From the US International Socialists:
Above: Obama and Cruz
The good cop/bad cop routine in Washington
The Republicans may not get away with defunding Barack Obama’s health care law, but they’re pushing ahead with all their favorite anti-worker, pro-business measures.
THE LATEST congressional showdown over federal spending–with another threat of another government shutdown looming over it all–is starting to look like a bad TV police drama, ending with a familiar scene of “good cop/bad cop.”
The “bad” cop: the Republicans, led by foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Partiers like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, threatening a shutdown of the federal government unless Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is defunded.
The “good” cop: the Obama administration and the Democrats, loudly insisting that they’ll never give up on health care reform or let the government close because they care about working people–while quietly agreeing to many of the cuts and concessions that the Republicans want, and claiming they’re being “responsible” for doing so.
The two sides seem so far apart that they’ll never agree on anything, but we all know how “good cop/bad cop” works. The Republicans and Democrats are getting much more of what they each want than anyone lets on–and the target of their routine, which in this case is tens of millions of working-class Americans, is getting played.
The same scene has spun out over and over during the Obama presidency–the Republicans playing the part of the budget-cutting maniacs, pushing hard to shred the social safety net altogether, while the Democrats act like they’re powerless to do anything about it, and then go along with most of what the Republicans want.
The Democrats support the least-worst “realistic” option–and claim it’s the best they can do.
At the end of 2010, after almost two years in office, Obama and the Democrats finally acted on their campaign promise to rescind the Bush-era tax cuts for the super-richest of Americans. Even though a majority of people supported them, even though the Democrats were still a majority in both houses of Congress, the Democrats agreed to a two-year extension of the tax cuts for the rich, in return for a temporary extension of supplemental unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.
In the summer of 2011, the Obama administration needed an act of Congress to raise the debt ceiling or the U.S. government would go into default–but the Republicans refused even Obama’s offer of a “grand bargain” to impose three times as much reduction in spending, including Social Security and Medicare, as increases in tax revenues. Even Corporate America warned against the Republicans’ game of chicken with the world economy. But it was the Democrats who capitulated, agreeing to even deeper spending cuts.
There were more showdowns at the start of 2013, in the wake of an election that Obama won easily. The outcome: Obama agreed to $85 billion in federal spending cuts, including furloughs of thousands of federal workers and cuts to supplement jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
If this is “standing up” to the Republicans, you don’t want to know what caving in looks like.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
NOW, THERE’S another looming government shutdown, and the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block. October 1 is supposed to be the start date of the new state-based “insurance exchanges,” created under the 2010 health care law, where individuals who don’t have health insurance can go to obtain “minimal essential” coverage. If they don’t, they risk paying penalties with their taxes.
The individual “mandate” will force millions and millions of new customers into the arms of private insurers–and leave billions and billions of dollars in their bank accounts. The insurance giants knew there were windfall profits to be made from a new health care law, which is why their lobbyists were in place to help shape the legislation–to make sure, for example, that there was no “public option” for mandated insurance that would compete with private companies.
That was the “inside” strategy, while the Republicans represented the “outside” strategy–continual obstructionism to make sure the Democrats continued to compromise on every question.
This “Plan B” continues today. Last week, the Republican-controlled House voted–almost exactly on party lines–to continue funding federal government operations after the cutoff date of September 30, but to defund the ACA. With a tear in his eye, House Speaker John Boehner called this a “victory for the American people and a victory for common sense.”
Then, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took the fight to the Senate, where he staged his own filibuster on Tuesday, claiming that the Democrats were willing to risk a government shutdown rather than put the brakes on the health care law.
Most Senate Republicans distanced themselves from Cruz. But they don’t want to distance themselves from the assault on the health care law. Thus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he disagrees with the threat to shut down the government as of September 30–but he’s just fine with gutting the ACA.
The ACA is a far cry from what’s needed to provide access to affordable health care in the U.S. But that’s not why Republicans are opposing it. From Boehner to Cruz and the others, the Republicans’ fierce opposition to “Obamacare” is another example of playing politics with people’s lives for personal gain–sometimes very personal gain.
While Cruz says his stance on health care is all about the folks back home in Texas, there’s a much bigger influence on him. In May, he was among the special guests at an exclusive party thrown by the arch-conservative oil billionaire Koch Brothers in Palm Springs, Calif.
At the “party,” the Kochs outlined a new focus for Republicans, working toward smaller government and deregulation rather than pressing losing social issues like immigration. Cruz, one of the “rising stars” at the event, is an important part of the project.
The Koch Brothers are up to their elbows in the crusade against Obama’s health care law. In the run-up to the October 1 start-up of the insurance exchanges, they’re backing a campaign to get people to not sign up. For example, a Virginia-based organization with ties to the Kochs is running a campaign of television ads–complete with gynecological exams being performed by a spooky Uncle Sam figure–aimed at scaring off college students and young people.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are more than happy to have fanatics like Cruz attacking them in Congress–it helps them look like they’re trying to get something done. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that the Democrats would reject any attempts by Cruz and others to gut the ACA–but he invited advice from “responsible” Republicans on even more compromises in a thoroughly compromised law.
