Posts Tagged ‘USA

02
May
11

The Death of Bin Laden: And Nothing Changed…

President Obama has just confirmed the killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden.

Osama Bin Laden is dead and nothing has changed.

Don’t get me wrong, no matter what your social or political perspective is, the events that have transpired in the past week mark an iota of justice for those dead, both American and otherwise. However, let us not delude ourselves into imagining that the world tomorrow is going to any different than it was yesterday or the day before.

I watched the news at a friend’s house- one of her roommates went to bed before the speech, commenting “I know I’ll be alive tomorrow”.

That’s simply not something any of us can say.

With emotions running free on all fronts, we might forget that Bin Laden was as much the leader of Al-Qaeda and affiliated networks as Queen Elizabeth is the ruler of England. His death no more defeats Al-Qaeda and the Taliban than the death of the queen would obliterate the UK. The actual leaders of Al-Qaeda are as alive as ever, these recent events constitute, at most, an ideological defeat.

So is it over now? Will the Orwellian policies in the US- such as the Patriot Act or the invasive TSA scanning procedures- be repealed? Will US and coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere? Has the situation anywhere in the world been in the least altered by the death of Bin Laden?

The answer to everything is a resounding “No”.

Even in his announcement, Obama has announced the continuation of the wars and policies in place since September 11th. Again, nothing absolutely nothing has changed.

So we have to ask the question- “when?“. “When will we be able to end the wars, repeal the invasive policies? When will the sacrifices we have all made pay off? When is it going to be over?“.

And yet, as I’m writing this, we all already know the answer. It’s not going to be over. The sacrifices of privacy and personal liberty these things, once given up, are gone for good. The increase in government power, militarism, bureaucracy cannot be scaled back. again the world of yesterday is the world of tomorrow. There is no victory.

When was the American public’s chance to defeat it’s attackers? It was one September 12th. It was when the public was faced with the option between security and liberty.

02
Feb
11

On Egypt (and a little bit about Tunisia)

There are those who’ve asserted that, after over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East is incapable of democracy. They’ve claimed that tribal divisions run too deep, and that the ideals of Islam and democratic, representative government are diametrically opposed.

 

In the past days, Tunisia and Egypt have proven to be shining examples that those claims just aren’t true.

 

Not that it was ever true to begin with. Hamas was, despite it’s vilification by Western powers, democratically elected in Gaza. Indeed, the majority of areas where this “always-has-been-dictatorship-always-will-be” stereotype have had democratically elected leaders- just not pro-American democratically elected leaders. And if without the West’s blessing, democracy in third-world countries tends to be tragically short lived. Just look at the US sponsored coup that ended the life of Salvador Allende, or the US attacks on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

 

And here’s the rub. While it cannot be denied that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are a great victory for the peoples of those countries, I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. The Tunisians and Egyptians have shown that, without the West and indeed, depsite the West, they are, and always have been, capable of autonomy. They can forge their own destiny- but what if that destiny isn’t to the approval of America, Britain, and other world powers? Let us keep in mind that the Mubarak regime was emphatically supported by the US (despite recent, less than elegant attempts to flip-flop on their position). Indeed, the issue isn’t so much “what if the people in the region begin to act in their own interests?” but “when the people in the region to act in their own interests- how will the West react?”. The entire reason US diplomats and politicians are tripping over each other to voice support for the Egyptian public is because of a desperate need to keep the country as an ally. However, with the US having invested so heavily in the 30-year Mubarak regime, it’s difficult to imagine the Egyptian people particularly fond of America, the West, and the ever expanding power of globalization.

 

So it brings us back to the original problem- it’s wonderful that the Tunisians and Egyptians have freed themselves, but how long will they be free?

