America and Americans: A New ViewCredit: www.treehugger.com
By: J. Marlando
Introduction: We The People
When I was a kid growing up it was on the meat and potatoes of Americanism. We were still saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school each morning and every Saturday we’d gather around the radio to hear the adventures of SupermanCredit: www.dedline.com who fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way. And, of course, we all loved and promoted democracy not only for us but for the entire world. No one knew what the term meant, however, but everyone talked as if they did and so we kids simply started repeating what we heard from the adults in our lives until we were convinced that we knew what democracy was too. In regard to this, we especially liked the term “free democracy.” I grew up proud to be living in a “free democracy” although even today, well over a half century later, I still have no idea what that means. Oh well, neither do you!
The dictionary tells us that at root level democracy means that it’s the free and equal right for every individual to participate in a system of government, often practiced by electing representatives of the people by the people. That is, having a government that was elected freelyand equally by all citizens. Well, as it turns out that’s mere hype and hyperbole since, for example, electing a president is like being handed a menu with only two items on it—a hamburger and a hamburger. A perfect example of this was the Gore/Bush campaign since most other elections are less blatant.
Another confusing term that we toss around is “freedom.” I was raised on it! Oddly enough, I was also taught that freedom has a price tag on it; that it is something we must “pay” for. There seems to be a paradox in that? And anyway, clearly, the more money a person has, the freer that person is.
I think that Robert FrostCredit: Rbert Frost hit the nail on the head when he said, “If society fits you comfortably enough, you call it freedom.” Freedom then is not applicable to the poor. Poverty after all, enslaves. The great myth about poverty is that a poor individual can go from rags to riches in this “free” country. Well, it has happened, but not very often. For one thing, in a (modern) capitalistic country, the axiom that it takes money to make money is all but written in stone.
In our “democracy” the entire political, social and judicial system is constructed in favor of the wealthy. Those at the top own the wealth while the rest struggle against the tide of financial inequality. In this regard our own Census Bureau tells us that there are over 146 million Americans living in poverty or on low incomes. And, over a million school children in the U.S. are homeless. Society simply doesn’t “fit any of them…comfortably. And so, in a term, they ain’t free. Thank you for the insight, Mr. Frost.
I read a lot of reports that tell us that a poor economy is behind the sudden ballooning of America’s very poor but the “system” has always spawned impoverished conditions for vast numbers of people, absolutely supporting the validity of the aphorism telling us that, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Poverty—for most who endure it—is itself a product of civilization and not of individual faults and failures as the social engineers like people to believe. After all, as long as the poor blame themselves for their poverty and the middle and higher classes blame the poor for their poverty social order is manageable by the politicos. Indeed, in the USA the concept that “everyone” can and should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is a social myth since conditions and circumstances play constant roles in all of our lives.
The objective of this article is to reveal some of the major problems now unfolding in the US
Capitalism, at its roots, is clearly the most productive system on the planet. For one thing it promises that an individual can exchange either product or labor for money. And money, since its advent, has provided freedom for just about anyone who has inherited or accumulated a lot of it.
As a quick aside, a kind of capitalism originated in Medieval Europe but capitalism, as we know it today, actually began in the Netherlands and more specifically in Amsterdam.
In any case, ideal capitalism (not that it ever existed) but capitalism, in the ideal, is a fair-play, equally-beneficial contractual theorem supporting such principles as an “honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” and a fair exchange of value for goods and services. In merchant capitalism this allows for profit to be made that is equitable for both buyer and seller.
The problem is that the crack in this capitalistic egg is greed. In literature Scrooge is a successful capitalist—he manipulates profit through high interest rates, overworks and underpays his employees and hordes his money. The Scrooge factor has corrupted capitalism since the dawning of the Industrial Age and continues in the bloodstream of banking and business today. The result is that today at least 20 million Americans are spending MORE than half their income on housing…nearly 3 million American children are surviving on $2.00 a day or less while a great many others are living in food insecurity. At the same time, a great many who are living “comfortably” condemn welfare, claim most of the homeless are “on the streets” by choice, blames the lack of personal integrity and character for the impoverished conditions of ghettoes and barrios and finally claim that they are being financially challenged because so much of their tax money goes to the poor in one way or another.
But guess what, folks. Welfare is not the country’s financial drain that you’ve been convinced that it is…warfare is; the high cost of military spending!
War indeed becomes capitalism’s high risk but high yielding enterprise. There’s nothing new in this, however, such enterprises have been unfolding since the dawning of civilization itself. In fact, kingdoms and empires have almost always been defined on the battlefield.
The War Economy
America’s “I can kick your behind” posture is essential in a world as dangerous as ours with nuclear warheads about as common as flies in July. Thus, a strong arsenal of military might is essential as a deterrent to the crazies on the planet who might launch a third world war just for the hell of it. On the other hand… to make war of any size a capitalistic strategy is simply wrong.
Returning to my childhood for a moment, I was raised to believe that America ONLY fought wars to bring peace and freedom to others and/or to protect its own shores. Those are honorable causes for any country, nation or tribe. Then I began reading modern American history. Just before the turn of the 20 century, the Spanish American War revealed this not to be true. While the US citizenry had been fooled into believing the war was about freeing the Cubans from Spanish occupation, the real reason was twofold. (1) To protect and expand financial interests and (2) to demonstrate the military might of the United States. When the returning “war hero,” Theodore Roosevelt returned from the fight, he began his political career that would soon enough lead to the Oval Office. Before the war he had written a friend saying that he would “welcome any war” because he thought the United States needed one.” As part of the peace pact between Spain and the U.S., the U.S. annexed Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam while gaining much influence over Hawaii and the trading routes from the Far East. As for Cuba, American big business stepped in and in 1903 the American Navy established Guantanamo Bay.