The Republicans won’t get away with defunding the health care law as long as the Democrats control the Senate. But in the meanwhile, they’re loading up spending legislation with all their favorite anti-worker, pro-business measures: means-testing for Medicare, medical liability “reform,” shredding the federal employee retirement system, eliminating the Dodd-Frank financial regulations passed in 2010, weakening the Environmental Protection Agency, restricting other federal regulators, and expanding offshore energy production.
With Democrats talking tough about the ACA, but showing their willingness to compromise on other questions, who knows how many of these pet projects of the right–most of them considered fringe issues for many years–will make it into the “compromise” that ends this latest crisis.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
THE LACK of a real debate over health care has had an effect–opinion polls reflect the effects of the confusion being sown by the Republicans. Some 42 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the ACA, compared to only 37 percent with a positive view, according to an August poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Republican scaremongering has had a lot to do with that result–but it also shows the widespread misgivings about the real inadequacies that have been exposed about the health care law.
Amid the phony debate about Obamacare, there’s a real health care emergency taking place in America. Last year, some 48 million people–about 15 percent of the population–went without health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A quarter of people who earn less than $25,000 annually don’t have health insurance.
“Reform” as it exists in the Obama health care law–rife with loopholes, compromises and watered-down provisions–won’t come close to fixing this gap. The ACA won’t confront skyrocketing health care costs or reform the wasteful and inefficient way for-profit health care is delivered.
But the opposition to the law in Washington isn’t only about the ACA. We’re seeing the same script play out: Intransigent Republicans go on the attack–with or without a majority–and Democrats compromise. For all the flashes of anger and indignation, the good cop and the bad cop end up working together to carry through an austerity agenda that whittles away at the living standards of working people.
Remind you of anything?
This, for instance:
Socialist Worker, Sat 15 Sep 2001
The full horror of the attacks in the US was breaking as Socialist Worker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured.
Nobody knew for sure on Tuesday who was responsible. If it was people from the Middle East it will be because they believe, wrongly, that it is the only way to respond to the horrors they have suffered from the US and other governments. The tragic scenes in New York and Washington are the bitter fruits of policies pursued by the US state.
US president George Bush spoke of terrorist outrages on Tuesday. Yet the state he heads has been responsible for burying men, women and children under piles of rubble. Ten years ago his father sent hundreds of US planes to bomb Iraqi civilians night after night during the Gulf War. They killed over 100,000 civilians and conscripts—’collateral damage’ in the US’s war for oil.
Two years ago the US and NATO bombed towns and cities in Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days. Children, hospital patients, old people—all these and more had as little warning that bombs were about to drop on them as did those who died in the US this week. And the US, backed by Tony Blair, imposes a murderous embargo on the people of Iraq, backed by frequent bombing raids.
In Israel the US supports Ariel Sharon, a war criminal. Israel has murdered over 600 Palestinians in the 11 months of the intifada (uprising). Faced with the might of the US, some people can become so desperate that they try to fight back against this military giant with the limited weapons they have to hand.
They do not have Cruise missiles—so they take to turning a hijacked airliner into a suicide bomb instead. It is not a method that can break US power. Some military officials would have suffered from the explosion at the Pentagon. But many more innocent civilians were killed in New York and Washington. Tuesday’s suicide raids were born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on Earth.
In 1998 the US responded to a bomb attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by blowing up the only medicine factory in the desperately poor country of Sudan, and by bombing Afghanistan. It will be looking for similar revenge now. That will drive more people to hate the US.
It is the responsibility of everyone who is revolted at the lethal world order the US and its allies sit at the top of to offer a way forward. It needs to be based on the mass collective power of ordinary people across the world, and targeted precisely at our rulers.
To slightly misquote PG Wodehouse:
“Loon is calling to loon like mastodons bellowing across primaeval swamps”…
The ad above appears in today’s Daily Telegraph: a good choice as, together with the Mail and Express, it’s become more or less the unofficial mouthpiece of Ukip. Today’s edition also carries the following:
The real impact of ‘loongate’, says James Kirkup, is to expose the “running sore” within the Tory party over core ideals.
With reports of Tory party activists already beginning to defect to Ukip over the comments, which have been attributed to an unnamed close ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Political Editor James Kirkup said the story exposed “a running sore” within the Conservative ranks.
Emerging at the same time a Tory grassroots backlash over gay marriage proposals and following on from the Parliamentary infighting over an EU referendum, the Telegraph reporter said the continued Conservative unrest was making life easy for Ukip.
“Everyday is Christmas if you’re Nigel Farage,” he said.
“Each week that comes by the Tories find a way of splitting, dividing, essentially underlining that strategic fracture that they have on the issues where Nigel Farage harvests votes.”
