Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The New Empire Is American as Apple Inc.

In his influential blog post, Empires Then and Now, the former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, Paul Craig Roberts, muses about the nature of the New Empire.  According to Roberts, "the New Empire is different.  It happens without achieving conquest . . . In the New Empire success at war no longer matters.  The extraction takes place by being at war."

In other words, the rules of empire have changed.  Previously, as explored in the aptly named book, The Rules of Empire: Those Who built Them, Those Who Endure Them, and Why They Always Fall, Timothy Parsons maintains that "Empires needed permanently exploitable subjects, not rights-holding citizens to remain viable." 
But as Roberts deftly points out, "Washington’s empire extracts resources from the American people for the benefit of the few powerful interest groups that rule America. . . The American empire works by stripping Americans of wealth and liberty." Effectively, the boundary between citizen and subject has become blurred.

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To push Robert’s analysis just a bit further based on my reading of The Rules of Empire, rights-holding citizens in America have, for the most part, lost the advantages that citizenship traditionally bestows within an empire and have become permanently exploitable subjects.  In short, it is the hard-working, tax-paying American who picks up the bill for the Wall Street Bailout and the continued funding of the monstrous military-security complex.  On the one hand, he or she has become the guarantor of his own economic exploitation; and on the other, he or she enables corporate America to behave as if their corporations were incorporated on the moon, thereby absolving them of any social responsibility to any terrestrial inhabitants, including those in the United States of America.

Essentially, by extending America’s military might around the world -- more than 1000 strategically-located military bases – the American taxpayer creates the means by which Corporate America can rule global trade indirectly.  Without America’s military might the rules of commercial exchange would not be so favorable for corporations owned and directed principally by Americans.  This explains why a financial transactions tax, sometimes better known as the Robin Hood tax, has yet to be implemented in any meaningful way.

One might expect that the average rights-holding American citizen would ultimately benefit from such an arrangement, this is not the case, unless the said rights-holding citizen happens to be a chief executive officer of an American-directed multinational corporation -- like Apple Inc. 

At last week's US Senate hearings, it was determined that despite being the company with the highest net worth in the world, an estimated $185 billion in 2013, Apple Inc. paid little or no corporate taxes on $74 billion over the last four years.

As reported in the New York Times, Congressional investigators found that some of Apple's subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from headquarters in Cupertino, California.  But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless -- exempt from taxes, record keeping laws, and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.

Evidently, the New Empire is being directed by the Boards of Corporate America's expatriated companies that reap the benefits of having achieved success in American markets, selling goods and services to Americans, employing workers educated in America, supported by a regulatory framework made in America, but who are now taking their money and running to embrace a limbo-like status that severs the civic ties between their corporate rights-holding status and the citizens at large.

Even though they owe the very existence to the legal charter granted by the citizens in which state they were incorporated and now enjoy the rights normally accorded to citizens, again enshrined by the publicly-funded justice system, these expatriated companies, like Apple Inc., have seceded  from the Union.

Indeed, many would identify corporations like Apple and General Electric with the United States but in reality they fly their own flags, and by their corporate behavior demonstrate that their primary allegiance is to their shareholders and not to the American citizens at large.

Saddled with a mountain of debt, witness to a crumbling infrastructure, hoping to eek out a meager existence from social security benefits, millions of Americans can only hope for a better future, while the financiers and members of the corporate executive class amass Great Gatsby-like fortunes in the absence of any empathetic bonds with their fellow citizens.

At the same time we witness the decline of the old American Empire founded upon the spirit of republicanism, we behold the rise and ascension of the New Empire anchored in the belief of unfettered individualism.

Indeed, a new, revised motto should be inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of this teeming shore.  Keep these, the homeless, tempest-tost from me, while I slip out behind the golden door.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oh Canada, How Long Will You Remain an English Settler State?

The latest statistics from the National Household Survey indicate that one out of five Canadians was born outside of the country.  The report states that "Canada is a nation with an ethnocultural mosaic as indicated by its immigrant population, the ethnocultural backgrounds of its people, the visible minority population, linguistic characteristics and religious diversity.”

So, given this demographic trend, the question that needs to be asked is how long are we going to hold onto a system of governance anchored in our days as a Dominion?
Our head of state, Queen Elizabeth, is, for an ever increasing percentage of the population, a foreign monarch.  As the Canadian population becomes more and more diverse, does there come a point in time when the continued cultural grounding of the nation’s identity in one particular group identity become antiquated?

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For example, when Canada celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1967 and I was a school boy living on the prairies, we would rise and sing “God Save the Queen” to begin the school day.  Back then, it seemed like the right thing to so.  Today, I can’t imagine any school board in Canada requiring that their students sing Britain’s national anthem.  Times have changed.

