Mirror Mirror

“People Are Going To Die”

So that’s it then.  George W. Bush can put his hand on his Holy Bible and repeat as often as he likes that “war” is his “last option” in his obsession with “disarming Saddam.” Truth is, the people who matter most in the most powerful military state in history are determined to launch a massive and devastating assault on a weak and impoverished nation that poses minimal risk to its own neighbors, much less the American people. Even in the antiwar movement, many of us candidly can’t see how Mad King George W. Bush can back down now from his imminent “war,” really a massacre under any likely scenario. He has painted himself into a very ugly corner, making the successful slaughter of Iraqis a requirement for American imperial, “credibility” and the success of his regressive domestic agenda.

As Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it Tuesday, “people are going to die.”  By “people,” Myers means droves of innocent Iraqi civilians, slated for elimination in what he calls a “shock and awe” campaign to quickly overwhelm Iraqi opposition. The guiding idea, taken from military strategist Harlan Ullman, is to “unleash 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the campaign” (New York Times, March 5, 2003, A1).  “It’s not going to be like 1991,” Myers told reporters Tuesday, warning them to “be very, very careful about how you do your business” (Chicago Sun Times, March 5, 2003, p.6) in Iraq.

The “campaign” is modeled on the atomic terror attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both of which were supposedly launched in order to “save lives” by speeding Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. The plan is to jolt the Iraqi leadership into rapid submission, thereby reducing damage to people, buildings, and infrastructure – an expression of loving kindness from an administration whose leader claims to pray for the children of Baghdad. We can start dusting off a special new spot for George W. Bush in the War Criminals’ Hall of Fame, right next to Daddy 41.

A New Low

Last night, in a painfully dull-witted prime-time press conference – a miserable new low in the public presentation of the American Presidency – Bush trotted out the standard justifications.  We heard that the White House wants to protect Americans and the civilized world from the threat of terrorism, to rid the Middle East of a terrible tyrant, to free the Iraqi people, and to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Again and again, as if he were trying to convince himself, the president strained to make the great, false Orwellian link – the one that draws a firm line between Saddam, September 11,th  weapons of mass destruction, al Qaeda and international terrorism. Again and again, as if he had a hard time believing it, Bush repeated his faith-based belief that Saddam is a serious threat to “the American people.” 

He refused to directly answer reporters’ questions about the reasons for mass opposition to his Iraq policy at home and abroad.  Following standard White House doctrine, he told us how lucky we are to possess the right to protest, as if this were granted to us by benevolent masters and not a freedom to be asserted as our birthright.  And as if it was seriously endangered by Saddam Hussein instead of the Fundamentalist Confederacy enthusiast John Ashcroft and other sponsors of the Patriot Acts I and II and Total Information Awareness.

We heard that Bush sleeps well at night, soothed by his daily dialogue with a “comforting” God, who tells him, apparently, that the road to heaven is paved with the mangled bodies of Arab children. 

“The Single Sustainable Model” of Proper National Development

Throughout the whole crisis, we have been lectured over and over about the greatness and benevolence of the United States.  We are instructed that America seeks to export the beautiful, inseparably linked benefits of democracy, free markets and freedom – great virtues that find their homeland and guardian in the United States of America. Last night, Bush repeated a favorite Orwellian White House line, claiming that those virtues were the terrorists’ real targets on September 11th, 2001.  The jetliner attacks, he wants us to believe, had nothing to do with US empire in the Middle East.   

 Bush did not make any reference last night to his administration’s declared belief that the United States represents and epitomizes the “single sustainable model” of social and political development. That idea, however, lurked behind his comments. Bush has received a heavy dose of the American power elite’s narcissistic belief that their nation is the embodiment of social and human existence at its very best. His faith in the US as the “single sustainable model” of social development reflects a deeply rooted American faith that America is a God-ordained City on a Hill, one that “stands taller and sees farther” (as Madeline Albright put it years ago) than the rest of the world.  It is a belief shared by past American rulers of considerably greater intellectual capacity, including John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

In trying to forge a coherent basis for lasting and powerful opposition to all of this, we should remember that domestic (“homeland” in current parlance) inequality and repression is the “taproot” (in J.A. Hobson’s excellent word-choice) of imperialism.

