How U.S. Capitalism Works: House Painters That Cover the Earth

“I heard you paint houses.”

“Yes, sir, I do. I also do my own carpentry.”

Those were among the first words exchanged between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and his “house painter,” Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

Of course, in the Mob’s parlance, “painting houses” refers to the blood splashed on walls when hitmen like Frank Sheeran do their work. “Carpentry” refers to getting rid of the resulting corpses. Sheeran does both.

I was reminded of “The Irishman” recently, when Antony Blinken all but admitted that the United States was responsible for the terrorist attack that (against international law) destroyed civilian infrastructure represented by Nord Stream pipelines One and Two.

Blinken said the attack presented America with a “tremendous” business opportunity – to sell natural gas to Europe.

His remarks made me realize first that the U.S. is in fact the most active “house painter” and “carpenter” in the world. Like the Sherwin-Williams’ claim, it “covers the earth” – with hitman efficiency. It gets rid of bodies by just not counting them — or at least by vastly undercounting them.

Think about the paint spilled.

“America” is responsible for virtually ALL the wars waged on the planet since WWII: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ukraine. . . That’s the short list. And those wars have taken millions of lives – turned walls bloodred across the globe.

Remember, it’s not China that started and funded those conflicts. Neither is it Russia. It’s the United States.

But that’s not the end of the “Irishman” connections. Think about the logic behind the Nord Stream attacks. It’s how gangsters operate. It’s what “our” government does. It’s what capitalists do routinely instead of competing according to free market theory.

In fact, few of the most powerful among them seem to even like “natural” marketplace dynamics where business concerns succeed by producing a better product or service. No, they prefer to adopt mob tactics and simply whack their competitors. They deconstruct their rivals’ infrastructure.

Do you remember this scene from “The Irishman?” It’s where “Whispers” (“not that Whispers; the other one”) asks Frank Sheeran to do what’s necessary to put a competitor’s laundry business out of commission.  Here’s the exchange:

Note the similarities between Whispers’ request and Blinken’s intimations about U.S. involvement in Nord Streams’ destructions.

Like Blinken, Whispers is a business front man. He’s financing an Atlantic City laundry service that’s making money hand over fist.

Face it: Blinken is also a front man for oil, gas, and arms industry concerns.

However, both men have powerful competitors. Whispers’ challenger calls itself Cadillac Linen. It’s located in Delaware. It’s underselling Whispers’ business and threatening to take away its customers.

That’s like Russia and China for Blinken. They’re both outcompeting the United States in energy and manufacturing. That has Blinken, Wall Street, and powerful oil and gas concerns exactly in Whispers’ position.  As they keep insisting, they’re “more than a little concerned.”

In both cases, something must be done. But what? Whispers’ could lower his prices and upgrade his product to better compete. According to capitalist theory, that’s the way to win back his hotel and restaurant clientele now seeking lower costs and superior service with Cadillac Linen.

For his part, Blinken could simply recognize that Russia and China now enjoy overwhelming logistical benefits. They’re both much closer than the U.S. to the main buyers of their products.Their shipping costs are therefore lower. There’s nothing nefarious about that. Capitalist theory calls it “comparative advantage.”

Additionally, with its higher “social wages” (i.e., government subsidies in areas of food, rent, healthcare, entertainment, education, etc.) China can easily outcompete America with lower wages for its workers.

Under its present form of capitalism (with all but non-existent “social wages”) the U.S. simply can’t keep up. To get back in the game, Blinken’s handlers could decide to match China’s social programs to compensate for lower wages. They could arrange for workers to have nationalized health care and free college tuition. They could institute nationwide rent control and stop treating food and medicine as commodities instead of as human rights.

Alternatively, and according to capitalist theory, they could simply accept the fact that they can’t compete, back out of the relevant markets and seek prosperity elsewhere.

That’s the way the system’s supposed to work.    

But no. Both Whispers and Blinken instead choose bombing over free market competition. Whispers wants Sheeran to do to Cadillac what he and the U.S. army did to Berlin during World War II. He wants him to destroy his competitors absolutely.

Blinken evidently chose something similar relative to Russia’s Nord Stream I and II. All fingers point to U.S. involvement in the pipelines’ destruction. After all, “Dark Brandon” Biden had threatened to do the deed. Additionally, more than any other suspects, America had the motivation and capacity for performing the task in question. As Blinken’s words indicate, Wall Street, and U.S. energy concerns, and America itself benefit most from the destruction of Nord Stream I and II. As Blinken admits, the destruction of Russia’s property is “tremendous” for America.

It’s hard to believe the United States wasn’t responsible.

In their recent co-authored book, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power, Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad compare the United States to the Mafia. Their identification is more than apt. Like the Godfather, U.S. mobsters demand that everyone bend the knee or else. Their answer to most problems of market competition involves threats, sanctions, guns, and bombs – almost never lower prices, product improvement, increased social wages, or diplomacy. Instead, in the form of death squads, hitmen like Frank Sheeran, and lethal drones, they continue to “cover the earth” with red just like the Sherwin-Williams ad says.

