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   Why would people vote against their own interests?  Why do so many people choose not to vote at all?  Some of the answers lie with the very structure of the American political system and the ideological rules that are currently being followed.

Noam Chomsky has always said that the US has two business class parties.  Ostensibly, they agree on a core of values and only differ on a few social and economic ones, just enough to differentiate themselves (modestly from the other).

” -In the US, there is basically one party – the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population.”

-Noam Chomsky

So, it is a terrible system for most, except for the people in power.  Rob Urie explains:

 

“Tacticians for the political establishment(s) understand that electoral politics is antithetical to democracy, which is why they use strategies of exclusion to maintain their lock on power. This unity through exclusion is what makes the pretense that they— Democrats versus Republicans, are ideological combatants so self-serving and implausible. Either Party could expand the electorate by bringing in unaffiliated and disaffected voters, and in-so-doing dominate American politics. But to do so, they would have to offer a political program that voters want.

The U.S. has a very low electoral turnout rate compared with other so-called democracies. The question then is why Democrats would focus their efforts on luring a small number of suburban Republicans to vote for Democrats rather than on the large number of eligible voters from urban, suburban and rural working class and poor neighborhoods? The answer is class. The oligarchs + the richest 9.9% won’t support policies that benefit poor and working-class voters. They might oppose racism, but not poverty.

One easy way to expand the electorate is to stop excluding it. Old news here— voter suppression is rampant in the U.S. While this is a favorite tactic of Republicans, Democrats have passed up every opportunity to 1) force Republicans to stop doing it and 2) enact universal suffrage. Here’s the rub— even if Democrats accepted 20% voter suppression as a background level, they could still craft policies that support the poor and working class and bring in tens of millions of voters by doing so. But they apparently don’t want ‘those people’ voting.

In 2018 in my poor and working class, 98% Democrat, neighborhood, the Democrats left door tags with two messages: property tax ‘relief’ that has little appeal in a 90%+ renter neighborhood and ‘stopping Trump.’ This neighborhood suffered horribly in the Bush / Obama years from the twin catastrophes of de-industrialization and financialization. De-industrialization took away the jobs and then financialization made housing unaffordable while growing a below living-wage chain-store economy that bankrupted local businesses.”

Breaking out of the two party system is the first requirement for any sort of authentic change not only in American society, but also in Canada as well.  The two ‘preferred choices’ both serve a narrow slice of the population while essentially disenfranchising the rest.

If we wish to see real change, we will need to address the systemic electoral obstacles first.

 

The US has a funny notion of what is in its ‘backyard’.  It would be really wonderful if the citizens of the US would decry the economic terrorism being carried out on their behalf.

 

“The success of Chávez and Maduro’s governments in reducing poverty and inequality in Venezuela and their ability to lend aid to working people around the world pose a direct threat to the United States’ agenda. During the 14 years of Chávez’s presidency, the country experienced an average of 3.2 percent economic growth, increasing to 4.1 percent after Chávez took control of the state oil company, PDVSA, in 2004. The profits from the oil sector have been used to bolster social programs in areas such as housing, health, and education.

Programs such as the Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP) and Plan de Atención a la Vulnerabilidad Nutricional provide 50,000 tons of food per month to 6 million Venezuelan families (compared to the measly 60 tons that could be purchased with the $20 million of aid offered by the United States). According to Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and other sources, inequality has decreased substantially compared to the pre-Chávez era.

It is true that Venezuela today is experiencing an economic crisis. But it is important to put the current reality in context with the pre-Chávez neoliberal era—which failed to provide basic services to the Venezuelan people even without the staunch opposition of the United States and its allies—and in the context of crushing economic sanctions and an economic war that has systematically denied the country access to credit and repeatedly staged a series of economic and political interventions.

Today, the U.S.-imposed sanctions alone cost Venezuela an estimated US$30 million per day. Under pressure from the U.S., the Bank of England has denied Venezuela access to $1.2 billion of gold stored there—money that could be used to provide medicine and aid to the Venezuelan people. While painting a picture of Maduro as a heartless dictator who refuses to provide aid to his people, the U.S. is simultaneously lobbying the Bank of England to deny Maduro access to crucial funds and instead turn Venezuela’s gold over to Guaidó.