Forget for a moment, if you can, that Japan was already defeated and seeking surrender before the A-bombs fell; that Saddam poses no serious threat to the United States or anyone else beyond his own subject population; that US troops are being needlessly placed in harms way. Forget, briefly, if you can, that the United States is both the greatest source of the world’s weapons, including the mass destruction variety; that America is the main state for initiating and sustaining the cancer of proliferation; that the “democracy” the Bush gang seeks to impose on Iraq and the rest of the planet is the sort that deepens inequality of wealth and power within and between nations, pushing the non-wealthy majority to the margins and handing the world’s resources over to American and other western investors.  Forget for a minute the large number of terrorists (for instance John Negroponte, of Central American shame) the Bush administration employs,  the numerous war criminals the US harbors, and the terrorist regimes (Columbia, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia for starters) that are sponsored and protected by the US. Forget that North Korea poses a monumentally greater threat to world security than Iraq. And forget, for a moment, the farcical nature of the notion that one nation could impose “democracy” on another through savage bombardment, invasion and occupation. 

A Look in the Mirror: “The Way Life Should Be”

 Put all these and other foreign policy absurdities aside, just for a moment, to scrutinize the idea that the internal American society represents democracy, freedom, and sustainable, happiness-generating social and political development.  Reverse the evasive, permanent frontier- seeking flight mechanism at the heart of the imperial impulse (see William Appleman Williams, The Great Evasion, 1964) and hold America up in front of the mirror. It is a moment, one would hope, for something that Bush claims to abhor (see USA TODAY’s obsequious interview with Bush in the February 28th edition of “The National Newspaper”): “introspection.”  As Bush prepares to shed Iraqi blood and further destabilize an already dangerous world in the declared name of American “democracy” and “freedom,” Americans would do well to consider some unflattering facts of life in the nation that claims to shows the world “the way,” as Senator Fay Hutchinson put it last summer, “life should be.”  Consider:

Even prior to the passage of George W. Bush’s regressive 2001 tax cut, which gives the top 1% of taxpayers a nearly 40 percent of a tax reduction that will cost the US Treasury at least $1.8 trillion, the US was the most unequal of all industrialized societies.  The richest 10 percent of the population own more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth and the richest 5 percent of families receive as much income as the bottom 50 percent.

In 2000, at the peak of the heralded Clinton economic “boom,” 11 million households (10.5 percent of all US households) were food insecure; Black and Hispanic households had hunger and food insecurity rates three times greater than those of whites. Things have worsened considerably since the onset of the Bush administration. 

More than 12 million or 17 percent of US children live in poverty, including more than 4 million under the age of six and the US child poverty rate is substantially higher than that of other industrialized nations. 

More than one in three US children live in or near poverty and more than 8 million people, including 3 million children live in homes that frequently skip meals or eat too little

America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s leading network of food banks, reports that more than 23 million Americans rely on their agencies; 40 percent of those came from working families.

One in eight US households has reduced the quality of their diet to utilize financial resources in other essential areas (rent, day care, clothing, medical care, transportation and utilities).

As much as 20 percent of America’s food goes to waste annually, with an estimated value of $31 million in lost food being thrown out.

42 million Americans, more than or 16 percent of the population, including more than 8 million children, lack health insurance.

Nearly eight of every ten US adults (79 percent) think that their health care system requires either fundamental reform (51 percent) or complete rebuilding (28 percent).

American have the longest working hours in the industrial world, exacerbating widespread job dissatisfaction among the U.S. population.

Under the rules of the plutocratic American mode of politics, the leading predictors of election success are (1) total campaign spending and (2) being an incumbent.   As it happens, incumbents out-raise challengers by more than 4 to 1 in the House of Representatives and more than 5 to 1 the Senate, reflecting the greater ability of current office holders to raise funds from corporations and people seeking to shape policy.