It’s always worth listening to what intelligent members of the class enemy have to say. Just like serious shop stewards read the Financial Times. We’ve done it before, here at Shiraz Socialist, but intend to do it more regularly, using the heading Enemy Intelligence. Here’s some wise inside info from Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph, on the Tories’ disarray on Europe. Anyone who thinks Labour should meet Ukip half-way, or that there’s a “left wing” case for EU withdrawal (as espoused by the moronic Bob Crow), should read this:
The Tory party’s gone crazy over Europe, and it’s Cameron’s fault
By Benedict Brogan
For a while yesterday, the European flag flew proudly over Michael Gove’s office. The Education Secretary’s vote of no confidence in the EU the day before had made no difference. Whatever others in Whitehall might say, it seemed, the Department for Education remained happily collegiate in matters continental. It had accepted a request to show the flag for Europe Day last week, which was why the circle of gold stars on a deep blue background proclaiming the penetration of Brussels deep into the workings of British governance could be seen flapping erratically in the breeze at the top of Sanctuary Buildings in Great Smith Street. No one raced for the halyards when Mr Gove appeared on television on Sunday morning to announce that he would vote to leave the EU if he could, and it was only at lunchtime yesterday, when the flag’s presence was drawn to the boss’s attention, that his ideological preferences were brought to bear and it was hastily lowered.
The waving of a flag tells us nothing about the Government’s European policy, of course, save perhaps that the EU is more deeply embedded in the fabric of the state than we would like to admit. The speed with which it was whisked off the DfE’s flagpole once it was detected by those who understand the power of symbols tells us plenty, however, about how twitchy the Conservative Party has become since the latest flare-up of its Euro neuralgia. Over the past few days it has, with a troubling degree of deliberation, thrown away the small but growing political advantage it had given itself in recent weeks in order to indulge in another of those interminable arguments about the nature of our relationship with the EU. In the space of a fortnight the Tories have gone from leading a national conversation about Labour’s unsuitability to govern a changing Britain, to staging a public family feud about who emptied the dishwasher last time and where they should go for the holidays. Read the rest of this entry »
“It is very tempting to vote for a collection of clowns or indignant, angry people who promise that somehow they will allow us to take your revenge…
“[UKIP is] against the political class, it is against foreigners, it is against immigrants. But it does not have any very positive policies. They do not know what they are for”
Kenneth Clarke nailed UKIP good and proper when he said that a few days ago. It was refreshing, as well, to hear him endorse Cameron’s 2006 description (now quietly buried by Tory HQ) of them “fruit cakes and loonies and closet racists.”
Farage and his shower, unused to scrutiny and criticism, have been complaining about “a morally reprehensible” “smear campaign” against its candidates in the run-up to this week’s council elections. It’s unfair, and unsporting, they bleat, to pick up on comments their candidates have made on Twitter and Facebook. Well, welcome to the rough-and-tumble world of serious bourgeois politics, Mr Farage: after all you’ve always wanted to be a part of it, haven’t you?
Today’s Daily Mirror carries an excellent exposé of UKIP candidate Alex Wood giving a Nazi salute and with a knife between his teeth (above). His Facebook page contains these comments about Africans:
“If I’m completely honest mate, they disgust me. I mean just look at the mud huts they live in and how they kill each other. It’s quite barbaric.
” This is what UKIP wants to prevent – our country ending up like Africa or some other third world country.”
The Shiraz legal team tell me that I have to point out that Mr Wood denies making those comments: ha ha ha.
Wood has now been suspended from the party and removed as a candidate: but how the hell did he get accepted as a member and selected as a candidate in the first place?
Even before the Wood exposé, UKIP had been forced to suspend another candidate, Anna-Marie Crampton, following these comments on the site Secrets of the Fed in which she claimed that the second world war was “engineered by the Zionists” in order to bring about the creation of the state of Israel. She also claimed that Zionists caused the Holocaust:
“Only the Zionists could sacrifice their own in the gas chambers…It was thanks to them that six million Jews were murdered in the war.”
Again, our legal eagles insist that I inform you that Ms Crampton denies that she made the comments, claiming the site was…ha ha ha…hacked…
What else have we got? Oh yes, there’s retired sheep farmer Susan Bowen, selected to stand in Tintagel, but now removed following the discovery that she used to be in the BNP.
Then there’s Chris Scotton, suspended from membership and as candidate in Leicester, following exposure of his Facebook “liking” for the English Defence League.
Well, at least Farage and his cronies did something about a few of the Nazis in their ranks: but what about Caven Vines, UKIP candidate in Rotherham, with close links to the BNP, who thinks there are too many Muslims in Britain? UKIP have refused to condemn him or, indeed, do anything at all about him.
Nor has they acted against the vice-chairman of Yeovil UKIP, Godfrey Davey, another candidate on Thurday, who tweeted:
“At the rate this government is going we will end up with civil war it will be us or the imegrants [sic]“.