28
Jul
10

A Communist Response to the Tea Party

The Tea Party has made a point of lambasting the Communist movement. Pictures of Obama (for the last time- not a Communist) are adorned with the hammer-and-sickle emblem, or set up alongside pictures of Marx and Lenin. There are picket-signs with such slogans as “Revolt Against Socialism”-in short, it’s the largest anti-leftist movement since McCarthyism. And not without reason, either. It’s undeniable that there’s a certain appeal to the Tea Party movement. Joining the fight against the [alleged] looming threat of an authoritarian state, bringing the country back to its original values, lowering taxes for the middle-class-everyman- who wouldn’t want in? But as with every political/social/economic movement you have to cut through the buzz words and slogans and examine the core principals and goals.

The Tea Party seems to be focused around three central issues, (1) the limiting of government power, (2) the restoration of Free Market Capitalism, and (3) through these two goals bring America back to the values of the Founding Fathers. In and of themselves these principals seem perfectly reasonable- admirable even. Until you look at history.

Limiting government power? Hey- Communists are all for it. One of the principal goals of Marxism is the abolition of the state. Indeed, despite the Tea Party’s pictures of Democrat politicians with the hammer-and-sickle superimposed on them, Communists have more in common with Libertarians- as far as governmental issues anyways. The problem with the Tea Party is that there not against big government- they’re against big Democrat government. The Patriotic Act was one of the greatest expansions of government power since the Civil War- did the Tea Party protest then? In the Tea Party’s defense though- this is a problem on both sides of the political spectrum; those who protested the Patriot Act have remained strangely silent about the issue now that Obama is in power.

As for the restoration of Free Market Capitalism- there’s a reason regulatory laws and branches have been developed. Before the advent of market regulation, the state of things was appalling. Child labor, strike-breakers, low wages, dangerous work conditions, false advertising, a complete lack of product safety and quality control, rampant pollution- to put it mildly, it was nightmarish. And even despite regulatory laws, corporations continue to pollute and exploit- look at third-world sweatshops and the continued destruction of the environment! If things are bad now, how much worse will they be without laws to protect the workers and consumers?

And lastly and most importantly, there’s the issue of the founding fathers. If you listen to far-right pundits (Glen Beck would be a prime example), you’ll hear repeatedly that the US must be returned to the plans the founding fathers had for it. A closer look at the writings of America’s founders, however, suggest that they might not have been as wild about Capitalism as conservative pundits and Tea Party members make them out to be. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had this to say about private property:

It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an [sic] universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it.

Or look at this statement by Thomas Paine (technically not a founding father, but his influence of the Revolutionary War and the formation of the American government is immeasurable):

Men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.

and

…To pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in room of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age; enjoining the parents of such children to send them to school, to learn reading, writing, and common arithmetic; the ministers of every parish, of every denomination to certify jointly to an office, for that purpose, that this duty is performed… By adopting this method, not only the poverty of the parents will be relieved, but ignorance will be banished from the rising generation, and the number of poor will hereafter become less…

Even half a century later, Lincoln (not a founder, still an important figure in the shaping of American politics) gave us this warning:

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

Quite simply, as far as the founders go, I doubt their ideologies would have mixed too well with those of the Tea Party.

To summarize, the Tea Party may have a heroic and patriotic veneer, but that’s all that there is- catchphrases, dire warnings about an apocalyptic future, and desperate attempts to restore a past that never existed. And the truly tragic thing is there’s a lot in the Tea Party that could be used for the betterment of the American public. The rejection of big government is admirable- just make sure that you’re not substituting one lack of liberty for another. The desire to restore prosperity is good- Capitalism isn’t the way. The attempt to restore the country to the principals of the founding fathers is commendable- but only so long as you know what those principals were.

20
Jul
10

A Communist Look Back (and Forward)

It’s been over a year since I first started this blog, and a lot has happened in the world- I think it only appropriate that I write a brief post reviewing the past year and making a few predictions for the next one.

We have the economic crisis (or rather, a series of crises) of such great proportions the public’s faith in Capitalism has been badly shaken. The bailouts, the BP oil spill, the revelation of corruption within the regulatory branches of government- none of these have done much to convince the people that Capitalism has their best interests at heart. Indeed, the loss of faith in the current system has led many to look into alternatives, such as Libertarianism, Socialism, and to an extent, Communism. Despite this, neocolonialism, economic and cultural imperialism continue to spread. The poor and working class of the third world remain largely oppressed. Slavery rates continue to rise. In xenophobic reaction to ever increasing immigration rates, the US and Western Europe has become more hostile to foreigners.

