Sunday, January 24, 2010

That Was the Week That Was*

The past week was rugged, slapping me with many reminders that any change toward citizen empowerment, economic and social justice will be long in coming in America. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court and Democratic handwringing: not much in there to give a body hope. How can it be that with an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress and a president elected with a clear majority this nation cannot enact progressive, common sense legislation supported by a definite majority of Americans? We truly live in a Bizzaro world.

Then I remember that even the Democratic Party is a party of the moneyed class. Not so much inherent to that class as are Republicans (the party of the moneyed class), but certainly enamored of and willing to serve it. The Democratic Party creates the illusion of choice in our political and social discourse. In reality Democratic “alternatives” to the past 30 years of Republican “drown the government” mentality simply slow the polarization of wealth in America. They don’t do anything to stop change it.

Both parties serve the same interests. They operate in a political environment poisoned by greed, obscene amounts of money, egregious disinformation and just plain American wooden-headedness. All this is meshed with a legislative system designed, as I learned in political science school, to block passage of any legislation. I guess that explains why the US cannot organize and finance health care—a basic human requirement—using any of the successful and effective models implemented by every other industrialized nation in the world.

It probably also explains why the US is constantly at war. Even before the Global War on Terror, the American military was constantly active around the world. Not in my six decades have I ever known a time when the United States was either not actively engaged in a military conflict or was actively backing a party to conflict. The worldwide network of military bases has been a part of the world as long as I have. Look at the massive investment in national security since World War II—Chalmers Johnson estimates the total cost at something like $50 trillion—and you will come to understand that war and preparing for war is a very profitable enterprise. Because of that profit, its beneficiaries are not only motivated to keep the gravy train running but have the financial means to influence the underlying policy.

To make a bad situation worse, the Supreme Court turned Pinocchio into a real boy by giving corporations the right mobilize their ever-growing wealth to flood our political campaigns with self serving information. (Juan Cole has a less apocalyptic evaluation of the decision, less apocalyptic largely because corporate wealth is already rampant). This decision completes the corporate personification initiated by a Gilded Age Supreme Court during an era that Americans used to regard as one of unbridled excess and corruption (that’s how it was taught even in a white southern high school and college in the mid 1960’s). These days, that kind of behavior is considered acceptable—just look at the rewards showered on the major financial institutions that contributed to the economic meltdown or the reluctance of so-called regulators to restrain or penalize corporate mis- mal- and non-feasance.

What the past week seems mostly is a reminder that I live in a world over which I have little control. The forces that shape my world are little affected by what I think, say and do. I just have to roll with the punches and make my way as best I can. That’s really nothing new—I’ve done than most of my life. What’s different now is the realization that the American political system is no longer capable of change. If overwhelming electoral control of the national government is insufficient to enact meaningful reforms, what choice is left?

History shows that the answers to that question do not always end well. All the more reason to initiate thoughtful and compassionate change now. As difficult as the past week would make that possibility seem, I am also reading Uncommon Sense by Howard Zinn, a man whose knowledge of American history could easily lead to despair at the prospects for economic and social justice in this country. But Zinn still has hope for real change rising up from popular action. If he can hope, so will I.

(*) The original was much better than the past week.

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