Mr Davey also has views on other issues:
“Every time you give sodomites an inch they want a mile, no pun, pedeophilia here we come [sic].”
I suppose that in comparison with that sort of fascistic filth, UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom’s comments on Radio Five (John Piennar, Monday April 29) that women of child-bearing age shouldn’t be employed because maternity laws are “too draconian” were relatively inoffensive – even if they did amount to encouraging employers to break the law.
This shower of racists and ultra-reactionaries has been given an easy ride until now, mainly because a large section of the print media (the Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph in particular) sympathise with them.
But why hasn’t most of the left been more outspokenly hostile to this bunch of racists, homophobes and all-purpose reactionaries? Today’s Morning Star, for instance, carries an extraordinary editorial headed “Ukip’s just a distraction“, some of which could have come straight from a UKIP press release:
“Farage denies that his party is xenophobic or racist, insisting that opposition to immigration is based on sound economic fears that huge numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians are poised to enter Britain, putting pressure on welfare benefits, state education, the NHS, housing and other social provisions.
“In truth there is no major political party in Britain that hasn’t spouted something similar in recent times to justify tough rhetoric about clamping down on immigration.
“So the jibe of racism could equally be pointed at the Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.”
Surely it couldn’t be that the Morning Star, like the Daily Mail and the Tory ultra-right, rather agrees with UKIP on at least one or two matters?
This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that. http://www.amandla.org.za/amandla-magazine/current-issue/1706-amandla
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »
James Bloodworth (writing at Obliged to Offend in December 2011):
Instead of celebrating … the left should reflect on what a
pig’s ear it’s made of the past 30 years
Ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped appearing in public due to poor health, the
fit and proper reaction to her eventual exit from the earthly realm has been
discussed with increasing regularity by the left.
That rolling news will gloss over her legacy with the empty platitudes of the obsequious is entirely predictable. Nor will it surprise many to see the leading lights of the Labour
Party queuing up to shower the former Prime Minister with praise.
There are, however, plenty of us who haven’t forgotten the lives she destroyed, the
dictators she championed or the unmitigated social disaster set in motion by her
particular brand of finance capitalism. We do not feel the need to do what many
formerly of the left now do, and parrot the dictum that we are ‘all Thatcherites
now’ (just a hint, but when a person says neo-liberal capitalism is ‘inevitable’
what they really mean is that it is desirable). Many of us are not, and never
will be Thatcherites, and we will continue to feel no shame in believing that
there is more to life than the winner-takes-all capitalism she so
unapologetically championed during her lifetime.
There are of course also those, on the other side of the fence, who view Thatcher’s eventual demise as an opportunity to get one over on her family, her friends, and her supporters
in a way that was not possible in an era when her ideas triumphed so
emphatically. In this regard, Margaret Thatcher’s death is not only to be
greeted with sullen contempt, but is to be actively celebrated.
The idea of getting back at this almost mythical figure for the numerous defeats she
inflicted on the left is strong motivation for those planning to crack open the
Champers on learning of her passing. Considering that during her reign she
trounced us at every opportunity, revelled in her victories, and then did it
again, the desire to see the back of the woman is perhaps understandable, even
if the outright celebration of her passing is, to my mind at least, taking
things a bit far.
What we on the left would do well to remember, however,
is that the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher are not going to be dented, let alone
killed-off by the departure of their most famous living embodiment. ‘All the
forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Victor
Hugo once said, and if the left is to recover from the tremendous setbacks it
has suffered during the past 30 years, it is the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher
that must be replaced, not the worn-out figure of an elderly lady.
Rather than celebrating the death of a human being, even a not
particularly endearing one, the left should instead examine with
clear-sightedness where it has gone wrong, how it has behaved and how it can do
better – and boy, can it do better. Considering the complete failure to make any
political inroads since the 2008 banking crash, this should be clearer today
Time and energy spent celebrating the deaths of those who
popularise ideas we dislike is time that would be better spent popularising our
own ideas. With this in mind, morbid celebrations are better left to the
psychologically unhinged. The media already does an effective job in portraying
us as morally detached from the values of the average person; they certainly
don’t need us serving up ammunition on a plate for them.
On the day that Cameron finally capitulated to the little Englanders, xenophobes and closet racists of the anti-EU movement (within and without the Tory Party), and promised them the “in-out” referendum that they believe will take Britain out once and for all, we examine his stated position – achieving some sort of semi-autonomous EU membership.
The incoherence and sheer pointlessness of Cameron’s stance was excellently explained in a recent Times article by Matthew Parris. Now I am well aware that Parris is a former Tory MP and no friend of the working class. His article is written from a bourgeois perspective that Shiraz Socialist self-evidently does not share. Neverthelss, it’s a brilliant demolition of Cameron’s position and might just give pause for thought to some of those on the “left” who think there’s something “progressive” about campaigning against the EU. The article has been edited by me – JD:
As a hard light shines on the Eurosceptics’ glib prospectus of an association with the EU from which we get all the benefits but none of the costs, the conjecture will be revealed as the Never Never Land it always was.