The controversial creation of public healthcare in the US- indicative of widespread dissatisfaction with healthcare under Capitalism (or the lack thereof)- has garnered both enthusiastic support and vehement opposition, most on the far-left have voiced support for the change, but maintain that free, universal healthcare is the only answer.

In short, to say that the past twelve months have brought forth dramatic change would be an exaggeration- at the same time, it is undeniable that have been significant developments in economics and the public views of Capitalism.

Predictions for next year:

1. Continued disillusionment with Capitalism- independent parties will probably gain in popularity.

2. Extreme right-wing reactions in the Republican and Conservative movements will ultimately alienate moderates and undecided voters, resulting in more harm to the GOP/Conservative movement than benefit.

3. Immigration into the US and Western Europe will result in greater hostility towards immigrants, possibly resulting in blatantly anti-immigrant legislation, violence, and the oppression of minorities. Fascists, racists, and extreme right-wing groups will probably be seeing some victories unless this xenophobia is immediately combated.

4.  Austerity measures in some European countries will result (or rather continue to result) in strikes by the working class- some potential for rioting, but no absolute certainty.

Looks like it’s gonna be fun…

07
Jul
10

Norman Rockwell’s America (is Dead)

If you’re familiar at all with contemporary art, then you’ll no doubt have heard of Norman Rockwell. Indeed, chances are if you’ve lived anywhere in the West you’ll have come across one of his iconic paintings (as an original or as a recreation). For the few of you who might not be aware of his work, Norman Rockwell created paintings depicting (most often) bourgeoisie life in idyllic Middle-America*. There’s the family farms and small, private businesses that politicians love to talk about (see Sarah Palin’s “Real America” speech) and Capitalism tries to market to you (see ‘Aunt Jemimah’, ‘Uncle Ben’, ‘Quaker Oats’, ‘State Farm‘, ‘Pepperidge Farm‘ etc.). For many it’s the very face of Capitalism- just look at this 1948 “instructional” video of (exclusively white) high-school teens discussing Capitalism.

Coronet Instructional Films “What Is Capitalism?”, 1948

This is a prime example of the twisted understanding of Capitalism many have, but even in this video we can see the roots of the disparity between the Rockwellian portrayal of Capitalism and the harsh reality. Throughout the film, one word stands out: Competition. The young woman to Jimmy’s right describes how the shop-owner, Mr. Brown, agrees to lend out his truck to ensure she and Jimmy buy from him, rather than the competition. She asserts that Mr. Brown’s interests aren’t in providing service but in making a profit, and it is here we have the crux of the matter. Mr. Brown wants to make profit- the sole existence of his business is to make profit, and so Mr. Brown does whatever he can to ensure his merchandise is sold, rather than the merchandise of his competitors. In short, Mr. Brown is trying to run the other shops in the community out of business to maximize his profits. I’m not arguing that Mr. Brown is morally corrupt (though let’s not rule out of the possibility), we have to understand that in a Capitalist system, the rules of competition apply to everyone. Mr. Brown has to run his competition out or his competition will run him out. Eat or be eaten. At the same time, if Mr. Brown is indeed concerned not with his own livelihood but with his profits, if he does succeed in running his competition out of business he will have a monopoly and Jimmy and his friends will be forced to buy “weenies” at whatever price Mr. Brown sets.

Melodramatic? Consider this:

Starbucks was a small, privately owned coffee shop that has burst into a world-wide empire that has obliterated competition. Walmart also started as a small shopping center before expanding to the point where it has replaced nearly all beloved mom-and-pop stores you see in Rockwell’s art. McDonalds didn’t start out was a global food-chain but just as a privately owned restaurant. Coca-Cola started out as a tonic.

