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Progress Equals More Freeways And Lower Taxes For The Rich


We have survived the first anniversary of 9/11 without suffering another massive attack. From the White House the message rings loud and clear: “We live in the best of all possible worlds. We come closest to representing what God had in mind when He offered us a chance for redemption.”

Indeed, President W, with religious zeal predictable for alcoholics who convert to the fundamentalist Baptist Church without passing through AA, eagerly extols us to export our way of life to those who haven’t yet tasted its rewards, especially to the numerous residents of China, India and Brazil, “the big markets” as we now know them. Should they do as we say, they too will experience “progress.”

Privatization has become the key to forging ahead in the Bush world of corporate globalization. Leaders of the industrialized world lectured third world peoples on this virtue at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Bush dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell W had more pressing issues on his ranch — for only the last two days of the summit to admonish African nations against making resources and land public. Meanwhile, some third world leaders openly worried about their people’s lack of access to water, recently privatized in Bolivia.

Privatization became a political axiom during the Ronald Reagan era when he taught Americans to hate their government except for the wonderful military establishment of course — and resist paying taxes to it. Love the wonderful corporation, preached the former actor. CEOs embody the virtues of vision and efficiency and can do better things with your money than government.

Instead of “taxing and spending,” the charge Republicans made against Democrats, Reagan just spent. Reagan rewarded the already rewarded and convinced a majority of voters that it was in their own interest to vote against themselves. As the rich became measurably richer, Reagan took advantage of a historic antipathy citizens have felt toward their government since the American Revolution.

Ironically, instead of shrinking the total government, he enlarged the least productive sectors, while shrinking the most important ones. He downsized those agencies that helped people with education, health and other services and enlarged the military budget by building anti-missile systems that didn’t work or redundant missile systems designed to fight the Soviet enemy that was about to collapse under its own weight.

So, two decades later, when serious systemic problems arise at home health care and transportation inside of an ailing economy — our elected(?) leaders use the illogical but politically tested axioms of free-market ideology to solve them. Privatize the problem, meaning sell public property on the cheap or use government funds to reward corporate campaign contributors in the name of solving a crisis. For example, W. Bush promoted Enron’s deregulation demands that the Enron execs used to bilk Californians out of hundreds of millions of dollars during last year’s energy crisis.

Because corporations back in the 1920s and afterwards successfully pushed for the destruction of public transportation, the car and the freeway became California’s answer to moving from one place to another.

Now, from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area, as far south as suburban San Jose, and to San Diego, transportation has become a nightmare that intrudes into other areas of urban life. Poor air quality prevails in highly populated areas despite rigid emission controls. Freeways push their way into urban space and simultaneously grow more clogged for more and longer hours even on weekends. When faced with these issues, corporate and government masterminds concluded that instead of building public transportation, taxpayers should finance yet more freeways, which will lead to vastly increased numbers of cars on the road.

Each morning for five years, I awoke to the sounds of heavy road building equipment doing its exercise some 200 yards from my house in suburban Los Angeles; another freeway under construction. What a divine blend those large internal combustion engines will make each morning harmonizing with birds chirping and leaf blowers chattering! Clouds of dust settled over the grass and flowers, on the tree leaves and into the nostrils and eyes of all those nearby. A small price to pay for progress!

The new freeway after all will facilitate automobile commuters’ journeys in their seventy-mile trek from mushrooming bedroom communities east of San Bernandino into downtown Los Angeles or other urban centers. Tens of thousands of three and four bedroom units — as houses are now called have been built or are under construction in the bedroom and shopping mall communities east of LA.

What’s a few hundred thousand more people in an area that already contains some 12 million! So what that the region has a dubious supply of water, mostly stolen, or borrowed, from other regions never to be paid back of course! Big deal that we had a few rolling blackouts! Development, as construction of freeways, housing clusters, malls and parking lots is euphemistically known, pushes ever onward.

