Posts tagged America
By BOB HERBERT
February 11, 2011
As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.
The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.
In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people “have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.” Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it.
The corporate and financial elites threw astounding sums of money into campaign contributions and high-priced lobbyists and think tanks and media buys and anything else they could think of. They wined and dined powerful leaders of both parties. They flew them on private jets and wooed them with golf outings and lavish vacations and gave them high-paying jobs as lobbyists the moment they left the government. All that money was well spent. The investments paid off big time.
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”: “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”
As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough, the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are listening when the corporate money speaks.
When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35 billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.
As Jane Mayer pointed out in her celebrated New Yorker article, “The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation.” (A good hard look at their air-pollution record would make you sick.)
It’s a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem. Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we get you anything else, gentlemen?
The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.
I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”
I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.
I find it interesting that if terrorists put a chemical in the food supply that killed a million people, it would be called a great crime against humanity, and we’d probably bomb some nation into dust in retaliation. But when a U.S. food corporation puts chemical additives into the food that ultimately kill a million people through heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, nobody seems to notice.
What the Gulf War was to CNN, the people’s revolutions of the Middle East are to Al Jazeera English. But in the U.S., in a sad vestige of the era of Freedom Fries, hardly anyone can watch the channel on cable TV. Cable companies: Add Al Jazeera English NOW!
It is downright un-American to still refuse to carry it. Vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one–not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media–can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can.
it has been stunning to see al-jazeera’s total dominance in covering and analyzing the events in egypt over the past few days. i was on the phone with my dad when reports that egypt had shut down internet access in the country began to circulate. “i don’t see it on nytimes or cnn or msnbc,” dad said. “oh, you have to go to al-jazeera,” i told him. there was a beat. “the information world is really different from when i grew up,” he said.
i’ve had the al-jazeera english internet feed running almost constantly since friday and it’s where the most consistent, reliable, up to date information is - which is evident in the egyptian government’s efforts to revoke its license, shut down its broadcasting, cut its phone lines, etc.
This controversial book by Ivan Van Sertima, the Guyanese historian, linguist, and anthropologist, claims that Africans had been to the New World centuries before Columbus arrived there in 1492. Citing—among other things—the huge Negroid-looking Olmec heads of Central Mexico and the similarities between the Aztec and Egyptian calendars and pyramid structures, Van Sertima pieces together a hidden history of pre-Columbian contact between Africans and Native Americans. He also puts forth the possibility that Columbus may have already known about a route to the Americas from his years in Africa as a trader in Guinea. The ideas in this book have been debated and discussed since its first publication in 1976; even those who choose not to believe Van Sertima’s theories should take his argument seriously. —Eugene Holley, Jr.
There’s much to be said on this that is supported by the history of Muslims on the African continent, ‘gotta do more research before i step into this one though. Nice post, CM.
Here is a Georgia State Trooper in riot gear at a KKK protest in a north Georgia city back in the 80s. The Trooper is black. Standing in front of him and touching his shield is a curious little boy dressed in a Klan hood and robe. I have stared at this picture and wondered what must have been going through that Trooper’s mind. Before the Trooper is an innocent child who is being taught to hate him because of the color of his skin. The child doesn’t understand what he is being taught, and at this point he doesn’t seem to care. Like any other child his curiosity takes hold and he wants to explore this new thing that this man is holding probably because he can see his reflection in it and that’s a neat thing and he wants to check it out. In this picture I see innocence mixed with hate, the irony of a black man protecting the right of white people to assemble in protest against him, temperance in the face of ignorance, and hope that racism can be broken because this young boy may remember that a black man smiled at him once and he didn’t seem so bad after all.
“ In the first fourteen months, down to the “hand-over of sovereignty” and the end of the CPA (“children playing adults,” as the U.S. military contemptuously called the young and inexperienced American staff, most of them chosen by patronage) in June 2004, only $300 million of the U.S. government’s money was actually disbursed, but all of the Iraqi money was spent — althought “spent” is perhaps the wrong word, as it implies an exhange of money for goods or services. Some $12 billion of the Iraqi money was flown from New York to Baghdad in cash — 363 tonnes of one-hundred-dollar bills — and handed out to Iraqi contractors (kickbacks galore), to American contractors with good connections in the Bush administration on inflated cost-plus contracts, and to “government ministries” in Baghdad that barely existed except on paper.”
Some $800 million was handed over to the U.S. military commanders for discretionary spending without being counted or even weighed. Another $1.4 billion was flown from Baghdad to the Kurdish regional government in Irbil, and has not been seen since. The $8.8 billion that passed through the new government ministries in Baghdad during the reign of the CPA has never been accounted for, and there is little prospect of finding out where it went. The Defence Ministry’s $1.3 billion procurement budget for 2005 vanished completely, together with the defence minister and the procurement chief: “It is possibly one of the biggest thefts in history,” said Ali Allawi, finance minister at the time. The CPA itself kept one fund of nearly $600 million in cash for which there is simply no paper-work, and in the final month before it left Iraq, it managed to get rid of the last $5 billion of Iraq’s money, most of it in contracts let without tender to American corporations with contacts in the White House. Auditors were not appointed until April 2004, and were not allowed to see the CPA’s accounts, such as they were, until it had disbanded and gone home. It is likely that more money was stolen in the first year of the occupation of Iraq than Mobutu Sese Seko managed to steal in thirty-two years of looting the Congo.
Gwynne Dyer, The Mess They Made: The Middle East After Iraq [pg. 18-19]
Under Security Council Resolution 1483, passed on May 22nd, 2003, the United Nations transferred some $23 billion of Iraqi money derived from frozen Iraqi bank accounts, seized Iraqi assets, and Iraqi oil sales into a “Development Fund for Iraq” and put it in the hands of the CPA.
Again, one more time for emphasis: “It is likely that more money was stolen in the first year of the occupation of Iraq than Mobutu Sese Seko managed to steal in thirty-two years of looting the Congo.”
The American occupation of Iraq: a robbery like no other.