which, rest assured, FBI Director James Comey’s public interventions in an American election would have been inconceivable).  In these years, that state-within-a-state became the unofficial fourth branch of government, at a moment when two of the others — Congress and the courts, or at least the Supreme Court — were faltering.

The 9/11 attacks also unleashed the Bush administration’s stunningly ambitious, ultimately disastrous Global War on Terror, and over-the-top fantasies about establishing a military-enforced Pax Americana, first in the Middle East and then perhaps globally.  They also unleashed its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. drone assassination program across significant parts of the planet, the building of an unprecedented global surveillance state, the spread of a kind of secrecy so all-encompassing that much of government activity became unknowable to “the People,” and a kind of imperial overreach that sent literally trillions of dollars (often via warrior corporations) tumbling into the abyss.  All of these were chaos-creating factors.

At the same time, the basic needs of many Americans went increasingly unattended, of those at least who weren’t part of a Gilded Age 1% sucking up American wealth in an extraordinary fashion.  The one-percenters then repurposed some of those trickle-up funds for the buying and selling of politicians, again in an atmosphere of remarkable secrecy.  (It was often impossible to know who had given money to whom for what.)  In turn, that stream of Supreme Court-approved funds changed the nature of, and perhaps the very idea of, what an election was.

Meanwhile, parts of the heartland were being hollowed out, while — even as the military continued to produce trillion-dollar boondoggle weapons systems — the country’s inadequately funded infrastructure began to crumble in a way that once would have been inconceivable.  Similarly, the non-security-state part of the government — Congress in particular — began to falter and wither.  Meanwhile, one of the country’s two great political parties launched a scorched-earth campaign against governing representatives of the other and against the very idea of governing in a reasonably democratic fashion or getting much of anything done at all.  At the same time, that party shattered into disorderly, competing factions that grew ever more extreme and produced what is likely to become a unique celebrity presidency of chaos.  

The United States with all its wealth and power is, of course, hardly an Afghanistan or a Libya or a Yemen or a Somalia.  It still remains a genuinely great power, and one with remarkable resources to wield and fall back on.  Nonetheless, the recent election offered striking evidence that the empire of chaos had indeed made the trip homeward.  It’s now with us big time, all the time.  Get used to it.”

Something something reaping…and sowing et cetera.  :/

The tortures that the Grecian people are being subjected to by the neo-liberal institutions of Europe (European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF) are unnecessarily brutal and threaten to unravel the fabric of their society. We can learn what is in store for other nations that dare to act against the ‘good prudence’ of the current economic elite. Robert Hunziker writes about the toxic economic prescription being forced onto Greece and some of the reasoning behind it.

“Mysteriously, but maybe not so mysterious, this particular Greek Tragedy does not pass the sniff test. Something is rotten, somewhere. In order to get to the bottom of it, according to Dimitris Konstantakopoulos, member Secretariat of Syriza: “The Greek Reform Program was no mistake but was and remains the premeditated assassination, by economic and political means, of a European nation and its state, for reasons of much wider significance than the significance of the country itself,” Ibid.

Which prompts: Why so brutally horribly dehumanizing?

According to one analysis, Greece is the scapegoat for all European ills, thus it represents a looming threat to all other abusers of neoliberal dicta. The rationale: Other delinquent southern European countries were spared the hatchet only because, if Troika brutalized them as well, it risks alliances of like-minded protagonists and revolt all across half of Europe. Which would exceed the wherewithal of the grand neoliberal crusade and possibly blow its covert operations wide open for all to see. As it happens, Greece was/is low hanging fruit and a perfect whipping boy that hopefully knocks some sense into spendthrift Mediterranean lefties, or so the Troika likely assumes. Otherwise, why destroy Greece?

As it happened, Troika misrepresented good intentions, and in fact lied by publicly claiming Greece was receiving enormous amounts of financial support from its European partners, whereas 95% of those funds zip-zip right back to Deutsche Bank, PNB Paribas, and other U.S. and European banks, bypassing Greece’s banks and citizens as quickly as a finger click. But wait; of course, Greece keeps five percent.

In order to receive Troika’s financial bailout, Greece has undergone a massive transfer of public assets, all the best stuff, to privatization interests, part of the hardcore hypothesis behind neoliberalism, e.g., (1) 14 major regional airports sold to Germany’s Fraport, (2) the Port of Piraeus, one of the largest ports in Europe sold to China’s Cosco, (3) the Port of Thessaloniki, which is Greece’s second largest city, sold to a German consortium, and (4) privatization funds created, under Germany’s direction, for water utility transfers to private hands, prompting the president of the Greece water company trade union to forewarn that the for-profit model often times raises prices for consumers and sometimes service degrades. But then it’s too late to do much about it.