Consider how easily the case against second-tier membership is made: “I don’t think it’s right”‘ David Cameron said earlier this month, “to aim for a status like Norway or Switzerland, where basically you have to obay the rules of the single market but you don’t have a say over what they are.” This is a strong argument and — just as important — it sounds like a strong argument…
…British Euosceptics believe that our present EU membership imposes big burdens on British business. If that’s true, then seeking a new kind of membership would involve lifting those burdens. And if that’s true, then British business would acquire a significant advantage over its continental competitors. And if that’s what we demand, why won’t the rest of Europe reply that a single market means a level playing field, so we must accept the same rules for our businesses as they impose on theirs?
Ask any fair-minded person to assess the following request: “We British want unimpeded and tariff-free access for our widget exports to your widget-buying customers — but, oh, by the way, we’re not going to impose on our employers the employment laws, the product specifications, the limited working week, the workers’ rights, that you impose on yours.”
We’re on to a loser here. How well I remember, from when I was an MP, the fury of British producers and unions at what they felt was “unfair competition” from abroad. We’d be mad to think that the French (for example) woud resist behaving similarly.
There’s only one possible Eurosceptic answer to this. “In logic,” they could say (and do), “you may be right. But Europe needs access to our market even more than we do theirs. We’d have them over a barrel.”
I don’t quite share that confidence: one should never underestimate people’s propensity to cut off noses to spite faces. But let’s say it’s true, and we really do have continental Europe over a barrel. In which case why mess about with any kind of EU membership at all? We could quit completely and say: “Right: give us access to your market in return for access to ours.”
The problem with the case for joining a European Economic Area-style “second tier” is that it is too strong. If we really do have the clout to name our terms of trade with our European neighbours, we don’t need to be in any club. The case for second-class membership (with burdens and costs) becomes, a fortiori, the case for quitting.
It was instructive to follow online responses recently to a Times report on “second class” EU status. A great many readers took the view that despite that pejorative terminology, associate membership sounded like a helpful suggestion. So, I notice, did the arch-Eurosceptic Tory MP John Redwood in his blog: a response I think he’ll come to revise. The balance of The Daily Telegraph‘s online response was more hostile, a common view being that Britain shouldn’t waste time with second-tier membership, but simply quit. I predict that the bulk of British Eurosceptic opinion will in time swing behind the Telegraph readers’ view.
For that, I predict, will be the final effect of proposals for the middle way of a “trade only” second-class membership. Examined in detail, it will lose its allure. Before the next geneal electon, therefore, the debate will polarise towards a simple choice between staying as a full member and leaving.
The new deal that Mr Cameron negotiates will be prety thin and won’t satisfy or evn calm his anti-European critics. Nevertheless, when e holds his referendum he will win it, so long as Labour, too, recommends acceptance. I honestly don’t know which way I would vote in an in-out referendum.
But Eurosceptics will not accept the result and will switch from having urged the PM to stop ducking a referendum to complaining that he held it too early while the eurozone was in the middle of vast internal changes; and so the referendum result won’t count; it will be only interim.
Which of course will be true. But so long as Germany wants us, we’ll carry on as a full member, grumbling and dragging our feet; and old Eurosceptics will die and new ones will be born. And only this is certain — Mr Cameron’s speech will settle nothing. Hey ho.
-Matthew Parris, The Times, Jan 5, 2012.
The grotesque freak-show that is the US Republican Party’s search for a Presidential candidate has already provided us with some almost unbelievable spectacles: a candidate who couldn’t remember his own policies, another who didn’t know where Obama stood on Libya, Mitt Romney cast as a “moderate,” Rick Santorum taken seriously and Newt Gingrich now tipped as the likely winner. Roll up, roll up: the GOP circus is in town!
But of all the weird and wonderful phantasms to have emerged from the foetid miasma of the Republican Party’s flatulence, none can match congressman Ron Paul. He won’t win the nomination, but in his way he’s making at least as big an impact as the front-runners. That’s in part because he’s outspoken, consistent and colourful. It’s also because, alone amongst the candidates, he’s attracting support from sections of the liberal-left in America and further afield.
The British New Statesman magazine, for instance, recently carried an article by Alec MacGillis (senior editor at New Republic) that suggested “Liberals must grapple with their mixed feelings about Paul.” The magazine’s cover billed Paul as “the left’s favourite libertarian.”
Meanwhile at the supposedly left-of-centre Salon.com, one Glenn Greenwald can scarcely contain his enthusiasm for Paul ; after an ass-covering disclaimer (“I am not ‘endorsing’ or expressing support for anyone’s candidacy”), Greenwold goes on to pen a breathless paean to “the only political figure with any sort of a national platform – certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party – who advocates policy views that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial…alone among the national figures in both parties (Paul) is able and willing to advocate views that Americans urgently need to hear.”