The great radio philosopher, Rush Limbaugh, addresses my concerns about noise and smog, which accompany a transportation-system based on the divinely mandated “one passenger per car” formula. Limbaugh, who is almost deaf and thus immune to noise pollution, doesn’t believe the reports about global warming, but he does believe that God intended us to own as many SUVs as our hearts desire.

To Limbaugh and his private property worshipping ilk, public transportation smacks of socialism. Besides, as observers have noted, Southern Californians have learned to love their cars and tolerate torturous conditions daily to maintain their individual means of transportation — if not their closest friend. Many in the southland have even given pet names to their cars and SUVs.

A recently published study in the Los Angeles Times shows that LA commuters averaged 56 hours last year sitting immobile — not even inching along — on our world famous freeways. Residents of other car-loving cities spent a few hours less in these situations. This is institutionalized loneliness. Imagine spending the equivalent of two entire days plus one full working shift sitting on a freeway, exhaust fumes pouring out of thousands of vehicles and seeping into you car! But listening to books on tape may help.

The study didn’t say whether tuning in to Limbaugh generates road rage as he berates the long-gone Clintons and argues loudly and belligerently in favor of the rich paying ever less in taxes. The right wing drapes its progress arguments with the false fabric of conservatism and God.

For example, listen to Limbaugh and his fellow sages who offer freeways and cars as God’s way to meet transportation needs. They also say they know that drilling for oil in the Alaska wilderness is the Lord’s solutions to the energy crisis. President Bush announced that drilling for oil off shore and in the virgin territories equals patriotism And, if God hadn’t wanted us to drill in those remote Alaskan preserves why would he have put the oil there in the first place, intimates Limbaugh. Since we export and import almost everything else, why not import more oil? Let’s not even talk about semi-socialist endeavors like wind and solar power or other non fossil fuel energy sources.

So, W plans to solve the economic and energy crisis by lowering taxes for the rich and drilling for oil and gas in virgin areas. And, presumably, he will help diffuse the transportation crisis by encouraging Congress to spend ever more money building freeways to accommodate ever more cars many of which we might export to third world nations so they too can have this kind of progress.

The air pollution that ensues from such solutions can be solved through individual initiative. Use Visine to deal with the effects of smog. It may actually give slight temporary help for the inflammation caused by the chemically polluted dust in your eyes. There’s a product to buy for your nose as well, and you can spray the tops of your flowers and remove the daily film from their petals as well.

Since our very system depends upon perpetual growth driven by the government’s incentives to the private sector – we call it development — our leaders don’t dare mention building a public rail system or God forbid limiting growth. The idea that growth equals development has also become an axiom. Hasn’t anyone heard about cancer, a very symbolic form of growth? Our system assumes that each individual should have the ability to buy as many cars, houses and boats as he or she pleases, regardless of race, color or creed. Eventually, the Chinese, Indians and Brazilians will also learn these lessons, as they adopt our way of life. Then, they too can live in the best of all possible worlds.

The ruling Chinese Communists have adopted pieces of the consumer-producer model and have privatized portions of what had been public property. As proof of China’s standing inside the world of global trade, note her entrance into the World Trade Organization with White House support.

In his ardor to promote unfettered access for US capital throughout the world, Bush demanded that Congress vote for “fast track,” which the White House equated with patriotism and standing with the Prez on the war against terrorism. In reality, fast track is a euphemism for a banal scheme that allows the President to negotiate trade deals with Congress debating them. Congress gets only a yes or no vote on each contract.

The terrorists indeed threaten not only our way of life but the exporter of it and its very notion of progress. For their own Muslim fascist reasons Al Qaeda opposes the western way of life. Ironically, their violent attacks against the symbols of the “progress order” have made it easier for Bush and company to obscure the crisis issues of our own economic model, ones that face us every day as we drive on the congested freeways and cough from the poor air and worry about being late for work, picking up the kids or seeing the family.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we as citizens must ignore the obvious in our lives. As Bush calls for attention to the war on terrorism, let us not forget that there are other values, ones that allow for maximum freedom and do not coincide with elevating shopping and SUV driving to the highest spiritual plateau.

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