“Who is ‘Us’?”

It is interesting that the most intelligent commentaries in the New York Times opinion section (the last two pages of the front section) are commonly found in the readers' short letters.  Here's a good example from yesterday's Times:

To the Editor: Re "The Bait and Switch White House" (editorial, January 27):

When Vice President Dick Cheney was asked what his response would be concerning any vote in Congress that expressed disapproval of White House policies in Iraq, he replied, "It won't stop us."

What I want to know is, Who is "us"? If it's not the American electorate or the United States Congress, which was elected to represent American citizens, who is it?

Or maybe the question should be, Who is this administration and what has it done with my country?"

- Stephanie Nicholas Acquardo/Westfield, N.J.

Part of the answer to Ms. Acquardo's eloquently posed question comes in a letter from Brooklyn, printed in the Times on the same day (January 31, 2007, p. A22):

To the Editor:

Vice President Dick Cheney defends a war that he started without Iraqi provocation and that continues without the possiblity of American victory not because he is "delusional," as Maureen Dowd says ("Daffy Does Doom," column, Jan.27), but because the war itself serves his interests and the interests of his constituents.

Dick Cheney has spent his life working for military suppliers, American energy corporations and the Republican Party.  The war has earned billions of dollars for his former employer, Haliburton, disrupted the supplies of foreign oil and allowed his party to rise to unprecedented power. During this time the power of the executive branch of government grew, and Mr. Cheney, at the center, exercised more influence over the nation than any vice president in United States history.

This is not "perversity." It is the work of a mercilessly effective politician.

- Gabriel Brownstein, Brooklyn, N.Y.

A third writer to the Times expressed his understandable revulsion at Vietnam Chickenhawk Cheney's claim that many Americans may lack the courage to continue the bloody assault on Iraq:

To the Editor:

Regarding Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney said the biggest threat is that Americans may not "have the stomach for the fight." One has to wonder if he feels that the failure in Vietnam was merely a result of the American people not having "the stomach" for 10 years of combat and 58,000 American dead.

In classic Republicanspeak, Mr. Cheney obfuscates the premise of why we are at war and narrows the argument to a misplaced matter of courage.The nauseating irony of someone who did not have the "stomach" to go to war himself accusing the rest of the country of the same failing serves to reveal the extent to which this conflict is without true rationale.

- Peire Giacalone, Queens, NY

There are things in these letters I would personally change. I think Giacalone should consider Brownstein's letter when looking for the war's "rationale," but I don't think Brownstein suggests anything like the full depth of the administration's oil-imperialist ambitions.  I think it's a little late in the historical game for Acquardo to be wondering if the Cheney-Bush junta serves a higher power than the mere citizenry: it is questionable if the U.S. has ever been a democracy, but the American democratic tradition has been under especially extreme corporate assault for quite some time now. I think its worth noting that many Americans also lacked the "stomach" for three million murdered Indochinese and now lack the stomach for 700,000 dead Iraqis. I've explained on numerous occasions why I agree with Noam Chomsky that the U.S. Empire didn't fail to achive its minimal, bottom-line objective in Vietnam.


On a related note, not everyone is displeased with life under George W. Bush.  Watching the evening news last night, I observed that the traders on the New York Stock Market broke out into spontaneous and prolonged applause when the president walked on the floor.

You can find some useful context for that applause in the February 2007 issue of Z Magazine, where Jack Rasmus notes the following:

"For the first time since the U.S. government began to collect the data in 1947, wages and salaries no longer constitute more than half of total national income.  In contrast, corporate profits are at their highest levels since WWII, having risen double digits every quarter in the last three and a half years alone and 21.3 percent in the most recent year, 2005, according to the Dow-Jones 'Market Watch.' Corporate profit margins are higher than they have been in more than half a centuryy, according to Merril Lynch economist David Rosenburg.  After tax profits are now equal to 8.5 percent of the GDP – that's more than a trillion dollars – and the highest percent since the end of World War II in 1945.  A June 2006 report by the leading investment bank Goldman Sachs aptly summed it up: 'The most important contribution to the higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in Labor's share of national income.'"

Earlier in his article, Rasmus notes that the United States' wealthiest 1 percent (1.4 million households) now "receive between 19 and 21.5 percent of the [nation's] annual gross domestic product (GDP)…up from 8 percent in 1980.  Today's 19-21.5 percent also represents a nearly full recovery of the roughly 22 percent share of the national income the top 1 percent received just prior to the stock market crash of 1929, the depression of the 1930s and the great leveling of class incomes that followed.  That same 1 percent today also hold more than 35 percent of all assets and wealth of the country – about 417 trillion.  They own 51 percent of all stocks and 70 percent of all bonds, own homes worth more than $3 million and have a net worth of $6 million.  The bottom 50 percent of households, nearly 60 million families – all working class – in comparison own only 2.5 percent of the country's total assets and wealth" (Jack Rasmus, "The Trillion Dollar Income Shift, Part 1," Z Magazine [February 2007]: 44-49).

George W. Bush once half-jokingly referred to that top 1 percent as "my base" – also part of the answer to Stephanie Nicholas Acquardo's question.

Before this blog's moronic, right-wing power- and wealth-worshipping trolls start drafting idiotic rants about the the U.S. being the great land of upward mobility ("'disadvantaged' Americans might be poor right now but they'll be really rich next year" …yes, I know, that's what their high school civics teacher/wrestling coach told them), they should do some work — a little personal responsibility (I thought that was a big right-wing value) please — and read one of my many hundreds of articles: Rags to Rags, Riches to Riches: The American Dream is More Livable in the Old World,” ZNet Magazine (May 28, 2005). 


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