Freedom comes, freedom goes, unless people constrain government
Chris Hedges: America's Democratic Collapse
We trim a 2008 keynote speech given May 28 at Furman University as part of protests by faculty and students over the South Carolina college's invitation to George Bush to give the commencement address. Posted at AlterNet June 3. The speaker is a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter whose latest book is Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians.
by Chris Hedges, TruthdigOn one hand, ExxonMobil made a $10.9 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. For each dollar earned in 2005, the top 10 percent got 48.5 cents. Within the top 10 percent, those who made more than $100,000, nearly all the gains went to the top tenth of 1 percent, who made at least $1.7 million that year.
On the other hand, 2.3 million of our citizens are behind bars, most for nonviolent drug offenses. The United States, with less than 5 percent of the global population, has almost 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
Unless we reverse this tide, there will be only masters and serfs, where democratic dissent is condemned as treason and ruthlessly silenced.
Corporations now get 40 percent of federal discretionary spending. Halliburton in 2003 was given a no-bid $7 billion contract oversee Iraq's oil production, which has become a $130 billion contract. Halliburton lowered its tax liability on foreign income by establishing subsidiaries inside tax havens.
Politicians defend military projects in their districts, no matter how redundant, because they provide jobs. More than half of federal discretionary spending goes to the military. Spending on war for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion, even as our annual deficit tops $400 billion. Meanwhile, our bridges and levees collapse, our schools decay, and our safety net is taken away.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote: The first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way to sustain an acceptable standard of living.
With the rise of the corporate state comes the rise of the security state: the Patriot Act and its renewal, the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of "extraordinary rendition," the warrantless wiretapping on American citizens, and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. It is not about terrorism or national security. It is about their control of us.
George Bush has, through signing statements, disobeyed more than 750 laws. The Constitution he swore to uphold obliged him ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The Bush administration has gutted environmental, food and product safety, and workplace safety standards along with their enforcement.
He and his team manufactured reports of weapons of mass destruction; they lied. There are perhaps a few hundred thousand people who have been killed and maimed in a war that that under the post-Nuremberg laws is "a criminal war of aggression."
The disconnect between what we are told and what is actually true is worthy of the old East German state. The New York Times' consumer reporter, W.P. Dunleavy, wrote that her groceries now cost $587 a month, up from $400 a year earlier. This is a 40 percent increase. A false inflation rate, one far lower than the real rate, keeps interest payments on bank accounts and certificates of deposit down. It masks the deterioration of the American economy.
News reports do little more than report on trivia and celebrity gossip. In an election year, we hear nothing about this subordinating of the American people to corporate power. The political debates have become popularity contests. They do not confront the real and advanced destruction of our democracy, the takeover of our electoral processes. In a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters.
We confuse our emotional responses – carefully manipulated by advertisers, pundits, spin doctors, television hosts, and political consultants – with knowledge. It is how we elect presidents and those we send to Congress. This growing disconnect with reality is the hallmark of a totalitarian state.
A state of fear engenders cruelty. Without change, we will see visited upon us the evils we visit on others. For the primary instrument of tyranny and empire is war and war is a poison; it can kill us.
There are tens of millions of Americans for whom the end of the world is no longer an abstraction. Economic despair has plunged the working class into the Christian right who offer a belief in magic, miracles, and the fiction of a utopian Christian nation. Unless we re-enfranchise these Americans back into the economy, our democracy is doomed.
We stand at the verge of massive dislocation forcing millions of families from their homes and into severe financial distress. We are waging a war that devours lives and capital, and that cannot ultimately be won. We are told we need to give up our rights to be safe, to be protected.
Time is running out. So what do we do?
If we as citizens do not hold Bush accountable for his crimes, if we allow the Democratic majority in Congress to not impeach him, we will be complicit in undoing five decades of international cooperation – largely put in place by the United States – and our own constitutional rights.
By the 1990s, the Democratic Party had virtual fundraising parity with the Republicans. Today the Democrats get more. Until we make it possible to run for national office without candidates having to get hundreds of millions of dollars, this rape of America will continue.
But voting is not enough. If voting was effective, it would be illegal. And voting in an age when elections are stolen by rigged ballot machines and a stacked Supreme Court willing to overturn all legal precedent will not work. I am not saying do not vote. We should all vote. But that has to be the starting point if we want to reclaim America. We must lobby, organize, and advocate.
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