Now of course, there’s the temptation to side with corporations on this issue. One might argue ‘Hey, the fact is that Starbucks, Walmart, and other stores became economic empires by being better than the competition- they deserve the power they have!’. This argument forgets, however, that most corporations don’t get to where they are by simply having better products. The Mr. Brown of the video might run his competition out of business by offering lower prices by (1) temporarily lowering his prices so that his competition will be destroyed and he will make more money in the long run, (2) lowering the quality of his goods, (3) smearing competitors (and if you don’t think this happens, look up a Mac vs PC commercial), (4) lowering the wages of his workers, (5) sabotaging his competitors (corporate espionage), (6) convincing the public that his products are better (actually making them better would decrease profit), or even (7) collaborating with other businesses to harm competition (just look up the tactics of J.D. Rockefeller). Now out of these seven options, do you think that Mr. Brown is going to go with the one that lowers his immediate income? And what happens when Mr. Brown gets a monopoly? Is he going to lose his customers to cheaper options in other towns? Of course not- the astute Mr. Brown is going to open a shop there, and use his profits to undersell his competitors into working for him.

It’s a sad but simple fact. No matter how much we swear by the good, ol’ family farm or shop, small businesses inevitably become big businesses, which become global corporations with a reputation for low prices and even lower wages, product safety standards, and environmental consciousness. To answer the question of the video, what is Capitalism? This is Capitalism: pointless competition, exploitation, monopolization, and the general degradation of all the values we see in Norman Rockwell’s paintings.

*Admittedly, he did do a few pictures of working class Americans and even school children in Soviet Russia- but overwhelmingly his paintings were of the bourgeoisie.

17
Feb
10

How to Kill Democracy

On January 21, the US Supreme Court narrowly voted to block a ban on corporate spending limits in political campaigns. Ironic that one of the greatest blows to the ideal of democracy should come about as the result of a vote.

Essentially, the argument for allowing unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns is that since contributing to campaigns (financially) is a form of free speech, setting limits on how much corporations can donate (and to which candidates) is a violation of the rights of the individual. Now this argument makes the bold assumption that corporations are as much a person as you or me, and therefore are entitled to the same rights. Considering that corporations can benefit from all the rights of an individual but can’t fulfill any of the responsibilities (such as serving jury duty, serving in the military, being subject to the same laws and penalties as the rest of us, etc.), exactly how one reaches the conclusion that corporations are equal to human beings is beyond me.

But that can all be saved for another post. The purpose of this post is to attempt to predict the ramifications of free corporate campaign contributions.

Now it’s undeniable that corporate support has been a major factor in politics and political elections prior to ending of corporate spending limits. An oil corporation could influence a local election by offering campaign support to a candidate in exchange for the understanding that the candidate (should he or she win) will act in favor of the corporation (tax breaks for large businesses, laxer environmental standards, etc.). Now this may all seem to be a bit excessive- after all, corporations offering funds and advertising can’t buy an election.
Why not? Two brands of the same product may have unique traits to them that make one better than the other, yet one gets sold on a national level and the other remains nothing but a local oddity. It’s all comes down to advertisement- if one product is constantly flashed in front of the general public, it will outsell the rival brands. The same system can be applied to politicians. If two politicians are campaigning for the same office, who’s going to win- the candidate who’s advertised on a car’s bumper sticker or the candidate whose TV ads appear every seven minutes and whose face is plastered over every billboard in the state? Now just because the same strategies that are used in marketing can be used in politics doesn’t mean they should be used. In the end, what we have is the warping of public servants into products to be sold for the highest profits possible. The very purpose of the old corporate spending limits was to prevent one candidate from having an unfair advantage over his rivals solely on basis that his politics are favorable to corporations. With the limits gone, what’s there to prevent a candidate, a campaign, or even a whole branch of government from being effectively purchased by a corporation? If corporations now have the power to make or break electoral campaigns, why should politicians even try to serve the people when public opinion is eclipsed by the opinions of tycoons and magnates? What’s to stop the government from becoming a corrupted, withered facade for corporate agendas?

Still, it hasn’t happened yet. We still have the power to resist and demand that our representatives lobby for the reinstatement of corporate spending limits. While it’s still our choice, we can ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.