Life is Simple in a Fake Democracy

“Life isn’t simple,” says the voice of David Brancaccio in the advertisement for the United States’ “Public Broadcasting System’s” (PBS’) popular “Frontline” series. “Not in a democracy.”


What democracy? Where? The United States? 


A democracy is based on the simple principle of majority rule, among other things. 


As of the latest Gallup poll on November 22, 2009, less than half of Americans would support a White House decision to increase troops in Afghanistan [1]. This Tuesday, the new U.S. war president Barack Obama will go on the national airwaves to tell his “fellow Americans” why he will be considerably increasing the troop levels in Afghanistan anyway.  He will lecture his subjects on why they should get behind his decision.


He won’t mention that he gets far more support for his “Af-Pak” war policies from Republicans than he does from the millions of liberal Democrats who helped elect him.


He won’t say anything about the many tens of thousands of private contractors – mercenaries working for firms like Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater) and DynCorps – he plans to keep deploying at vast taxpayer expense in Afghanistan [2]


Also off the radar screen of the president’s remarks will be the many hundreds of innocent Pakistani civilians killed by his drastically escalated "secret" Predator drone war. 


By the New Yorker writer Jane Mayer’s account, Obama had embraced and deployed the controversial killer drone program – conducted by the CIA and (guess who?) Xe Services – with remarkable zest.  "During his first nine and a half months in office," Mayer notes, "he has authorized as many CIA aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W. Bush did in his final three years in office …So far this year, various estimates suggest, the CIA attacks have killed between three hundred and twenty-six and five hundred and thirty-eight people.  Critics say that many of the victims have been innocent bystanders."


The first two Predator assaults of the Obama administration occurred on the morning of January 23, 2009 – the future Nobel Peace Prize winner’s third day in office.  The second drone-hit ordered by the "peace" president on that day mistakenly targeted the residence of a pro-government tribal leader, killing his entire family, including three children. "In keeping with U.S. policy, there was no official acknowledgement of either strike." Thanks to the program’s official concealment, "there is no viable system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war." [3] The CIA drone program is an officially non-existent U.S. secret and honored as such by the Obama administration, as is the non-fact that Israel is a heavily nuclear-armed state [4].


War is Peace, Love is Hate. Ignorance is Strength.


Here is some more interesting, simple, and officially irrelevant opinion data, also from this year:


* 59 percent of Americans support a single-payer government health insurance system (CBS/New York Times poll, January 2009)


* 65 percent of Americans respond affirmatively to the following question: “Would you favor the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan—something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and over get—that would compete with private health insurance plans?” (CBS/New York Times, September 23, 2009).


* Just 7 percent of the American people find health insurance companies to be “generally honest and trustworthy.”  The trust rates are even worse for managed care companies/HMOs (5 percent) and not much better (11 percent) for pharmaceutical and drug companies (Harris Poll November 2007) 


* 71 percent of Americans feel that we need “fundamental changes” or to have the U.S. health system “completely re-built,” compared to just 24 percent who wish only for “minor changes” (Pew Research Center, 2009).


So what?  Despite this clear majority opinion data, the most that a Democratic president (Obama) and a majority Democratic Congress will offer in terms of an alternative to the nation’s disastrous corporate-run health care system is a strictly limited, deeply conservative version of “the public option”— one that would be available only to those without access to private insurance and only in certain states. The fake-progressive Obama has been reported to prefer a “public option” with a “trigger,” meaning a small and weak program for the otherwise uninsured that would only be activated at some time in the future, if it was determined that the private insurers had failed to meet certain benchmarks.


There is nothing in the corporatist health “reform” legislation that Obama is hoping to sign to lead us to question the wisdom of Business Week’s candid judgment more than a month prior to the speech:  “The Health Insurers Have Already Won.”  “The industry,” Business Week writers Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein matter-of-factly concluded in the first week of August 2009, “has already accomplished its goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business.” [5]


And “dominate policy,” in cold defiance of public opinion, Terhune and Epstein might have added – a curious reflection on life in the “world’s greatest democracy.”