So, what happens when, in the near future, Queen Elizabeth’s reign comes to an end?  This is the twenty-first century.  The Commonwealth brings about little if any stirrings of patriotic sentiments.  As a result, wouldn’t it seem rather odd that Prince Charles would become our new head of state?

Oh Canada, our home on native land.    

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Democratic Dreams Were Shattered by Those Who Pilfer the Public Purse in Quebec

Apparently, what I want, I can't have.  I would like to live in a democratic state where I could participate meaningfully in the political decisions to be made. Living in Quebec, however, the most corrupt province or state in North America, my democratic dreams are just that, wishful thinking totally out of touch with the banal reality that surrounds me.

Lately, however, thanks to two public inquiries, the Bastarache Commission that looked into the political influence in play when naming judges, and the Charbonneau Commission that is presently investigating the link between the construction industry and the occult funding of political parties with public funds, I now know why my participation in the electoral process and my subsequent court challenge of the voting system was doomed from the start.

In short, for the last thirty years Quebec general elections and many of the municipal elections have been rigged.

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At the municipal level, engineering firms would find themselves a willing candidate, hire a political organizer, funnel the necessary funds for the electoral campaign, and then recoup their investment when the newly elected municipal council would award the contracts for public works to the engineering firm that in effect had chosen who would become mayor.

At the provincial level, the same engineering firms would oversee a process in which individuals would make the maximum donation ($3000) to the political party leading in the polls, and then reimburse the "donors" who had lent their names to the companies that were by law prohibited to make the donations.  The "donors" were then rewarded by a receiving a tax credit for their fraudulent participation in the scheme. The political party that "won" the election would then subsidize the public works projects put forward by the municipalities.

As witnesses to the Charbonneau Commission continue to expose the workings of this system of corruption and collusion, it is now estimated that approximately 80% of the funding for municipal elections and 70% of the funding for provincial elections came from illegal sources.

In other words, the fix was on.

For those of us who were candidates in those elections, in my case I was a candidate for Quebec's Democratic Action Party in the 2003 general election, a candidate for Quebec's Green Party in the 2007 general election and a by-election in 2008, we were played as chumps; we played by the rules that we thought were in place and contributed to the appearance that a fair election was taking place.

Looking back at my participation in the process, I feel that I have been duped.

The real-politick of the situation is that despite the media's depiction of Quebec elections being a clash of personalities and ideas, they were, in reality, just a manifestation of the bourgeois desire to dip into the public purse.

What makes matters worse is that from what I can tell most Quebecers are largely indifferent to what has transpired.

That they have been played for fools doesn't seem to rile them, certainly less than when university tuition fees were raised modestly.

I guess people here have gotten used to being exploited by a domineering class, first the church, now the business-directed political class.

Bread and Circuses are enough to keep the people happy.

Go Habs Go!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It Ain't About the Economy; It's About Politics

At the outset, when I first began this blog, I wanted to bring to the reader’s attention some of the cultural myths arising from our political economy that we usually take for granted and, as a result, don’t give much thought to, ascribing to them instead, the status of received truth.

Unfortunately, we have dropped the adjective, “political” from the term “political economy” and refer to the subject simply as economics, as if it were indeed a hard science, bereft of human desire, emotion, and irrationality.

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This tell-tale omission brings to mind the admonishments George Orwell made in his essay, “Politics in the English Language”, in particular his claim that political prose was formed “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The pure wind I have in mind is our political penchant to treat the concept of “the economy” as if it were real and not simply an aggregation of selected statistical data.  This reified entity then becomes subject of all types of conjecture concerning what to do to improve its performance. 

At the moment, the “economic” debate is focused on whether to introduce austerity measures in order to reduce the debt that strangles economic growth – it’s hard not to use metaphors that reify the subject when speaking about the economy – or to continue with deficit spending as a kind of fiscal stimulus that will “jump start” the economy and bring back healthy economic growth, like giving an electric jolt to a severed frog’s leg in a high school biology lab.  Maybe it’s time to give the invisible hand a jolt.

Dropping the figurative language to reveal human intention, it doesn’t really matter whether the prescribed course of action is able to achieve the intended results in the selected data sets.  What’s really at issue is whose ox is going to get gored.  Those who propose austerity measures want the poor of today to pay; those who propose fiscal stimulus want to off load the tab to future generations.

As I have said in a previous blog, sometimes you just have to say “fuck the economy”.
If we are ever going to get our economic house in order (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), spending must be balanced by adequate revenues.  In other words, if you don’t got the money, you gonna have to make due with what you got; if you want more, you gonna have to come up with the cash; and nobody wants to pay more than they have to.

Like I was telling you, it ain't about the economy, it's about politics.