Meanwhile, the United States has stationed military planes on the Colombian border carrying US$20 million worth of so-called humanitarian aid. Maduro, recognizing the history of humanitarianism as a trojan horse for intervention and the political motives behind the U.S.’s offer, has denied the aid. Even the United Nations and the Red Cross have refused to support the U.S. aid shipment, which they accuse of being politically motivated. In other words, if one is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the crisis in Venezuela, the missteps of Maduro’s administration pale in comparison to the impact of U.S. economic warfare.

In stark contrast to the United States’ foreign relations and stance on international aid, Venezuela has used its natural wealth to provide aid to working people around the world and to fund social programs domestically. In doing this, the country has set an example for what is possible if countries under the current grip of U.S. imperialist policies set out to stop the bleeding of their resources and wealth into the coffers of the United States and its allies and instead use their resources for the good of everyday people. It is an attempt toward what the late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin would call “de-linking,” or “compelling imperialism to accept your conditions or part of those conditions [… and] to drive one’s own policy.”

It would seem that a different set of choices were made during the 2008 recession in China than here in the West.  I’m having trouble seeing the problem with the economic strategy the Chinese pursued.  Of course, it was because the centralized power of China’s government put the needs of the country first, as opposed to the needs of the investor class.  China’s growth continues to chug a long while the sclerotic US economy seems unfocused except for the primal urge to grind it’s underclasses into the ground.  If as what Clegg says is true about China eclipsing the US in 2030 is true, perhaps a new paradigm might enter our Western consciousness, one that focuses on the welfare of the nation instead of exclusively on the welfare of the wealthy.

It is clearly hard for any dominant power to accept the need to adjust to a rising power and avoid the ‘Thucydides trap’, but what is all the harder is for the West – the US and its allies – to acknowledge that China’s advance, in contrast to their own sluggish performances, exposes the difference between a system which chooses to bail out the banks and one which sought to bail out the economy; between one that does all it can to boost its financial sector, and one which promoted economic stimulus to boost production; between one which squeezes those poorer in the blind pursuit of profit and one which raises up the poor, organising development in a systematic way; between one that pumps out huge amounts of ‘hot money’ into the world economy to play havoc with other countries’ financial systems and one that offers patient capital to help others manage their financial difficulties to avoid crises.

In the last 10 years, whilst Western economies have endlessly pumped their ‘printed’ money round and round the ether of financial markets in the same exhausted circles, China has become a different country and indeed the world is becoming a different place. Yet the US remains utterly committed to blocking change to keep the world dependent on the American dollar and the American consumer even at the expense of huge trade deficits. And now comes the trade war.

China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy sometime before 2030, an event which will mark a psychological turning point. However right now, debt levels remain high and a Chinese-style crash is still possible. Can China limit, or failing this, withstand the pressures of a US trade war? In fact, the prospects for the US-economy not that great either – the Trump tax cuts bounce may be short-lived, and the ‘America first’president may have to learn that the US and China need each other.”

The conclusion of Paul Street’s essay is important in naming the situation the US currently inhabits.  “You cannot maintain democracy at home while conducting an authoritarian empire abroad” is the idea that lies at the bottom of the problems plaguing the United States.  The notion that there are people, by default, undeserving of the same rights you grant to your citizenry, who don’t deserve the access to the rights/responsibilities (liberty, equalty, happiness) is eroding those very same ideals within the United States itself.

 

What Goes Around: “Trampling on the Helpless Abroad” Comes Home

     A final matter concerns the problem of imperial chickens coming home to roost. Liberals don’t like to hear it, but the ugly, richly documented historical fact of the matter is that their party of binary and tribal choice has long joined Republicans in backing and indeed crafting a U.S. foreign policy that has imposed authoritarian regimes (and profoundly undemocratic interventions including invasions and occupations) the world over. The roster of authoritarian and often-mass murderous governments the U.S. military and CIA and allied transnational business interests have backed, sometimes even helped create, with richly bipartisan support, is long indeed.

