Yappy Trade Barriers

Those who are politicized will know what the title of my weblog means. I will provide an explanation for it in this rambling post. Bear with me.

I could have gone with something else and I can’t say that yappy trade barrier is a dynamite name, but it’s actually not bad. My interests include politics and most of my reading is about politics. I don’t read fiction. Therefore, a blog name that reflects that reality is reasonable. That doesn’t mean that I intend to restrict my commentary to political subjects. And it doesn’t mean that my political commentary will be the most insightful you’ll find. I operate very much in isolation. I don’t have contacts and am no kind of insider.

And right now, the books I rely on for information and quotes are packed away because I wanted to be ready to move. That’s not going so well. No apartment and the life is on hold. I’ve had to dig into a couple of boxes, and create chaos in my apt, for this post. Poverty sucks.

Noam Chomsky in his younger days

My interest in politics began after I read a Toronto Star review of Noam Chomsky’s book DETERRING DEMOCRACY (Verso, 1991), picked it up and read it. So, I’ve been into politics for about 18 years now. Incidentally, The Star’s review of books these days is fine as far as fiction and literature and the odd history book go. But it’s reviews are not helpful to those of us who need to know what’s going on in the world. But we can get that assistance elsewhere. – See the Chomsky page, which links to Chomsky’s websites, at the Third World Traveller website where you’ll find excerpts of much of Chomsky’s writings, including DETERRING DEMOCRACY. (The link to TWT’s homepage is re-directing me to something called Interactive Investor, for which reason I’ll skip it. The other TWT link, below, to another part of their website seems okay.)

*Incidentally, In my writing I like to capitalize book titles. It’s just an easy way for readers to know right away that I’m (most likely) referring to a book. I have to confess, I actually don’t like using all caps that way because it’s ugly and loud. But I’m big on clarity. Maybe I’ll drop that practice. I’ll have to think about it.

It took me a while to get a handle on what Chomsky was saying in DETERRING. One, I had no knowledge of politics at all. Two, Chomsky’s style of writing took me a while to get used to. He tends to be very ironic, saying things like “The U.S. invaded Haiti, of course, to restore democracy there.” And if you are not politicized, let alone not familiar with Chomsky, then you will be confused when that statement doesn’t seem to be what he’s explaining.

I just went and dug out a quote, after digging DETERRING DEMOCRACY out of a box, after digging through half a dozen of them. Sheesh! Consider:

“When Woodrow Wilson invaded Mexico and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) – where his warriors murdered and destroyed, reestablished virtual slavery, demolished the political system, and placed the countries firmly in the hands of of US investors – these actions were in self-defense against the Huns.” -pg 34

I loved DETERRING DEMOCRACY. It was information overload, a good thing if you are looking for information. I’m very thankful that my first exposure to politics was via a Chomsky book.

Now for an explanation of ‘yappy trade barrier’. The world today is ruled, mainly, by corporations, even if it looks like it’s ruled, mainly, by politicians and governments. Capitalists and politicians rule jointly. When the capitalist classes and the political classes of the world run nations and exclude the majority from all policy- and decision-making, then you have, specifically, corporations and elites running things, since governments are only tools. That’s called fascism. (Third World Traveller again)

I was going to say that corporations reflect the thinking of one segment of the population, namely the capitalist class. But I don’t think I will. In some small ways that may be true. But it’s more accurate, I think, to state that capitalists have different interests and for certain purposes different needs than others in society. But, as I am fond of pointing out, the world, generally, plays the great Darwinian game of ‘riches for the strongest’. And what I’m always trying to get people to understand is that the need isn’t to win in that game, but rather, the need is for a better game, namely one in which everyone wins. Then again, Should losers win? Losers are those who simply choose to rebel against The Plan. They are the self-righteous ones who think, conveniently, that man is God, who come to view playing ‘riches for the strongest’ as the only sensible way to approach life.

Still, If governments were truly representative – there are still socio-economic factors to consider – then they would not favor any segment of society over another. They would truly be by and of and for (all of) the people. And ‘the people’, in a positive sense, would rule – for now.