China especially is adopting a different tack. And if it can avoid being provoked into responding in kind to American Mafia tactics, it will probably come out on top.

China’s just better at capitalist dynamics than the U.S. or E.U.

Mad as Hell!

Don’t get too excited about Joe Biden and his pretense at boldness in the model of FDR.

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FDR? Don’t make me laugh. Biden doesn’t even measure up to Eisenhower’s liberalism!

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The man and his party have already surrendered to the fascist Republicans who are busy passing new Jim Crow laws to insure their continued minority rule. The Democrats could prevent that by passing the “For the People” Act (HR1). But that would insure continued Democratic rule. It would also require suspension of the Senate filibuster. Uncle Joe and the Dems tremble at the very thought.

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Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats just won’t play hard ball. Remember how the fascists refused to even consider Obama’s SCOTUS appointment, Merrick Garland? With the presidential election 11 months off, they said they wanted “the American People” to have a voice in the matter. Then the fascists turned around and rushed through the appointment of a right-wing fanatic Amy Coney Barrett – less than two weeks before the 2020 election!

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That and the appointments of sexual predators, Thomas and Kavanaugh, have rendered the SCOTUS absolutely corrupt. None of us should recognize the validity of its decisions.  

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Yes, Trump is gone for the moment. But enjoy the respite while you can. He’ll soon be back in one form or another – very likely worse than in his last incarnation. And the reason he’ll be back is because the Democrats are gutless wonders who don’t represent any of us. They represent only their rich donors.

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Think about it: “The American People” overwhelmingly support Medicare for all, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, tuition debt forgiveness, gun control, and higher corporate taxes. But can we expect “our” elected officials to follow suit? Of course not! They don’t care what we want — only what their donors demand.

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Face it: we’re living in a failed state. Gridlock remains the order of the day. Nothing substantial is done for any of us ordinary people.

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Compare “our” government’s gridlock with China’s efficiency – which enjoys (according to U.S polls) the approval of 90% of its population. That sounds like democracy to me.

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Do you know how China solved its drunk driving problem? It decreed that a first offense would result in 2 weeks in jail. A second conviction leads to the permanent confiscation of one’s driver’s license! Problem solved.

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Last week, there was an extremely rare school shooting in Russia. Immediately, President Putin introduced new restrictions on gun ownership. Our country has mass shootings every week. How do our legislators respond? “Thoughts and prayers.”

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Biden’s foreign policy is virtually the same as Trump’s. Old Joe’s man, Tony Blinken says he’s worried about China, the Uyghurs, and the world’s “rules-based order.” But he won’t condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, will he? He won’t even cut off funding of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince or call him the “killer” he is. Oh yes, “Putin’s a killer,” but not the man who had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered.

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What rules-based order?

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And what about Cuba? And the Iran deal and old Joe’s continuance of the Donald’s crippling sanctions there? And Venezuela?

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And the Pro Act? There’ll be no protection of workers under the Biden Administration. Why? See my note above on filibuster.

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I hate to break the news, but it’s all smoke, mirrors, posturing and hypocrisy.

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We’re living in a failed state. Yes, Trump will be back.

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God help us!

Don’t Listen to Blinken: China’s System Is More Just Than Ours

Readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 25: 4-9, I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20.

The liturgical readings for this Sunday are about designated enemies often being readier to recognize and respond to divine wisdom than are believers who consider themselves God’s People.

Accordingly, the selections present the mind-blowing discovery of the reluctant chauvinist prophet Jonah (he of belly-of-the-whale fame) alongside the habitual people-centered attitude of the courageous universalist prophet Yeshua the Christ. Together, the readings’ call is to open ourselves to the wisdom and goodness of despised foreigners and the non-elite.

That theme (explained below) reminds me of China and its bipartisan vilification by U.S. politicians and mainstream media. Like the Ninevites in today’s first reading, China has gradually and unquestionably become the enemy du jour as described not only by outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo but by his incoming counterpart, Antony Blinken.

The Case of China

Like Jonah’s assessment of Nineveh, neither can say a good word about China, even though (according to western polls) its government enjoys something like 90% approval by the Chinese people. (Furthermore, according to Dorinda Elliot of the China Institute, rather than diminishing its popularity, the government’s success in dealing with Covid-19 has made it more popular than ever.)  

Still, on his way out the State Department door, Mr. Pompeo denounced China not only for stealing western intellectual property, but for its policies on Muslims and ethnic minorities in its western Xinjiang region. According to Pompeo, those policies constitute “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.”   

