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March 2002 • Vol 2, No. 3 •

Death, Destruction and Deception

By Ann Robertson

Inebriated with its military might, the U.S. government is alienating not only its bourgeois allies, but more importantly working people around the world at an astounding rate. At the same time, this budget promises to deepen already fractured class relations here in the U.S., bringing them closer to an inevitable explosive confrontation.

With such vast military might at its disposal, the U.S. government has become the self-appointed world cop, trampling on international law and deciding unilaterally which regimes are allowed to stand and which will fall as U.S. capitalist interests signal thumbs up or thumbs down in the style of decadent Roman emperors. Meanwhile, U.S. government officials swagger around the international arena Clint Eastwood-style, repelling criticisms from allies abroad as if flicking ashes from a cigar.

At a recent international security conference meeting, for example, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked to explain Bush’s description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” and, as if a rational explanation was beneath him, simply snapped back, “Countries must make a choice.”

Colin Powell’s announcement that Iraq would have to undergo “a regime change” and the U.S. “might have to do it alone” has been met with widespread condemnation. The foreign policy spokesman for the ruling German Social Democratic Party responded that unilateral action by the U.S. would create “huge problems.” Russia’s defense minister announced that Moscow did not support a war on Iraq. Even Tony Blair, Washington’s most avid cheerleader in the war on Afghanistan, has indicated that he would not support a military strike on Iraq unless a clear connection is found between Baghdad and the September 11 attacks, proving that even a rabid dog can make prudent announcements on occasion. And there is a general consensus, by the way, that no such connection exists.

Governmental leaders have in part been compelled to register these official denunciations because of the growing and deepening resentment among ordinary working people all over the world to U.S. foreign policy. In anticipation of Bush’s visit to South Korea, students, religious groups and labor associations have held daily anti-American demonstrations, despite the South Korean government’s attempt to discourage them. Resentment evidently permeates the society. The New York Times reported that if one were to ask the average South Korean what he or she thinks of Bush’s “axis of evil” characterization of North Korea, people would respond that they were “shocked and even insulted.”

In Iran, millions of people poured out into the streets to denounce the “axis of evil” label Bush slapped upon them.

The presence of 660 American troops in the Philippines, a presence that represents a violation of its constitution, is producing a small uproar as it has triggered the formation of “the mother of all coalitions” where activist groups have united to demonstrate their opposition. The Protestant United Church of Christ there has denounced the presence of U.S. troops and accused the U.S. government of employing terrorism to promote its own interests.

Even in Europe, hostility towards the U.S. government has reached surprising depths, as Salman Rushdie recently noted: “Anybody who has visited Britain and Europe, or followed the public conversation there during the past 5 months, will have been struck, even shocked, by the depth of anti-American feeling among large segments of the population.”

In other words, the U.S. government has trampled on the lives and livelihoods of people all over the world in order to protect and promote U.S. corporate profits. It has worn a white hat and carried a shield emblazoned with the words, “Truth and Justice.” But working people are beginning to see what is underneath the hat and behind the shield, and they are revolted and disgusted.

The anti-American sentiment has become so pervasive that the U.S. government has been forced to pause and consider damage control. Creating quite a sensation, military officials at the Pentagon were reported by the New York Times to have recently announced, “plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as a part of a new effort to influence public sentiment....” The program will target such areas as the Middle East, Asia, and Western Europe.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has since denied the inclusion of false news items, but, given the long-standing record of the U.S. government disseminating disinformation, many consider his denial part of the campaign.

Another Vietnam-style military and political mess

Meanwhile, the U.S. government plunges recklessly onward, flaunting its disregard for the welfare of other people. It has recently transformed its role in the civil war in Colombia, a change that threatens to entrap it in another Vietnam-style military and political mess.

When the Clinton administration initially offered Colombia’s government an astronomical $1.3 billion in military aid, the gesture was trumpeted as a “war on drugs,” a veil that fooled few people and certainly none of the millions of illegal drug users in this country who have witnessed completely ineffective “wars” on drugs here. But, flexing its muscles, the U.S. government no longer finds the veil necessary and has pointedly announced that its efforts will now be directed at protecting—of all things—an oil pipeline owned in part by Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles, a shift requiring U.S. efforts to be redirected specifically against the guerrilla movement there.

Even the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle offered these candid remarks:

“Pushing deeper into the Colombian quagmire, President Bush is proposing a major escalation of U.S. involvement in that country’s war.
“What’s worse, the main reason appears to be to protect an American oil company.”
“Now, however, the administration wants to dispose the fig leaf altogether and get directly involved in fighting guerrillas.”
“To get directly involved in helping the Colombia government fight the rebels would be to repeat previous U.S. mistakes in civil wars from El Salvador to Vietnam.”

The Chronicle proceeded to report that the pipeline has been the target of rebels who view Occidental Petroleum as an exploiter of Colombia’s resources. The pipeline was bombed 170 times last year, costing Occidental Petroleum half a billion dollars.

But this nightmare of military madness, which threatens to plunge the world into a horrifying state of barbarism, is being waged entirely on the backs of the U.S. working class, a burden that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

For example, the 12 percent rise in military spending, in conjunction with last year’s tax bill that reduced taxes for the rich, will sink the federal budget into deficit spending for years to come. Consequently, in order to pay for various programs, the government will siphon off the surplus which is presently generated by Social Security, a maneuver it has employed for years in order to cover budget deficits. According to the New York Times, “the government [is] breaking a bipartisan pledge not to use that part of revenue generated by Social Security for any purpose other than to shore up the retirement system or reduce the national debt.” At the same time, these same government officials, having robbed the Social Security bank, as it were, are trying to privatize the entire program on the grounds—ironically—that it will soon lack sufficient funds to honor all the entitlements of the baby boomers when they retire in the near future, a move that would generate huge profits for stock brokers, et al.