What are these views “that Americans urgently need to hear”? Well, Paul is in favour of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, opposes “destructive blind support” of Israel, is critical of the “War on Drugs” and…he’s on record opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “our annual Hate Whitey Day,” and considers that “we can safely assume that 95 per cent of the black males in [Los Angeles] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”
He considers gay rights campaigners to be the “organised forces of perversion,” and that “Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” He has speculated about 9/11 [NB: correction; he was actually referring to the 1993 attack on the WTC -see comments below] being “a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects…” He believes that there are “tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok (sic) for Mossad in their area of expertise.”
He has also given practical advice to militias on how best to organise: “You can’t kill a hydra by cutting off it’s head…Keep group size down…Keep quiet and you’re harder to find…Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. If you have more than one rifle, store it in a hideaway spot…Hide your best eggs from prying eyes. Destroy any documents or discs that become unnecessary…Bojangles Robinson ain’t the only one who can tap. Avoid the phone as much as possible…Remember you’re not alone.”
In fairness, it should be stated that these opinions (and many, many more along similar lines) appeared in a series of newsletters published under his name (“The Ron Paul Report”, “The Ron Paul Newsletter”, “The Ron Paul Survival Guide”) that he published in the 1980′s and 90′s. He doesn’t deny that he authorised the newsletters, or that they generated as much as $1 million dollars per year for him. His defence is (wait for it)…they were written by someone else in his name, and he didn’t bother reading them at the time!
Paul, of course stands in a long-standing US political tradition – one that reached its zenith in the late thirties and early forties: that of Lindbergh. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then listen to what former Paul staffer Eric Dondero says (in an article largely devoted to defending Paul):
“It’s his foreign policy that’s the problem; not so much some stupid and whacky things on race and gays he may have said or written in the past.
“Ron Paul is most assuredly an isolationist. He denies this charge vociferously. But I can tell you straight out, I had countless arguments/discussions with him over his personal views. For example, he strenously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews’ was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks on Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just ‘blowback’ for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.
“I would challenge him, like for example, what about the instances of German U-boats attacking U.S. ships, or even landing on the coast of North Carolina or Long Island, NY. He’d finally concede that that and only that was reason enough to counter-attack against the Nazis, not any humanitarian causes like preventing the holocaust.”
To get a full handle on how bad Paul’s record and positions are, here is a quick rundown. Ron Paul:
- Would abolish the income tax
- Would place the U.S. on the gold standard
- Would allow citizens to engage in trade using gold and silver instead of currency
- Would arbitrarily cut government regulations and believes that regulations only hurt businesses
- Would eliminate the taxation of foreign income
- Is a global warming denier
- Says that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are unconstitutional
- Would eliminate antitrust laws
- Would eliminate the federal minimum wage
- Would eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act and the Copeland Act
- Would eliminate the estate and gift taxes
- Would tax all earners at a 10 percent rate
- Would eliminate tax credits to individuals who are not corporations
- Would eliminate the elderly tax credit, child care credit and earned income credit
- Voted to make it easier to decertify unions
- Opposes Federal Deposit Insurance
- Would revert government spending to 2004 levels and freeze it there
- Opposes raising the debt ceiling for any reason
- Would allow people to opt out of Social Security
- Says that widespread bankruptcy is the stimulus the country needs
- Opposed the auto industry bailouts
- Favors tort reform
- Opposes the regulation of tobacco
- Would protect the ‘privacy’ of online sexual predators and child pornographers on public wi-fi networks
- Would prevent federal courts from protecting citizens who have their rights denied
- Opposed the Motor Voter law
- Would allow states to ban gay marriage
- Sponsored the Marriage Protection Act
- Would repeal affirmative action
- Would limit the scope of Brown v. Board of Education
- Says that emergency rooms should be able to turn away undocumented immigrants
- Opposes the Americans With Disabilities Act
- Voted anti-choice more than 90 times as a member of Congress
- Voted to eliminate all international family planning funds
- Voted for the Stupak amendment banning abortion coverage by private health insurance companies
- Voted in favor of fetal personhood laws
- Would eliminate all funding for Planned Parenthood
- Would ban flag burning
- Would weaken regulation of dietary supplements
- Supports a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research
- Opposes subsidies for prescription drugs for seniors
- Opposes mandatory vaccinations
- Would expand offshore oil drilling
- Would increase mining on federal lands
- Would weaken the Clean Air Act
- Would repeal the Soil and Water Conservation Act
- Would weaken the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
- Would eliminate departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor
- Would eliminate the Environmental Protection agency
- Would eliminate FEMA
- Would eliminate the Federal Reserve
- Would eliminate the Occupational Health and Safety Administration
- Would eliminate AmeriCorps
- Would eliminate spending to combat AIDS overseas
- Would eliminate gas taxes
- Opposes the census gathering demographic data on Americans
- Opposed the dismantling of U.S. nuclear missile silos
- Wanted to withdraw the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
- Wants to claim the Panama Canal as sovereign U.S. territory
- Opposes the International Criminal Court
- Would withdraw the U.S. from the U.N.