     Last fall, Illinois Green Party leader Mike Whitney ran some fascinating numbers on the 49 nation-states that the right-wing “human rights” organization Freedom House identified as “dictatorships” in 2016. Leaving aside Freedom House’s problematic inclusion of Russia, Cuba, and Iran on its list, the most remarkable thing about Whitney’s research was his finding that the U.S. offered military assistance to 76 percent of these governments. (The only exceptions were Belarus, China, Central African Republic, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria.). “Most politically aware people,” Whitney wrote:

     “know of some of the more highly publicized instances examples of [U.S. support for foreign dictatorships], such as the tens of billions of dollars’ worth of US military assistance provided to the beheading capital of the world, the misogynistic monarchy of Saudi Arabia, and the repressive military dictatorship now in power in Egypt… apologists for our nation’s imperialistic foreign policy…try to rationalize such support, arguing that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are exceptions to the rule.  But my survey…demonstrates that our government’s support for Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not exceptions to the rule at all. They are the rule.”

     The Pentagon and State Department data Whitney used came from Fiscal Year 2015.  It dated from the next-to-last year of the Obama administration, for which so many liberals recall with misplaced nostalgia. Freedom House’s list should have included Honduras, ruled by a vicious right-wing government that Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped install in a June 2009 military coup.

     The problem here isn’t just liberal hypocrisy and double standards. The deeper issue is that, as the great American iconoclast Mark Twain knew, you cannot maintain democracy at home while conducting an authoritarian empire abroad.  During the United States’ blood-soaked invasion and occupation of the Philippines, Twain penned an imaginary history of the twentieth-century United States. “It was impossible,” Twain wrote, “to save the Great Republic.  She was rotten to the heart.  Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home.”

     “Just a decade after Twain wrote those prophetic words,” the historian Alfred W. McCoy has observed, “colonial police methods came home to serve as a template for the creation of an American internal security apparatus in wartime.” The nation’s first Red Scare, which crushed left and labor movements during and after World War One, drew heavily on the lessons and practices of colonial suppression in the Philippines and Cuba. As McCoy shows in his latest book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,the same basic process – internal U.S. repression informed and shaped by authoritarian and imperial practices abroad and justified by alleged external threats to the “homeland” – has recurred ever since.  Today, the rise of an unprecedented global surveillance state overseen by the National Security Agency has cost the US the trust of many of its top global allies (under Bush43 and Obama44, not just under Trump45) while undermining civil liberties and democracy within as beyond the U.S.

    “The fetters imposed on liberty at home,” James Madison wrote in 1799, “have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers abroad.” Those are wise words well worth revisiting amidst the current endless Russiagate madness, calculated among other things to tell us that the FBI, the CIA, and the rest of the nation’s vast and ever more ubiquitous intelligence and surveillance state are on our side.

Menon’s arguments are quite rational, but with the current American Republican Administration having rational arguments doesn’t count for much.

 

“Here’s a prerequisite for avoiding war in Korea: stop believing in the North’s denuclearization, attractive and desirable as it might be (if achieved through diplomacy).

It doesn’t follow, however, that war can’t be avoided.  Kim Jong-un and his inner circle are not, in fact, irrational beings immune to deterrence.  Their paramount aim is to ensure the survival of the North Korean state. Starting a nuclear war would destroy it.  Yes, many people have perished in North Korea (whether due to repression or famine), but deterrence worked in the cases of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong, both of whom enacted policies that killed millions. Mao supposedly even boasted that China could survive a nuclear war because of its huge population.

Coming to terms with the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea and trusting in deterrence may not sound like a perfect ending, but under the circumstances it’s undoubtedly the best way to avert catastrophe.  And that, unquestionably, is the urgent task.  There are other ways, down the line, to make the Korean peninsula a better place through dialogue between the two Koreas, by drawing the North into the regional economy and reducing troops and weaponry on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone.  These shouldn’t be ruled out as infeasible.

For them to happen, though, South Korea would have to separate itself from Trump’s war plans by refusing to allow its sovereign space (land, sea, and air) to be used for such a preventive war.  The symbolism would be important even if Trump could strike in other ways.

