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The US shutdown and the contradictions of US imperialism

Paolo Bassi

October 16, 2013

Right-wing Republican lawmakers in Washington—many with private wealth and with armies of health consultants at their personal disposal—have made it their sacred mission to protect wealth and privilege while denying healthcare to others. To make their point, these Congressmen have brought government to a halt, throwing hundreds of thousands of public workers into unpaid limbo.
The false debate over the “Affordable Care Act”
Republican fury is confusing since Obama's plans do not challenge the American profit-driven healthcare system. Both American political parties serve the same corporate masters, and the shrill debate over the Affordable Care Act ignores how inadequate it is in providing healthcare; the name of the act itself makes clear the goal is not to provide universal healthcare, but to make it more affordable to buy within the market system.
But the Republicans have a greater fear of concessions on health because it may lead to demands for wider and better coverage for all Americans. No matter how inadequate “Obamacare” is, it may lead to millions more Americans having coverage for the first time. The public may begin to view health coverage as a fundamental right and not an employment or wealth based privilege. American capitalism is profoundly opposed to such a democratic idea—especially the ideologically-driven Tea Party, who are irrational enough not to care about the effects of the shutdown on the spluttering economic recovery.
If tens of millions of Americans living in poverty and without health care do not cause Republicans to lose sleep, sending hundreds of thousands of federal workers home without pay certainly won't. But using jobs and services as bargaining chips is backfiring, with most blaming the Republicans for the stalemate.
Tax the rich, cut military spending
The Republicans have distilled the standoff with Obama to a simple choice—cut spending and abandon healthcare reforms or the higher debt ceiling will not be authorized. This is a false choice and austerity does not have to be the default choice. What is left of the social contract is already tattered and there is not much more that can be cut. The national debt is dangerously high but there are tangible reasons that can be reversed.
Corporate taxes have been coming down for decades. Under George W. Bush, tax on capital gains was slashed—a blatant act of class war that depressed government revenue and benefited only the super-rich. As part of his upward redistribution, Bush also reduced the top rates on income, claiming the cuts were temporary. Under Obama, the government has given hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate bailouts, while the 99% have faced cuts. This is part of a larger global trend of lowering taxes and balancing the shortfall with austerity cuts. 
Even as revenues fall, spending on the US military is out of control. If there’s any concern about “big government” it should be that the US spends over $700 billion annually on its military—more than the rest of the world combined. Imagine $700 billion used for goods and services people actually need. A fraction of the military budget would fund a basic national health service—a system which in turn would create jobs and raise tax revenue.
In a time of austerity, Americans need to ask why Washington maintains over 700 bases around the globe? The people also have a right to know why billions of dollars are given to Israel and Egypt annually when 15 per cent of Americans live in poverty and government debt is spiraling. The Warsaw Pact ended in the early 1990s yet the US-led NATO has expanded and continues to provoke Russia—all at the expense of US taxpayers.
Contradictions of US imperialism
The US emerged from the Cold War with military supremacy but an economy that had declined from 50 per cent to 25 per cent of the world economy—with rivals emerging in Europe and Asia. This contradiction led the US to project its military power to make up for relative economic weakness—through a “war on terror” that launched wars on Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, with plans to quickly topple regimes in Syria and Iran.
But resistance to these occupations—including in the US—turned them into trillion dollar quagmires, which along with the economic crisis has further undermined the US economy. Then the Arab Spring emerged to challenge US imperialism in the region. Through Obama the Democrats have tried to co-opt progressive movements in the US and highjack revolutions in Libya and Syria, to reassert US dominance. But disillusionment with Democrats in office contributed to the Occupy movement, while mass anti-war sentiment has so far stopped war on Syria.
The US often labels countries as "failed states" in order to justify imperial "humanitarian interventions". But now the US is shutdown, with the government squabbling over how inadequate healthare will be or how severe austerity measures will be, while trying to maintain its status as leading rogue state. The retreat of the US from war on Syria, and the shutdown amidst spiraling debt highlight the military and economic weakness of US imperialism, and the need for the 99% to fight for an alternative to war and austerity.

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