- Supports the electoral college and believes that the U.S. is not a democracy
- Believes that we have no right to health care
- Would eliminate birthright citizenship
- Believes that law enforcement can’t help people, only armed citizens can prevent violence
- Would allow the legal sale of unpasteurized milk
- Believes that groups of people don’t have rights, only individuals do
- Believes that government cannot redistribute wealth in any way
- Believes in the concept of ‘jury nullification’, the idea that a jury can judge not only the facts in a case but the justness of the law itself
- Believes that social welfare should be in the hands of individuals only, not government
Anyone that still thinks that a “progressive” vote for Paul is a legitimate vote under any circumstances doesn’t know what the word “progressive” means. And a “left” that has even the tiniest tincture of sympathy for this thoroughgoing reactionary, racist, homophobe, conspiracy-nut and isolationist, is a “left” that has completely lost its moral and political bearings.
Unlike most reputable critics (Philip French in the Observer, and Stephen Marche in the New York Times, for instance), I thoroughly enjoyed Roland Emmerich’s new film ‘Anonymous.’ It’s splendidly acted, frequently funny, quite exciting at times, and visually superb in conjuring up Tudor London. As an entertaining romp based upon a self-evidently silly conspiracy theory about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, it’s fine. The only problem is that, apparently, Emmerich and his scriptwriter John Orloff, are serious about the ‘anti-Stratfordian’ thesis and have promoted it as part of a campaign to undermine Shakespeare and promote Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the true author of the plays. Orloff has (allegedly) claimed that the film “is unbelievably historically accurate…stunningly accurate.”
Now, ’anti-Stratfordian’ conspiracy theories have been around for over 200 years and the less bizarre contenders for Shakespeare’s crown have included Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and John Donne. But in recent years the claim of de Vere has come to the fore, enthusiastically promoted by ‘Oxfordians’ on both sides of the Atlantic.
‘Oxfordians’ claim that de Vere’s artistocratic life as a favourite of Queen Elizabeth and in particular, his ‘grand tour’ of Europe and a year spent in Italy in 1576, make him the obvious candidate. What they tend to be less willing to acknowledge is the profoundly reactionary political underpinning of their belief, based as it is upon the views and theories of the first ‘Oxfordian’, a man called (wait for it) Thomas Looney and the ’positivist’ movement of which he was a leading figure: they hated modernity, capitalism and democracy in all its forms and longed for a return to feudalism and a hierachical (if benevolent) society. But it’s not necessary to go into the minutia of positivism in order to undersand the driving motivation of the Oxfordian movement: pure snobbery (something that the de Vere Society’s website makes little attempt to hide). How could this grammar school-educated, lower-middle class provincial malt dealer and money-lender have written these great works dealing with history, foreign lands and royal courts? No: it has to have been an aristocrat. Obligingly, Anonymous, portrays Shakespeare as a drunken, semi-literate lecher and fraudster (not to mention probable murderer).
Never mind the inconvenient facts that there is not a shred of evidence to connect deVere to the plays, that what survives of deVere’s own writing is little more than doggerel, or that he died in 1604, before about 10 of Shakespeare’s plays were written. It’s all a big conspiracy, don’t you see? It’s a cover-up by the so-called “experts” – the same sort of people who deny that 9/11 was an inside job or that Princess Diana was murdered.
The admirable James Shapiro deals with the conspiracy theories and the dodgy politics here. It’s an uncharacteristically polemical piece from the normally amiable and tolerant Mr Shapiro – maybe because the film itself is so dishonest and pretends to a veneer of credibility by employing the talents of great Shakesperian actors like Derek Jacobi, Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance. Shapiro’s good humoured book ‘Contested Will’ is the definitive work on the subject, and is surprisingly kind to both Looney and Delia Bacon (a failed playright who was no relation to her own chosen candidate for authorship). While gently eviscerating the claims of the ‘anti-Stratfordian’ conspiracy theorists, Shapiro puts forward a suggestion that is actually much more interesting: that especially at the start and end of his career, Shakespeare collaborated with co-authors, probably Thomas Middleton, George Wilkins and John Fletcher. In arguing this position, Shapiro effectively debunks the view held by zealots on both sides of the ‘authorship’ dispute, that the author was a lone genius whose work must have been some kind of disguised reflection of his own life and experiences: the antagonists in this dispute, says Shapiro, “have more in common than either side is willing to concede.” I meant to review this brilliant book on ‘Shiraz’ when it first appeared in early 2010, but didn’t get round to it. To give you a flavour, here’s an excerpt from the ‘Prologue’:
Prologue (to ‘Contested Will,’ by James Shapiro):
This is a book about when and why many people began to question whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays long attributed to him, and, if he didn’t write them, who did.