Seoul would also have to build on two recent positive developments that emerged from a surprise January 9th meeting between the Koreas.  The first is the agreement on Kim Jong-un’s proposal (initially advanced by the South last June) to send a North Korean contingent to the February Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  The second flowed from South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s follow-up idea of restoring the hotline between the countries and beginning discussions of how to tamp down tensions on the peninsula.  (Pyongyang shut down the hotline in February 2016 after South Korea’s conservative government closed the Kaesong joint industrial zone located in the North, which then employed more than 50,000 North Koreans.)  Moon’s suggestion doubtless eased the way for the subsequent agreement to hold future military talks aimed at reducing the risks of war.

There are further steps Seoul could take, including declaring a moratorium on military exercises with the United States — not just, as now (with Washington’s consent), during the February Olympics and the Paralympics that follow and end in March, but without a preset time limit. While such joint maneuvers don’t scare Pyongyang, moves like flying American B1-B bombers and F-15C fighter jets in international airspace off North Korea’s coast do ratchet up the tension.  They increase the chances of one side concluding that the other is about to attack.

Trump may continue his threats via Twitter and again denigrate the value of negotiations with Pyongyang, but South Korea is a powerful country in its own right. It has a $1.4 trillion economy, the 11th largest in the world (versus North Korea’s paltry $32.4 billion one), and ranks sixth in global exports.  It also has a formidable military and will spend $34 billion on defense in 2017 — more than North Korea’s entire gross domestic product.  It is, in short, anything but the Asian equivalent of a banana republic for which Donald Trump should be able to write the script.

Trump’s generals and the rest of the American foreign policy establishment won’t welcome independent initiatives by Seoul, as witness the condescending remark of a former official about the hazards of South Korea “running off the leash.”  Predictably, mainstream warnings have already begun.  Cunning Kim Jong-un wants to drive a “wedge” between the United States and South Korea.  He’s trying to undo the sanctions.  Agreeing to talks with Pyongyang will only communicate weakness.  The United States must demonstrate its resolve and protect its credibility.  And so it goes.

Policies based on these shibboleths, which portray South Korea as an American dependency, have brought us to the brink of war.  Continuing them could push us over the edge. “

   The adage that says ‘a capitalism will sell you the rope to hang him with’ comes to mind while reviewing the latest round of Feed the Rich that is going in in the United States.  It is frightening the pace at which the plutocrats are lining their pockets and fleecing the general population of the United States.

The dogmatic slumber brought on by the corporate class has never seemed so intense and impenetrable as it is now under the current Republican administration.  Grievous actions and policy just seem to float by carried on waves of expressed outrage, but tangible action/opposition never results.   If the US was a functioning democracy, the streets should have been and still should be filled with people decrying the malfeasance being carried out in their name.   But what is happening – crickets, and very quiet obsequious ones that that.

So, it is time to stoke some anger and rage at the current political order.  Le me help you get started with this snipped from an article by Paul Street writing for Counterpunch.

 

“Here we are now, half a year later, careening into a dystopian holiday season. With his epically low approval rating of 32 percent, the orange-tinted bad grandpa in the Oval Office has won a viciously regressive tax bill that is widely rejected by the populace. The bill was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress whose current approval rating stands at 13 percent. It is a major legislative victory for the Republicans, a party whose approval rating fell to an all-time low of 29 percent at the end of September—a party that tried to send a child molester to the U.S. Senate.

The bill itself had an approval rating of 25 percent prior to passage.  No wonder. The arch-plutocratic tax “reform:

+ Drastically slashes the corporate tax rate without closing loopholes and deductions that allow the nation’s already cash-flush corporations to register their profits overseas and while doing nothing to switch corporations’ focus from maximizing short-term returns to investing in the creation of more jobs and higher wages.

+ Encourages corporations to invest in automation without offering any assistance to displaced workers.

+ All but eliminates the estate tax for the nation’s richest families.

+ Adds $1.5 trillion to the nation’s debt over the next decade, setting the stage for major slashes to the nation’s three biggest social insurance programs – Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare (they will be cut back in the name of “scaling back” so-called entitlement programs to “reduce the deficit.”)

+ Gives a major tax cut on profits multinational companies have stashed in offshore tax havens.

+ Cuts taxes on “pass through” businesses – a benefit that will be disproportionately enjoyed by the rich.

+ Makes it easier for rich people to classify themselves as businesses to get a tax break.

+ Increases the complexity of the tax code.

