Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Is United States Government a Paper Tiger?

In a 1956 interview with Anna Louise Strong, Mao described American imperialism as a paper tiger. Of course, the military strength of the United States is unparalleled, especially because this country accounts for about half of worldwide military spending. Even so, the last three significant wars have shown that the country has been unable to defeat weak, relatively impoverished countries. Yes, the US government can bully small countries to make concessions in order to avoid having their government overthrown or experiencing a bout of humanitarian bombing.
In another sense, however, the government is a paper tiger, which has been domesticated by big-money. We’re coming down to the world of one lobbyist, one vote. Even if the government wanted to aggressively corral business, the global economy allows sufficient escape routes to make business feel secure. For example, tax havens make it virtually impossible to collect significant revenue from major corporations.

Rather than seeing the government as a source of power, more and more, is becoming an agent of redistribution, in which the taxes that it does collect are efficiently given back to powerful interest groups. This phenomenon becomes especially pronounced with the elimination or privatization of virtually every public service expected of a healthy government.

Domestically, the government can project power by regulating individual behavior, well on its way to create a virtual panopticon. A young person downloading music or a sick person seeking relief from marijuana, or even a woman fearing that her pregnancy could threaten her health will may all feel the power of the government. Police in battle gear can bully people seeking redress from their government. In contrast, a major corporation spewing toxins that do great harm to generations of people has nothing to fear.

At the same time, financialization, deindustrialization, the destruction of education, the decline in healthcare for the masses, and many other symptoms of toxic neoliberalism threaten to eventually undermine the grotesque military power of this country, eventually making the US into Mao’s version of a paper tiger. Or, to be less extreme, a second rate power, comparable to previous imperial powers, such as Holland or England.

Obama’s Payroll Tax Cut

When the cut was first announced, I wrote that it seemed to pose a threat to Social Security. Now, a few of the Democrats, especially Bernie Sanders, seem to be picking up on the risk to Social Security. What would have stopped Obama from making it a tax rebate in which the treasury would not have to leave the fingerprint on the Social Security system. Besides, it could be targeted to people who made under x millions of dollars a year. Of course, really smart CEOs do not have to pay the tax. They can take a one dollar salary, then cash in stock options instead.

Dithering in Durban

A student wanted extra time to finish his final paper. He promised to start thinking about it in 2015 and would have it completed by 2020. He wondered if he could get a passing grade by the end of this semester. I considered the request. After all, that seems to be the plan for a climate change compact in Durban. Should he be treated differently than our distinguished representatives?

Climate Change Proposal

If a large number of countries wish to band together to limit climate change, could they impose a tariff on imports from countries that do not limit CO2 production, accusing the non-compliant of taking advantage of an unfair trade practice?

Occupy Chico State

On Thursday morning while riding to school, the main entrance was blocked with police tape. Supposedly someone had called in a bomb threat. Later during the day, my office building was evacuated because of some kind of mechanical malfunction. Finally, a fire drill set off alarms and forced us to leave the gym. All that seemed like a series of curious coincidences.

That night I was scheduled to give a talk at the Occupied Chico State teach-in, which was supposed to be followed by a take-over of the administration building. Because of the (phony?) bomb threat, the building was locked down early.

I had intended to discuss a sequence of the Bonus March, the GI Bill, which made higher education more accessible, then Reagan’s 1966 institution of tuition for the previously tuition-free university system, culminating in the mess we have today. On Friday, I gave a brief overview of the talk on our local NPR station.

Here is our unedited conversation.