The winners of the political finance race (the “wealth primary” in the words of American campaign finance reformers) win 92 percent of the races for the US House of Representatives and 88 percent of the races for the US Senate.
The average amount spent by the winners in the US Senate races of 2000 was $7.2 million; the average spent by losers was 3.8 million. 

George W. Bush raised more than $191 million, compared to just over $133 million by Gore. 

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population contributes more than of 80 percent of all money in federal elections in amounts of $200 or more.  The vast majority of such wealthy contributors are wealthy white men with annual family incomes higher than $100,000.

American have the longest working hours in the industrialized world, further degrading capacities for civic engagement that are already gravely challenged by corporate media and the wildly disproportionate political and ideological influence exercise by the wealthy owners and managers of giant corporations.

Nine corporations own more than 50 percent of all American media (including both print and electronic), exercising a degree of concentrated private influence over public information, imagery, and consciousness that is without historical precedent. 

Reflecting mass disillusionment with big-money and media dominated politics, American citizens boycott the ballot box in huge numbers, exhibiting the lowest voter turnout in the “democratic” world. By the 1990s, US turnout even in presidential elections fell to less than half of the adult population.  

While white men make up 43 percent of the Fortune 2000 workforce, they hold 95 percent of the Fortune 2000 senior management jobs.

American schools and communities are so racially segregated that the average American black child’s school is 57 percent black even though blacks make up 12 percent of the nation’s population.

A typical black individual lives in a neighborhood that is only 33 percent white and more than 50 percent black.

African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites. To attain equal employment in the U.S. between blacks and whites, 700,000 more African-Americans would have to be moved out of unemployment and nearly two million African-Americans would have to be promoted into higher paying positions.

The poverty rate for blacks in the US is more than twice the poverty rate for whites.

Black families’ median household net worth is less than 10 percent that of whites. The average white household has a net worth of $84,000 but the average black household is worth only $7,500. 

Nearly three-fourths of white families but less than half of black families own their homes. 

In 1999, there were 28, 784 gun-related deaths in the U.S. – over 80 such fatalities each day. Fifty-eight percent of these deaths were suicides and 38 percent were homicides.

Firearms killed 3,365 children and teens age 19 and under in 1999.  Of these, 1,990 were murdered, 1,078 committed suicide, and 214 were victims of accidental shootings. Everyday in the U.S., 9 children are killed by gun violence. 

In 1997, 6,416 young people 15-24 years old were murdered and 6 percent of students reported carrying a firearm at least once in the previous 30 days.

Almost two-thirds of children 7 to 10 years old in the U.S. fear that they might die young.

Domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women and four American women are murdered by a relative or a partner each day in the US.

More than 40 percent of US rivers, lakes and estuaries are too polluted for safe fishing or swimming and industry was allowed to legally dump more than 260 million tons of toxic chemicals directly into American waters in 2000.

Each year, an estimated 18 million Americans suffer from depression and more than half of these people have major or clinical depression. Depression costs U.S. business an estimated $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs.

Suicide took the lives of 29,350 Americans in 2000 and suicide was the 11th highest cause of death for all Americans but the 3rd highest cause for 10-14 year olds, 15-19 year olds, and 20-24 year olds.

Sixty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.

Every year, 40,000 Americans, including 7,000 teenagers die in automobile accidents.

Only China, Saudi Arabia and Iran execute more prisoners than the U.S.

The U.S. has highest known death row population in the world: thousands await execution.

The nation that proclaims itself the homeland and headquarters of world freedom comprises 5 percent of the world’s population but houses more than 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The rate of incarceration in the US is 699 per 100,000, up from roughly 100 per 100,000 in 1970.   The next highest rate in the world is Russia at 644 and the American rate is six times higher than those of Britain, Canada, or France. “No other Western democratic country has ever imprisoned this proportion of its population,” says Norval Morris, a professor emeritus at University of Chicago Law School. He considers the high number of people held behind bars in the United States America to be “appalling.” 