Our governments are bought and paid for, in the main, by corporations and the rich and are therefore supportive of the philosophy and outlook of those members of society. The people are left with formal, fake democracy.

The people appear to have some choice in the electoral markeplace, but even the little choice they seem to have (just two business parties in the U.S. for example) is an illusion. Our choices are limited to selecting representatives from a small slate of candidates who belong to parties with the same basic outlook and the same loyalties. They believe in free markets, capitalism, small government, tax cuts, privatization, fighting deficits and law and order. There are small differences between these establishment politicians, which are as you can imagine played up and dramatized, with help from the major media, but the choices don’t include politicians who seriously question free market dogma and other rightwing positions.

Sometimes, as we saw with Barack Obama recently, a campaigning politician will lie outright about his intentions in order to gain public support. Barack has told Americans who lack health care protection that he is going to reform health care. His ‘reforms’ will in fact strengthen the stranglehold that unprincipled, greedy insurance companies have on health care in America. Notes an International Socialist Review editorial: “Although Obama made a pitch for a genuine public option a main point of his health reform plan during the campaign, even he speaks less and less about it today. As a candidate in the Democratic primaries last year, Obama assailed Hillary Clinton for advocating a health plan that forced individuals to buy insurance. As president, Obama recently signaled his willingness to support just such a scheme, long desired by the health insurance industry.” See the July/ August ’09 issue of ISR.

Those who pay attention knew before Obama was sworn in that he was just another rightwing politician ready to defend American imperialism and the corporatocracy that uses it. His cabinet picks certainly indicated that he was in that camp.

Noam Chomsky talks a lot about that lack of electoral choice and about the elites’ view of democracy. Consider:

“The political and social history of Western democracies records all sorts of efforts to ensure that the formal mechanisms are little more than wheels spinning idly. The goal is to eliminate public meddling in policy formation. That has largely been achieved in the United States, where there is little in the way of political organizations, functioning unions, media independent of the corporate oligopoly, or other popular structures that might offer people means to gain information, clarify and develop their ideas, put these forth in the political arena, and work to realize them. As long as each individual is facing the television tube alone, formal freedom poses no threat to privilege.” -pg 76 of DETERRING DEMOCRACY

Noam Chomsky told me that he doesn’t believe in God. I do. And I’m impressed with his representative, Jesus Christ’s, ideas and activism. Here is Luke’s account of an exchange Jesus had with his imperfect closest disciples: “However, There also arose a heated dispute among them over which of them seemed to be greatest. But he said to them: “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. You, though, are not to be that way. But let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering. For which one is greater, the one reclining at the table or the one ministering. Is it not the one reclining at the table? But I am in your midst as the one ministering.”” -Luke 22:24-27 of the Christian Bible

Consider those all important “free trade” deals that corporatocracy governments like to make. It’s been estimated that something like only 14 or 15 per cent of what is referred to as ‘free trade’ actually is free trade. Mostly, Free trade deals are intended to transfer political and economic power from people to capitalists and corporations. Critics refer to them as charters of corporate rights. One author notes that in all of the some 700 pages of the North American Free Trade Agreement there was no mention of the negative impact on regular Mexicans that the pact would cause. These agreements wouldn’t discuss such things for the reason that they are intended to bring gains for a minority at the expense of the majority, so Why therefore would you mention or focus on people in a free trade agreement? (See Justin Justin Akers Chacon’s ISR article in their July/ August ’07 issue.)

And yet, As Noam Chomsky points out, When they proposed a free trade deal (desired by big, powerful corporations that wanted to consolidate their gains, not compete) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, a now defunct U.S. government organization, namely Congress’s very useful (to all citizens) and effective Office Of Technology Assessment, stated clearly that all three signatories to the pact would be harmed. People were being considered in the report. “In fact, NAFTA is a remarkable success: it’s the first trade agreement in history that’s succeeded in harming the populations of all three countries involved. That’s quite an achievement. Furthermore, this was predictable – and predicted. For example, it was predicted by the Office of Technology Assessment, Congress’s own research bureau, which did an analysis of NAFTA and predicted that if it went through by the White House plan, it would in fact harm the people of all three countries. They suggested alternatives that might not have had that effect. The US labor movement said exactly the same thing. None of this appeared in discussions in the United States because it was blacked out of the free press.” -pg 99 of ROGUE STATES – THE RULE OF FORCE IN WORLD AFFAIRS, by Noam Chomsky (South End Press, 2000) Are we clear on what ‘free press’ here means?