And, come to think of it, why should water be a for-profit enterprise in the first instance? And, why should ports, as old as the city of Athens, be for-profit private enterprises? By longevity alone, it is an iconic attachment to Greece, dating back centuries upon centuries. Maybe some precious things in life should escape the dictates of profit for the few in favor of the common interests of the many.

Regardless, financial colonization is ripping Greece to shreds same as 19th-century European colonization of Africa, in harmony with the Industrial Revolution, shredded natural resources. But, nowadays Industrial Revolution is passé as the Internet revolutionizes everything, other than the onslaught of neoliberalism’s transnational elite special forces.”

I think we, as Canadians, should be aware of what is in the toolbox of the world’s financial instituions when it comes to deal with countries that are ‘in need of financial discipline’.

 

 

If democracy is to be a useful concept for our future generations one aspect that is necessarily going to have to change is the level of engagement people have toward their political system.  What is in play now is a plutocratic distortion of what representative government is supposed to look like.  When our political representatives (continuously) fail at their mandated role – representing the people that voted for them – it is easy to see how the apathy sets in.  Consistently getting the short end of the stick from whichever party happens to be in control isn’t a very heartening situation.

The problem is that the current system works exquisitely well for a select few and thus, change to the political system would endanger their extravagant lifestyles an expectations.

And that, most certainly, will not do.

Therefore increasing voter apathy and furthering the disconnect between people and the political process is a necessity to maintain the current system.  The demobilization of the American public is evinced by the dull eyed phlegmatic indifference to such alarming concepts like that of ‘generational war’.  When people just shrug off the very real possibility of endless war (with Oceana) your society has a problem.   Stephanie Savell writes about the deadening of the public interest in her essay that appears on Tom’s Dispatch titled “The Hidden Costs of America’s Wars“.

 

“Of course, it’s hardly surprising these days that our government is far from transparent about so many things, but doing original research on the war on terror has brought this into stark relief for me. I was stunned at how difficult it can be to find the most basic information, scattered at so many different websites, often hidden, sometimes impossible to locate. One obscure but key source for the map we did, for example, proved to be a Pentagon list labeled “Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals Approved Areas of Eligibility.” From it, my team and I were able to learn of places like Ethiopia and Greece that the military deems part of that “War on Terrorism.” We were then able to crosscheck these with the State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism,” which officially document terrorist incidents, country by country, and what each country’s government is doing to counter terrorism.

This research process brought home to me that the detachment many Americans feel in relation to those post-9/11 wars is matched — even fed — by the opacity of government information about them. This no doubt stems, at least in part, from a cultural trend: the demobilization of the American people. The government demands nothing of the public, not even minimalist acts like buying war bonds (as in World War II), which would not only help offset the country’s growing debt from its war-making, but might also generate actual concern and interest in those wars. (Even if the government didn’t spend another dollar on its wars, our research shows that we will still have to pay a breathtaking $8 trillion extra in interest on past war borrowing by the 2050s.)

Our map of the war on terror did, in fact, get some media attention, but as is so often the case when we reach out to even theoretically sympathetic congressional representatives, we heard nothing back from our outreach. Not a peep. That’s hardly surprising, of course, since like the American people, Congress has largely been demobilized when it comes to America’s wars (though not when it comes to pouring ever more federal dollars into the U.S. military). 

Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands. Yet the majority of those representatives remain all too quick to grant blank checks to President Trump’s requests for ever greater military spending (as was also true of requests from presidents Bush and Obama).

After visiting some congressional offices in November, my colleagues and I were struck that even the most progressive among them were talking only about allocating slightly — and I mean slightly — less money to the Pentagon budget, or supporting slightly fewer of the hundreds of military bases with which Washington garrisons the globe. The idea that it might be possible to work toward ending this country’s “forever wars” was essentially unmentionable.

Such a conversation could only come about if Americans — particularly young Americans — were to become passionate about stopping the spread of the war on terror, now considered little short of a “generational struggle” by the U.S. military. For any of this to change, President Trump’s enthusiastic support for expanding the military and its budget, and the fear-based inertia that leads lawmakers to unquestioningly support any American military campaign, would have to be met by a strong counterforce. Through the engagement of significant numbers of concerned citizens, the status quo of war making might be reversed, and the rising tide of the U.S. counterterror wars stemmed.”

The challenge here, in the beginning, is to raise awareness of the problems that face the American populace.  People need the context in order to name the problems that affect them.