There’s surprising consensus on the part of both skeptics and defenders of Shakespeare’s authorship about when the controversy first took root. Whether you get your facts from the Dictionary of National Biography or Wikipedia, the earliest documented claim dates back to 1785, when James Wilmot, an Oxford-trained scholar who lived a few miles outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, began searching locally for Shakespeare’s books, papers, or any indication that he had been an author—and came up empty-handed. Wilmot gradually came to the conclusion that someone else, most likely Sir Francis Bacon, had written the plays. Wilmot never published what he learned and near the end of his life burned all his papers. But before he died he spoke with a fellow researcher, a Quaker from Ipswich named James Corton Cowell, who later shared these findings with members of the Ipswich Philosophic Society.
Cowell did so in a pair of lectures delivered in 1805 that survive in a manuscript now located in the University of London’s Senate House Library, in which he confesses to being “a renegade” to the Shakespearean “faith.” Cowell was converted by Wilmot’s argument that “there is nothing in the writings of Shakespeare that does not argue the long and early training of the schoolman, the traveler, and the associate of the great and learned. Yet there is nothing in the known life of Shakespeare that shows he had any one of the qualities.” Wilmot is credited with being the first to argue, as far back as the late eighteenth century, for an unbridgeable rift between the facts of Shakespeare’s life and what the plays and poems reveal about their author’s education and experience. But both Wilmot and Cowell were ahead of their time, for close to a half-century passed before the controversy resurfaced in any serious or sustained way.
Since 1850 or so, thousands of books and articles have been published urging that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays. At first, bibliographers tried to keep count of all the works inspired by the controversy. By 1884 the list ran to 255 items; by 1949, it had swelled to over 4,500. Nobody bothered trying to keep a running tally after that, and in an age of blogs, websites, and online forums it’s impossible to do justice to how much intellectual energy has been—and continues to be—devoted to the subject. Over time, and for all sorts of reasons, leading artists and intellectuals from all walks of life joined the ranks of the skeptics. I can think of little else that unites Henry James and Malcolm X, Sigmund Freud and Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller and Orson Welles, or Mark Twain and Sir Derek Jacobi.
It’s not easy keeping track of all the candidates promoted as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The leading contenders nowadays are Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford) and Sir Francis Bacon. Christopher Marlowe, Mary Sidney, the Earl of Derby, and the Earl of Rutland have attracted fewer though no less ardent supporters. And more than fifty others have been proposed as well—working alone or collaboratively—including Sir Walter Ralegh, John Donne, Anne Whateley, Robert Cecil, John Florio, Sir Philip Sidney, the Earl of Southampton, Queen Elizabeth, and King James. A complete list is pointless, for it would soon be outdated. During the time I’ve been working on this book, four more names have been put forward: the poet and courtier Fulke Greville, the Irish rebel William Nugent, the poet Aemelia Lanier (of Jewish descent and thought by some to be the unnamed Dark Lady of the Sonnets), and the Elizabethan diplomat Henry Neville. New candidates will almost surely be proposed in years to come. While the chapters that follow focus on Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford—whose candidacies are the best documented and most consequential—it’s not because I believe that their claims are necessarily stronger than any of these others. An exhaustive account of all the candidates, including those already advanced and those waiting in the wings, would be both tedious and futile, and for reasons that will soon become clear, Bacon and Oxford can be taken as representative.
Much of what has been written about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays follows the contours of a detective story, which is not all that surprising, since the authorship question and the “whodunit” emerged at the same historical moment. Like all good detective fiction, the Shakespeare mystery can be solved only by determining what evidence is credible, retracing steps, and avoiding false leads. My own account in the pages that follow is no different. I’ve spent the past twenty-five years researching and teaching Shakespeare’s works at Columbia University. For some, that automatically disqualifies me from writing fairly about the controversy on the grounds that my professional investments are so great that I cannot be objective. There are a few who have gone so far as to hint at a conspiracy at work among Shakespeare professors and institutions, with scholars paid off to suppress information that would undermine Shakespeare’s claim. If so, somebody forgot to put my name on the list.
Read the full Shapiro ’Prologue’ here
By sheer co-incidence, I was recently in the delightful village of Castle Hedingham, situated in Essex near the border with Sussex. It’s the birthplace of Edward de Vere, complete with Norman castle built c.1140 by Aubrey de Vere and still owned by his descendants. The locals are, naturally, very excited about the film: earholing a group of them in the pub, I overheard something along these lines: “It’s well known these days, isn’t it? Shakespeare’s stuff was all about kings and queens and the royal court, wasn’t it? It had to be an aristocrat, didn’t it? I mean it’s well known – Shakespeare couldn’t even read or write, could he? Has to be de Vere, hasn’t it? Stands to reason, doesn’t it?” Well at least they had a respectable and rational reason for wanting to believe such nonsense.
Good stuff from Terry Teachout here.
H/t The Fat Man