The Obama-Pelosi Democrats’ overly complex and corporate-captive “health reform” efforts are a great gift to their “frenemies” atop the big insurance and drug corporations and those firms’ Wall Street investors. Those companies and investors gave a record-setting amount of campaign cash to the president and fellow Democrats during the 2008 election cycle.  The political money was invested with the explicit purpose of undermining any chances for significant progressive health reform in 2009 and 2010.


When Obama gives a big speech claiming to be the first president to have passed real health reform in the U.S., we can be sure, he won’t say anything about the following comments he made as a state senator in the early summer of 2003 to the Illinois AFL-CIO:


“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.” [6]


This remarkable statement was made just prior Obama’s realization that he had a serious shot at national office – a realization that sharpened his willingness to subordinate himself to what Edward S. Herman and David Peterson Peterson call “the unelected dictatorship of money.” That behind-the-scenes tyranny “vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial U.S. regime.” [7].


Speaking of imperial priorities, Obama’s record-setting “defense” (empire) budget and related colonial war expansion in South Asia has rewarded the giant military industrial complex, including leading political investors and Obama supporters like General Dynamics and Boeing. . Unlike the Administration’s “health reform,” Washington’s war spending is unburdened with the requirement that it (as Obama promised in his health care speech to a joint session of Congress in September) “not add a dime to the federal deficit.”


This is despite the immaterial, extraneous and academic fact that a large majority of Americans has long favored significantly reducing “defense” (empire) spending and significantly increasing spending on meeting health care and other human and social needs. The people’s longstanding support for a peace divided continues to be largely irrelevant – a great testament to the spirit of popular governance in the homeland and headquarters of global freedom.


Maybe “life” is simple in the United States’ “dollar democracy.”  Ever watch “P”BS’ nightly “News Hour?” The spectrum of acceptable debate permitted on the shows “in-depth” coverage and “expert” commentary is about 99.6 percent within the narrow parameters of the bipartisan corporate-neoliberal and military consensus.  Corporate funding is part of the reason. Each “News Hour” episode begins with a few minutes of  propagandistic advertising by the high-tech corporate, military, and petro-chemical likes of Chevron (“Human Energy: Finding Newer, Cleaner Ways to Power the World”), Boeing (“Our Story is Evolving”), Intel, Monsanto (“We Help Farmers Around the World Produce more While Conserving More,” BNSF (“The Cleaner Road Ahead”), Toyota (“We See Beyond Cars”), and Wells Fargo Investments (“Working to Strengthen Our Communities”), along with short ads from such well-heeled, corporate-underwritten “non-profits” as the Bill and Melinda Gates and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundations. Private is public. Love is hate…       


It’s like the old working-class adage goes: “money talks, bullshit walks.” There’s nothing complex about it. Guess it’s not “a democracy.” 


Paul Street ([email protected])is the author of many articles, chapters, speeches, and books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008).  




1. Gallup, November 25, 2009 at http://www.gallup.com/poll/124490/In-U.S.-More-Support-Increasing-Troops-Afghanistan.aspx


2. “As of 30 June,” 2009, The Guardian (UK) reported last September, “there were nearly 74,000 military contractors – including 5,165 armed private security guards – in Afghanistan, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 US troops in the country.”  See Eric Stoner, “Guards Gone Wild,” The Guardian, September 4, 2009 (read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/sep/04/afghanistan-embassy-guards-abuse), detailing massive “out-of-control”  behavior on part of the private contractors.


3. Jane Mayer, "The Predator War," The New Yorker (October 26, 2009), pp. 36-38.


4. Eli Lake, “Obama Agree to Keep Israel’s Nukes Secret,” Washington Times, October 2, 2009, read at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/02/president-obama-has-reaffirmed-a-4-decade-old-secr/


5. Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein, “The Health Insurers Have Already Won,” Business Week (August 6, 2009), read at http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/09_33/b4143034820260.htm


6. “Obama on Single Payer Health Insurance,” June 30, 2003, YouTube video clip at http://www.1payer.net/All-Videos/obama-on-single-payer.html. See also YouTube link at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpAyan1fXCE


7. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave’ at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond,” Electric Politics, July 22, 2009.

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