+ Tightens deductions for lower- and middle-income wage-earners.

+ Subsidizes private and religious schools, a boon to corporate school privatizers and the religious right.

+ Repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, which will leave millions without health insurance and raise the cost of health insurance.

The GOP tax bill rewards the already rich and punishes the poor at “a time,” The Atlantic notes, “when post-tax corporate profits have hovered at a record-level high for the last seven years, and the 1 percent’s share of total income is higher than at any time in the second half of the 20th century.” It is what New York Magazine calls a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans.”  It is “certain to exacerbate income [and wealth- P.S.] inequality at a time when the playing field is already heavily tilted to towards the rich.”

The New Gilded Age is slated to become yet more grotesquely unequal. As Trump might, it’s unbelievable. The nation’s economy is already so savagely unequal that the top 10th of its upper 1 percent owns as much wealth as its bottom 90 percent. Its corporations are raking in record profits. Half of its citizens have no savings. Half its population lives in or near poverty. Twenty-one percent of its childrenare growing up at less than the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, and 41 million Americans—12.3 percent of the population—are “food insecure.” Not disparate enough!

The dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats, the party of “inauthentic opposition,” are hardly more popular than the radically regressive Republicans.”

If there was ever time for a third party in the US, it would be now.

 

The United Nations is a marginalized entity, like the League of Nations, it was formed with the idea that humanity, as a species can do better than just sit within our imaginary borders and fling poo (sometimes thermonuclear) at each other.

It’s a noble and nice idea.

And that’s about it.

Any sort of movement toward a more globalized world is always drowned out by the odious strains of nationalism and exceptionalism of the powerful countries of the world.

The summation of Noam Chomskey’s work in international politics is this: “The same rules should apply to everyone.” Strip away the academic writing and the dense prose and you will see him return to this thesis repeatedly. A war crime is a war crime whether it is committed by the ‘good guys’ or the ‘bad guys’ and the judgments and punishments meted out should be the same in both situations. This, of course, would mean that every US president would be charged with war crimes and would be prosecuted thusly – a flight of fantasy in the current geopolitical order – but it would be what a just world would look like.

Possessing the biggest stick should not be an automatic exemption from the rules that everyone else has to follow. Breaking news on this one though – the current bearers of the big stick club resoundingly disagree with me on this point. And thus the big stick carriers rightly get annoyed when marginally global institutions like the UN fail to toe the line on important issues regarding the ‘national interest’ (see imperialism/exceptionism).

“The United Nations general assembly has delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The vote came after a redoubling of threats by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said that Washington would remember which countries “disrespected” America by voting against it.”

Way to go UN! As far as impotent political statements and actions go, you are doing fantastic work.

“Despite the warning, 128 members voted on Thursday in favour of the resolution supporting the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem – which is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians – can only be settled as an agreed final issue in a peace deal.”

It’s hard to find a more prescient example of US exceptionalism.  The constant untrammelled stream of unwavering support for Israel – notwithstanding the incredibly shitty things Israel is doing/has been doing to the Palestinians for decades- by the US merely underlines how irrelevant the UN is to US foreign policy and its associated imperial ventures.

“Twenty-two of the 28 EU countries voted for the resolution, including the UK and France. Germany – which in the past has abstained on measures relating to Israel – also voted in favour.

Thirty-five countries abstained, including five EU states, and other US allies including Australia, Canada, Colombia and Mexico. Ambassadors from several abstaining countries, including Mexico, used their time on the podium to criticise Trump’s unilateral move.

Another 21 delegations were absent from the vote, suggesting the Trump’s warning over funding cuts and Israel’s lobbying may have had some effect.

While support for the resolution was somewhat less than Palestinian officials had hoped, the meagre tally of just nine votes in support of the US and Israeli position was a serious diplomatic blow for Trump.”

Yeaaaaaa Canada – we abstained.  Such a bold move for our country, we’re really standing up to the injustice and stupidity being visited upon the world by our neighbours to the South.

*sigh*

I suppose it is the best we can do given our geographical and economic situation.  But wouldn’t be nice if we could just denounce this bullshite -rightly on moral an ethical grounds – without always having to defer to the realpolitik of the situation.

 

[Source: The Guardian]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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