Blacks are 12.3 percent of US population, but they comprise roughly half of the roughly 2 million Americans currently behind bars.

On any given day, 30 percent of African-America males ages 20 to 29 are “under correctional supervision”  — either in jail or prison or on probation or parole

In particular, huge numbers of Americans today are locked up for drug offenses and other transgressions that would not have met with the same punishment 20 years ago.

Nearly one in five black men has a prison record, an “astounding” one in three black men now possesses a felony record, and one in four black adult males is an ex-felon.

Blacks use roughly 15 percent of the illegal narcotics in the US but make up 60 percent of the nation’s drug prisoners. 

George W. Bush owes his presence in the White House to the illegal removal of thousands of black ex-felons from voter rolls in Florida, a state run by his brother Jeb Bush.  This pivotal purge, curiously downplayed by liberals who can’t stop blaming Ralph Nader for the outcome of the 2000 elections, is recounted in sickening detail in the first chapter of Greg Palast’s astonishingly good book The Best Democracy That Money Can Buy (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

“How You Gonna Export Something You Ain’t Even Got At Home”?

The lists of social, economic, political, psychological, and ecological failures and of unmet civic and social needs in the US go on and on.  These are enough, however, to suggest that America’s power elite is in no legitimate position to make decisions of life, death, and socio-political development for the masses of the Middle East or anywhere else. What, after all, does it say about their plans for Iraqis and other world citizens when the Bush administration views a society with such grave internal problems (their own) as the “single sustainable model” of human and social development – the “beacon to the world,” in Hutchinson’s words, “of the way life should be?”
On page 6 of Wednesday’s Chicago Sun Times, I learned that “U.S. Will ‘Shock and Awe’ Iraq: General Says Civilians Almost Certain to Die.”  Further down, on page 22, I learned that “Chicago Will Choke.” The more deeply buried story reported that the disappearance of open space, a decrease in public transit use and the addition of 1 millions cars will push the Chicago metropolitan area over the brink of ecological livability by 2030.

The United States, it seems to me, has got a few things to take care of at home – dance club and rock concert safety, for example – before it has anything to tell others about how to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.   As a doorman named Tony said to me the other day in a brief conversation about Bush’s declared desire to bring democracy and freedom to the Iraqi people: “How you gonna export something you ain’t even got at home?”   Tony lives in a 95 percent African American neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, home to massive poverty, endemic violence, and five of the ten city zip codes that together receive nearly a fourth of Illinois’ 20,000 released prisoners each year.   

Last January, President Bush flew over the West Side on his way to a lakeshore meeting of the “Members Only” Chicago Economic Club.  There he unveiled his plans to slash corporate and other taxes on the super-rich, throwing the country further into deficit even as he escalated the expensive, taxpayer-financed investment expected to bear fruit its initial return in the form of untold numbers of Iraqi corpses. Tony is from one of America’s many invisible neighborhoods, bereft of campaign-finance clout, lacking lobbyists’ pull.  Like the invisible masses of Iraq, his community is not taken seriously by the regime that rules his “homeland.” His community, too, is ready to have its already considerable difficulties exacerbated by the plutocrats in the White House – the Great White Men who, with their assistants of color, scorn the habit of introspection.  These power members of the “elite” see no use for the mirror other than to reflect a blinding light on the terrible truths of our time.

“How you gonna export something you ain’t even got at home?” It’s a damn good question, far better than anything I hear from people with advanced and professional degrees, crippled by the ideological discipline inculcated in those trusted with hierarchy’s “creative” tasks of supervision, indoctrination and strategic planning. 

As we do our best to stop and, failing that, scale-back Mad King George’s murderous attack on Iraq, we must also work to prevent future imperial projects by building a real and lasting democracy at home. For the good of the world at home and abroad, we Americans need to rip Hobson’s taproot out of the ground. We need to create a genuinely democratic and sustainable model for all, starting with ourselves.

Paul Street is a ZNet Commentator in Chicago, Illinois. He can be reached at [email protected].

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