Neoliberal capitalism, which in my view is just ripe or fully blossomed capitalism, is about capitalism as practiced by extremists. They are often referred to as market fundamentalists. I don’t know whether I care for that description. (Christians who ‘deviate’ from Bible teachings, and what the Bible fundamentally teaches therefore, are called, pejoratively, fundamentalists. And there may be a connection – tit for tat? – between the two situations.) Let’s call them free market zealots, keeping in mind that ‘they’ would call the markets they manage ‘free’, not us.

It’s easy enough to remember what ‘neoliberal’ means. Just isolate the ‘liberal’ part of the word and consider it and it’s variations and synonyms. Capitalists never stop demanding, in different ways, more freedom or ‘liberty’, regardless of the fairness of their demands and regardless of the impact on others, and the environment, should they get their way. The constant clamour for tax cuts is one example of that behavior.

Over the years, corporations, aided and abetted by capitalist governments, have shifted the tax burden dramatically from themselves to the majority, while also shedding workers, freezing wages and cutting benefits. In other words, Tax cuts aren’t free. The majority pays for them. Often the tax cuts are made to look like a positive, but when they are across the board, they impact on poor people disproportionately, since poor people have to spend most of their income and don’t have much money. The more you have, the more you get when you get a tax cut. And the more you can save. As well, The rich have simply decreed, as Linda McQuaig points out, that they shall not be taxed, and so they are taxed less and sometimes not at all. And they’ve managed to greatly reduce wealth taxes in Canada. Their political partners have acceded to demands to shift taxes from the progressive taxing of income to a more regressive taxing of commodities, affecting those who have to spend most of their income to survive. “We don’t have a progressive tax system because the rich have indicated that they don’t want one.” -from the Introduction in BEHIND CLOSED DOORS – HOW THE RICH WON CONTROL OF CANADA’S TAX SYSTEM… AND ENDED UP RICHER

When endless tax cuts to the well off, and endless loopholes that allow them to skip paying their fair share, along with unemployed people turning to social assistance and EI, help to drain treasuries, governments then whine about deficits. And what is their ‘solution’ to the problem of deficits that their business-inspired policies create? They cut social spending. Those tax cuts and other freebies (to capitalists) are now even more needed, we get told, in order to boost confidence among capitalists and investors, blah, blah. They are a different species apparently, responding positively to rewards and encouragement, unlike poor people who need austerity and to be constantly reminded to not live beyond their means and to get a job and to quit relying on the government – without which ‘capitalists’ would be so screwed.

Of course, there’s opportunity in such a program of abuse. Governments that create deficits can then use them to defund publicly funded social programs and institutions. That opens up opportunities for a private sector that is constantly stealing pieces of the public sector, with help from political allies. The big prize these days, of course, is our publicly funded healthcare system. Personally, I don’t expect it to survive. For one thing, It’s a socialistic (if you like) program within an uber capitalist society. For another thing, The people here are their own worst enemy, for they have bought the idea that the free market (as they know it), is decreed from on high and socialism is to be shunned as evil. They want their Tommy Douglas health care system, but they aren’t willing to ditch the capitalist system that it is dissolving in. Folks must know where that’s going, even if they don’t want to think about it.

Naomi Klein has written a book titled THE SHOCK DOCTRINE – THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM. She, and others before her, explains how this works. It’s the way this godless world works. I simply posit that the organizing principle (as a result of the sum of choices made by most people) of this godless civilization is ‘riches for the strongest’. We are talking about the same world her and I and often, but not always, saying the same things about it.