But the preservation and solvency of Social Security is no trifling matter to the U.S. working class, especially as 401(k) retirement funds have lost value with the fall in the stock market or been entirely wiped out with episodes like Enron’s. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, “Asked whether future installments of the Bush tax cut scheduled for 2004 and 2006 should still go through if that meant the government would have to use Social Security revenue to fund other programs, respondents said no by 81 percent to 13 percent.”

A New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, reflecting public disgust at these developments, queried: “Is gradually repealing the tax on estates of more than $1 million…enough of a priority to constrain the nation’s ability to help tens of millions of retirees pay for their prescription drugs?” The article went on to argue that the non-existent protest from the Democrats was directly linked to the campaign finance system: “…moderate Republicans as well as Democrats respond to their wealthy benefactors….”

Not only has the plight of retirees become increasingly imperiled by the new budget, but also programs that directly benefit the working class—job training, support for latchkey kids and public housing—will be gutted.

And all these dire developments come on the heels of a three decade, unrelenting erosion in the standard of living of the working class. During this period workers have been compelled to work an additional 20 percent in order to bring home the same income to a household. American workers now work longer than workers in all other industrialized countries, including Japan. By the end of the decade, workers were working one week more per year than in 1990. Even the option to retire has receded into the distant future: “While their parents stopped working at 65, their children are finding they must stay on the job until their late 60s or early 70s if they want to live as well in retirement.” (New York Times)

While the working class is spending more of its waking hours at work, the income of the rich has increased at an accelerating pace. Comparing after tax incomes, the richest 1 percent of the population today enjoys an equivalent income to the bottom 100 million people, a ratio that has more than doubled since 1977. Meanwhile, four out of five households are bringing home less money than they did in 1977. In other words, class contradictions between the working class and the rich are steadily intensifying. Like tectonic plates moving silently but ineluctably beneath the earth’s surface, the tension gradually mounts, only to suddenly and unexpectedly explode in a tumultuous upheaval, forever altering the social landscape.

These tendencies have become so pronounced that even the New York Times sounds as if it is lifting formulations from the pages of Socialist Viewpoint: “… the real legacy of the 90s boom was that the rich got richer, while everyone else was left holding the bag.” The article proceeded to quote James Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management, remarking that the 90s “created a sense that capitalism in the U.S. was becoming more of an affair that benefits a few at the expense of the masses.” And the article concludes with this dire warning to the capitalist class: “… the public fascination with Enron expresses an anxiety over whether the trust people place in their employers, political leaders, and even capitalism as it is currently practiced, is misplaced.” [Emphasis added]

Not only is the working class finding it increasingly difficult just to get on first base, now—thanks to Enron—there is a growing awareness that the game itself is rigged. The rich do not get ahead because they are better than the rest of us at playing an honest game. Rather, they are continually rewriting the rules for themselves so that ever-larger sums of money are transferred into their own pockets.

Tax laws, for example, which overwhelming favor the rich, allowed Enron to escape paying taxes for 4 out of the last 5 years, a scenario that is repeated throughout the economy by large corporations. And because of generous contributions to the Bush team (it was also generous with Gore to hedge its bets), Enron almost single handedly wrote the Bush administration’s energy program in terms that were highly beneficial to its own interests, a role about which Vice President Dick Cheney is unwilling to speak.

Between 1993 and 2001 Enron, through its foreign subsidiaries, received almost $700 million in loans from the Clinton administration, which it also contributed to generously, through a program that makes loans available to foreign companies in order to help them buy goods from American companies.

While Kenneth Lay encouraged Enron’s workers and their families to buy Enron stock, he and his cronies were selling, knowing that the company was on the verge of “imploding” under the weight of entirely corrupt transactions and accounting . The workers lost their life savings and the top executives walked away with hundreds of millions. Undoubtedly these decisions were the kind that Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was referring to when he talked about “the genius of capitalism” where “people get to make good decisions or bad decisions, and they get to pay the consequence or to enjoy the fruits of their decisions. That’s the way the system works.”

Arthur Andersen, the accounting company that cooked the books, has successfully lobbied to block restrictions on its dealings with its clients. Consequently, it can legally both consult for a firm and take responsibility for auditing it, where a direct conflict of interest almost guarantees corruption.

And, again because of intensive lobbying, it well might turn out that everything both companies did was entirely legal. However, given that “of the 248 senators and House members serving on the 11 Congressional committees that are investigating the Enron bankruptcy, 212 have received campaign contributions from Enron or its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen …” (New York Times) we will probably never know.

Since capitalism is a system that is based on private production for profit, it continually subordinates and sacrifices workers’ needs so as to maximize the profit margin of the capitalists. It consequently condemns the vast majority of humanity to struggle to get by so that a small minority may become fabulously wealthy. Operating exclusively in the interests of a small minority, capitalism remains inherently unstable and can persevere only through recourse to force and violence. The daily menu it serves to humanity is death, destruction, and deception.

As a system that, by definition, produces for human need, socialism is based on the recognition that we are a social species, that we need one another to thrive, and that the oppression of one class by another is, in the final analysis, in no one’s interests. Socialism can only exist in a genuinely democratic form where, with all the relevant information at their disposal, all the members of society discuss and decide among themselves how best to allocate society’s resources so as to maximize everyone’s well-being. It is consequently a society which advances quality education, free health care for all, public transportation, affordable housing, and a clean environment to the top of the priority list while the military, with all its weapons of mass destruction, will simply get nothing.





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