Friday, November 26, 2010

Upper Volta with Missiles- and Banks

Ian Williams

Arms and the world’s most powerful man

by Ian Williams
Tribune , November 19th, 2010

Dismissively, but not entirely inaccurately, American commentators used to dismiss the Soviet Union as “Upper Volta with missiles” – a country that failed to provide the goods for its own people, but excelled at military production.

Watching President Barack Obama tour the world, the phrase came back. On his tour, he was selling fighters and transport aircraft to India and Saudi Arabia. He had already offered fighters to Israel (for free, naturally). Taiwan, Japan and others were in line for a visit from the arms salesperson.

Obama gave every indication of trying use military sales, especially aircraft, to stimulate the United States economy and provide jobs. There is a reason for that. When the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era straddled the Atlantic, manufacturing collapsed in both countries, and subsequent governments in Washington and London effectively encouraged the process in the name of free trade and free markets.

As a result, the US, like the Soviet Union, hardly produces anything anyone wants to buy except agricultural commodities and weapons. The US is now Upper Volta with missiles – and banks, of course.

Britain sells a lot of weaponry as well, of courser. However, in the absence of fields of waving soya beans, it is probably more like desert-like Chad with missiles and banks. Aneurin Bevan once famously said: “This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time.”

Bevan would probably not have been surprised that the organising genius that closed down the coalmines and fished out the surrounding seas was Adam Smith’s invisible hand, but he would have been eloquently scathing about the all too visible hands from his own party that applauded the process and furthered it.

Indeed, he did not even know that, as well as fish, the seas were filled with oil and gas. Once again, he would not necessarily have been surprised that Thatcher’s Tory Government squandered the revenue from them to pay the costs of making the miners and countless other manufacturing workers unemployed.

Now we have another Reagan-Thatcher-style convergence. The British Government is pursuing policies of the kind that brought in the Great Depression on both sides of the Atlantic and, sadly, any plans that Obama had to stimulate the economy are now likely to fall foul of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Republican and New Democrat coalition in the Senate.
Under George W Bush, the rich fed themselves cake and took bread from the poor. In the face of a mounting deficit and two expensive wars, Congress voted for a package of tax cuts which overwhelmingly benefited the filthy rich, who seem to have used the money to pour into bubbling derivatives and bring about the current crisis.

The one small compromise the Democrats extracted was that this looting of the public purse would expire at the end of this year.

Now the resurgent Republicans want to extend them all – even as they wail, gnash teeth and don sackcloth and ashes about the size of the fiscal deficit. Somehow, the Democrats, including Obama, have been unable to take the field against this obscene absurdity. The obvious response is to extend the tax cuts for the lower and middle income people, but not the filthy rich and to say so, vigorously and viciously, while pointing out what they would do to wipe away the crocodile tears of conservatives concerned about the deficit.

But they seem mesmerised. In the face of callous class warfare on a scale unimagined since the age of the robber barons, Obama and friends seem worried that it would not seem “responsible” to go against the plutocrats who financed the recent successful electoral assault on them. And it does not help that, like Ed Miliband, Obama has to overlook the policies of his Democratic predecessors. The now understandably forgotten “Third Way” of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair used exactly the same rhetoric and hidebound free market ideology that is now being brandished by Cameron and Eric Cantor, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

Despite all Obama’s weaknesses, the world is a better place than it would have been if he had not been elected. However, while he still has time, he really had better start organising to fight these ideas and their holders with sharper weapons than Clintonian triangulation and, like the new British Labour leader, repudiate the mistakes of his predecessors wherever necessary.
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About The Author
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

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