Capitalists get freedom from care. Little people get the freedom to care, in spades. We get fear, stress, high blood pressure (I take two different pills a day, although I’m supposed to take three different pills a day) and it’s all very enervating. Elites are pleased. It helps to keep us distracted, leaving them to their devices.

Trade deals are about the right corporations have to always, everywhere, get what they want and never share or give. Penalties are clearly laid out for governments that may be inclined to listen to voters who (seemingly) put them in office. There’s no penalty for a government that is doing what both the capitalist class and the people want. But when a government has to decide between something that voters want and something else that capitalists want, then governments usually side with their private sector partners. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t vote for those private sector actors. It’s no use being naive about it.

But that is how I can be a ‘trade barrier’. It’s got nothing to do with actual free trade, but neither do free trade deals have to do with actual free trade. It’s just the way things are, with corporations having control of governments who have acceded to demands for implementation of trade deals that are in fact corporate charters of rights. Therefore, When citizens want, or don’t want, something – and often that involves a serious matter having to do with harmful products or harmful corporate practices that impact human health and/or the environment – then you can bet that they are violating some rule or law and they therefore risk paying for it. In capitalists’ (lawyerly) lingo, those citizens are proving to be barriers to trade.

Remember the Chretien government’s capitulation to Virginia-based Ethyl Corporation over it’s suit against the Canadian government for banning it’s toxic gasoline additive MMT? Chretien knew that it was toxic and continued to claim that it was toxic after he became Prime Minister in 1993, when his government banned the import of MMT. But he also had to contend with the newly inked free trade deal between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico (NAFTA for North American Free Trade Agreement), and his concerns for the health of voters who put him in office had to be put aside in order to deal with the legal challenge to his ban. Canadians ended up compensating Ethyl ($20 million is one figure I’ve seen) and had to allow it’s additive into their market, while the U.S., which forced this lopsided agreement on us, was free to ban MMT. Nice huh? (See “September 2004: Filling Our Tanks (And Brains) With The Wrong Fuel,” by Ed Finn, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and “NAFTA At Ten,” by John W. Foster, Canadian Dimension magazine ) Later, MMT was abandoned by auto makers here, and elsewhere, because it was problematic for mechanical reasons. I don’t know exactly where things stand now.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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6 Responses to Yappy Trade Barriers

  1. Mike Harmon says:

    Thanks for posting the article, was certainly a great read!

  2. arby says:

    My pleasure Mike. I think this software, or this software as implemented by Baywords, is buggy. I had an email notifying me of your comment. It contained a couple links, one to my dashboard and one to my Baywords login. I clicked on the Baywords login first, unintentionally, and I was given the message ‘Caution. You are about to delete this post. Are you sure you want to do that?’ Gosh!

    Bear that in mind if you post something simple and civilized and it disappears from my Baywords or someone else’s. I’m wondering, when they don’t have support of any sort (that I can see), whether this wobbly venture will survive. We (poor?) bloggers really need a company like this to support our activisim blogging. Having a blog that you use for support certainly doesn’t work. Maybe they saw that people, like myself, were starting to use it that way and thought it would be best to freeze activity on it until they get someone to host a support forum, or they do so themselves. I hope that’s the case.

    Cheers.

  3. Bulkypix says:

    This wonderful phrase have just by the way

    • arby says:

      What phrase are you referring to Bullypix? Are you referring to my blog title or the title of this post? If you are, I should point out that I didn’t originate it. I saw a picture of an activist somewhere holding a sign saying “I am a trade barrier.” I can’t remember the image exactly. But I remember the message. I didn’t get it at the time. When I thought about more, it clicked.

  4. crystal says:

    Hi, this is Crystal from the coffee shop across from where you work. Honestly, i am so impressed by your blog! It totally exceeded my expectations. You are a truly talented writer! You have an incredibly casual and laid back approach that works beautifully to make a serious subject very understandable and entertaining. I really loved it! It’s so well done. Congrats!! i’ll be reading every one of your posts for sure!

    • arby says:

      Hi Crystal! I’m so glad you popped in. Glad you like what you see. I appreciate the encouragement as well. I’ll be seeing you soon. Later…

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