In his testimony before the U.S. Senate, Antony Blinken fully agreed with Pompeo’s assessment. Both painted China as an enemy rather than a hugely successful competitor with whom our country might well cooperate and from whom we might learn. Relative to crimes against humanity, both Pompeo and Blinken ignore the facts that their own country’s policies:

  • Continue to kill Muslims every day in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia
  • Imprison and torture them in Guantanamo and other black sites
  • Have done so for nearly 20 years
  • While maintaining concentration camps and baby jails for immigrants and asylum seekers on its southern border.

Despite all of that, Mr. Blinken had the temerity to criticize China’s use of reeducation camps as its particular method of dealing with Muslim terrorist threats rather than “our” method of endless wars, bombings and drone strikes. (In Iraq’s illegal war, such have taken the lives of more than 1 million people — with no official mention of genocide or crimes against humanity.)

Moreover, Pompeo’s and Blinken’s denunciations ignore the facts that China’s system of political economy has (in Jonah’s terms) “repented.” It has self-consciously departed from the inefficient and destructive ways of capitalism-as-we-know-it. Yes, China’s way involves a large free-market sector. But a huge part of its economy is under direct government control. The results of that combination have been astoundingly successful.

Moreover, according to economist Richard Wolff, accusations against China’s alleged stealing of intellectual property are nonsensical. According to Wolff, the transfer of intellectual property was part and parcel of the bargain long since struck between U.S. companies and the Chinese government when those companies were given access to Chinese labor and the country’s markets. On China’s part, the understanding was: we give you access to our market and cheap labor; you share profits with us and give us the right to reverse engineer your technology. It was an at least implied quid pro quo agreement that everyone understood.

The result was the Chinese Way that enjoys huge success not only internationally, but domestically. According to Bloomberg News, the Chinese economy is set to grow by 2.5 percent this fiscal year, despite the ravages of Covid-19.

In other words, Chinese “repentance,” its unprecedentedly rapid response (in just over 40 years) to the needs of its people, has saved it from the destruction our version of capitalism has arguably made inevitable for us. Like the prophet, Jonah, our politicians and business elite don’t want to hear any of that.

Today’s Readings

As I’ve been saying here, all of this is closely connected with today’s readings. In the first selection, the Spirit of Life sends Jonah to learn from Nineveh, Israel’s archenemy. He’s completely surprised to discover that the Ninevites, like China, are more responsive to the way of Yahweh than Jonah’s own people.

Similarly, in today’s Gospel selection, Jesus departs entirely from conventional wisdom. He selects illiterate workmen (rather than temple priests or members of his country’s elite) as recruiters for his Kingdom of God Movement bent on creating a world governed by divine principle rather than Caesar’s brute force.

Here’s the way I translate today’s readings about the superior ways of those (like China) whom we routinely despise as foreign and inferior. You can find their original forms here to see if I’ve got them right.    

 Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
 The reluctant prophet Jonah
 Braved Nineveh’s
 Hostile urban jungle
 To announce Yahweh’s
 Urgent call
 For Israel’s Great Enemy
 To change its entire
 Unjust system.
 To the patriotic prophet’s
 Great chagrin
 The enemy listened
 Changed completely
 And transformed
 Its destructive way
 In just 40 days!

 Psalm 25: 4-9
 So, Great Mother-Father
 Teach us the way
 Of the Ninevites.
 For the enemy’s
 Path of justice
 Humility, love
 Kindness, good
 Truth and compassion
 Is your way too.

 I Corinthians 7: 29-31
 Our time for such willing
 Social transformation
 Is quickly running out.
 Choosing it
 Is more important
 Than sex,
 Our little trials
 And triumphs
 Our trinkets
 And work.
 But actually,
 Our Great Father-Mother’s
 Drastically New World
 Is inevitable.

 Mark 1: 14-20
 Yeshua recognized
 That inevitability
 After conservative forces
 Arrested his mentor,
 The Great prophet,
 John the Baptist.
 Ordinary workers
 With simple names like
 Simon, Andrew,
 James and John
 Saw it too.
 So, they left everything:
 Work and companions
 Father and mother,
 Wives and lovers
 To join Yeshua’s
 Working class movement
 For the sake of
 Good News
 To laborers like themselves
 About the Great Mother-Father’s
 In-breaking New Order. 

Conclusion

Like Yahweh in the days of Jonah and Jesus centuries later, the Spirit of Life today is calling us in so many ways to repent and imitate the equivalents of Jonah’s Ninevites. Like Paul in Corinth, the Great Mother-Father tells us that the time is short. Climate chaos itself underlines that urgent message. Our task is more important than anything our culture presents as essential.

China’s example of repentance, its departure from capitalism-as-we-know-it, its construction of an economy based above all on meeting the needs of its huge population represents a path forward – if not for imitation, for inspiration and instruction.

It tells us that we must reorient away from profits and wealth for the few towards the creation of a society with room for everyone and abundance for all – just what the working man, Yeshua, demonstrated in his choice of working-class people to introduce the Kingdom’s new heaven and new earth.   

We’re called today to listen to the prophets of such unconventional wisdom rather than to Pompeo and Blinken’s misdirection.