Daniel Taylor writing in Red Flag, addresses some of the systemic problems with the economic system we currently have.

 

“When the system is under strain, the “democratic deficit” of capitalism becomes obvious. No matter how many elections take place, the things we want don’t happen; the things we don’t want, do happen; and the people we despise are in charge.

But the roots of the problem are deeper than the political process: the lack of democracy is built into the fundamental structures of a capitalist economy.

Democracy means “the rule of the people”. Capitalism means the rule of the market. Between those two concepts lies a gulf that can’t be bridged by any number of patriotic songs and firework displays.

A capitalist economy, based on private property, divides society into those who own and those who don’t: those who decide and those who obey. The first, most fundamental decisions that can be made in society – what to do with the tremendous wealth and technology that exists in the world – are made with no democratic oversight at all.

Will factories be used to assemble medical equipment or machine guns? Will cranes be set to work building schools and hospitals or luxury apartments for the rich? Will the printing presses make textbooks or newspapers full of racist fear-mongering?

These key decisions, which determine the shape of the society we live in, are made every day in secret, with no democratic oversight, by the tiny minority of the population that owns society’s productive wealth. They are not made in parliaments, but boardrooms. And they are made in the interests of the capitalist class, to increase its profits and strengthen its rule over society.

In capitalist “democracy”, “the people” have no say whatsoever over the most important decisions in the world: the economy is the private concern of the bosses, and we have to live with their decisions. And the state – supposedly the democratic influence on society, in which all citizens, rich and poor alike, have an equal say – merely reflects and reinforces this tyranny.”

I think it is time we give democratic socialism a fair shake.

 

In Canada it is easy to see where elite consensus lies. Marijuana legislation is barrelling ahead (potheads rejoice!) and electoral reform is dead in the water and slowly sinking out of the public’s consciousness.

This is how electoral reform died in Canada:

“In response, Trudeau pointed to a difference of opinions among the major political parties.

“As people in this House know, I have long preferred a preferential ballot. The members opposite [in the NDP] wanted proportional representation. The Official Opposition wanted a referendum,” he said, gesturing toward the Conservatives.

“There is no consensus. There is no clear path forward. It would be irresponsible to do something that harms Canada’s stability.”

Later, in response to a question from May, Trudeau expanded on his explanation.

“Anything a prime minister or a government must do must be in the interest of Canada and all Canadians, particularly when it comes to transforming our electoral system. I understand the passion and the intensity with which the member opposite believes in this and many Canadians mirror that passion and that intensity.”

“But there is no consensus, there is no sense of how to do this. And, quite frankly, a divisive referendum, an augmentation of extremist voices in this House, is not what is in the best interests of Canada.”

It is quite odd that ‘building consensus” and “augmentation of extremist voices” were of such a deeply troubling concern to our dear Prime Minister. The Liberal Party currently holds a majority in our House of Commons – 184 seats (14 more than the required 170) – so they can pass whatever damn legislation they choose, at any time, and the opposition can do precisely diddly-squat about it.

Enter the consensus building. Or, to look at things slightly more Machiavellian, why would the government dismantle the electoral system that has brought it to power tweny-four times since the inception of Canada as a nation?

I’m pretty sure that’s all that needs to be said on the issue of electoral reform.

The other half of the story is the legalization of marijuana and that folks is an example, par excellance of Canadian Government policy careening downhill on the greasiest of skids.  Nothing is going to stop this fully loaded freight-train of weed goodness.   (I have heard nary a whisper of building consensus on this issue – it’s just getting done).  From the Liberal Party website

” Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.

Arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.

To ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of criminals, we will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.

We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework.”

Oh the principled anguish!

I’m not buying it for a second.  The legality of marijuana is a trivial issue.   It will not affect those in the halls of power one iota.  And, thus we have this great commitment and expressed vigour to helping all Canadians and making things better for the country.  (Clearly, reforming the skewed FPP electoral system won’t benefit Canadians or the country…)

OTTAWA — The Canadian government has introduced sweeping legislation designed to permit the recreational use of marijuana throughout the country by July 2018, fulfilling an election promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The bill, inspired in part by the experiences of cannabis regimes in Colorado and Washington state, goes well beyond the U.S. situation, where marijuana remains prohibited at the federal level. In Canada, the federal government will change criminal law nationally and will license growers and set product standards while leaving it up to the provinces to handle distribution and manage retail sale.

Canada will become the first large industrialized nation with a broad system permitting recreational as well as medical use of marijuana. At present, only Uruguay has a national legal regime permitting widespread use of cannabis.”

*sigh* – Oh, Canada.  :/

 

 

 

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