Certainly World War I and World War II returned great esteem to America’s motivations. I was very young during World War II and was raised to love my flag as a symbol of freedom and honor and to make God, Home and Country my heartfelt pride. Indeed, this pride rejoiced in the hearts and minds of the entire population—pride in our military, pride in our government and pride in ourselves as the land of the free.
Then came Korea and a new term emerged—Police Action. This particular “Police Action” was to restore the peace between the North and South Koreans and to force the communist forces back across the 38th parallel. The Korean mission had been accomplished but the American war machine continued to advance all the way to the Ya lu River on China’s border. This brought the Chinese into the fight. Nevertheless, the U.S eventually quit the “war” honorably but without a peace treaty being signed. In view of this, the Korean War has never officially ended.
Many Americans objected to the idea of their country becoming an international police force but the government had other motivations than merely saving the world from communism, although containing the communists was certainly on the agenda But as Howard Zinn points out that the Korean “Police Action” “created a kind of coalition that was needed to sustain a policy of intervention abroad, militarization of the economy at home.” In the far reaches of this, America was becoming a war economy.
In regard to the futuristic war economy, Prsident EisenhowerCredit: www.beyondreamtime.bogspot.com said this in his farewell speech just three days before John F. Kennedy was to be sworn into office.(Eisenhower was an old soldier who had been a great general especially during World War II and an advocate of peace between peoples of the world).. In any case, read the following carefully as it certainly applies to our current policies as a nation in the 21st century. He said:
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government…we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Eisenhower’s foresight and understanding is clearly stated here. Of course at that time he was not only fully knowledgeable of what had occurred in Korea but was privy to our military’s involvement in Vietnam. Nearly ten years later President Johnson had announced that the North Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. Navy ship in international waters off the Gulf of Tonkin. The thought of anyone attacking our Navy boys stirred most Americans to support retaliation. The only problem was is that the attacked never happened, it was simply a ploy…a lie to the American people to empower the president to escalate the war that had secretly been going on for more than a decade, What most Americans didn’t know is that a number of petitioners was declaring Vietnam an “unconstitutional war” and asked the Supreme Court to make a ruling on it. The Supreme Court refused. Indeed, the gowned judges were obviously “playing ball” with the politicians…the military industrial complex and the economists.
Trillions of dollars have been spent in the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts. The war in Iraq is the result of complex business and, I have always suspected, a deal cut with the Saudis. Again the American people were lied to—the “weapons of mass destruction” deception” was the national sting but then came the usual rhetoric: We want to free the Iraqi people from tyranny and give them democracy.
Americans have historically always been for the underdog and so the thought of “freeing people” stirs their warring enthusiasm and gains permission for the warmongers to proceed in calculating the risk and rewards of, if you will, the bugle charge into one more battlefield.
And now the question arises, what is my point for sharing all of this. I will return to Dwight D. Eisenhower who said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
The Politics of Wealth and Poverty
Not every American politician is a heartless, power-seeking degenerate. Indeed, many new senators and congress people begin their White house journey conscientious and caring; filled with desire to right wrongs and actually serve the people. There is a fly in this devoted ointment, however. They soon enough discover that they are caught up in a vast machine called, the system.
I will explain what I am talking about like this: Perhaps you recall the motion picture, A Space Odyssey 2001?
In that movie there was an artificial intelligence named HAL. HAL, a sophisticated computer, attempts to take over its controllers. By and large, in America, the “system” has done exactly this: In metaphor the system has become a successful HAL thus controlling the very government that constructed it. As a result those conscientious new senators and congress people quickly discover that they are mere cogs in a political machine that dictates to its operators. It is fairly well known today that over the course of the Mid-East wars that trillions of dollars spend has really have no accounting for…well at least no visible accounting. After all, the war has served to make many individuals and the war industrialists richer.
Within the system there has grown a world of nepotism and cronyism; a good-old-boy’s social club called politics. It is, in many ways, a bureaucracy that is separated from the very people that it is supposed to represent becoming a self-serving island of plutocrats in the guise of democracy.
Democracy, however, is a political-socio myth. For one thing if America actually had a true “democracy” only chaos could prevail because mob rule would prevail. But, in any case, we were, from the beginning, a plutocracy self-constructed as a republic. (Stop and think about it—republic…republican and democracy…democrat—there are only minor theoretical differences).
In any case, the “system” itself controls both parties like a “HAL” manipulating its operators. While the political tricksters gain your votes, once in office one learns the “game” and how to play it—most senators and congress people are much richer when they leave The House than when they arrived. There are the perks, inside trading, gifts, special favors and outrageous retirement benefits. This should not be the case for obvious reasons and so, a deterrent to this kind of self-serving in the White House should begin with those serving in the House of Representatives not being permitted to serve more than three terms and be just as subject to the laws they pass as the rest of us are. (Indeed, we hear that no one is above the law in the U.S. Well, when it comes to the House of Reps, this just ain’t true.
But where did this “system” arrive from?
The favoring of the wealthy began during George Washington’s presidency when his assistant and secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton advocated government aligning itself with the wealthiest of society. As a result a Bank of the United States was constructed as a partnership between the government and certain banking interests while granting special interest favors to big business such as passing tariffs to support particular manufacturers and to assist in growing their wealth. This kind of nepotism persisted into the industrial age—most visibly during the times that the railroads were being constructed, when big business and government clearly became (backslapping) bedfellows. This ‘bedding together” obviously persists into our own times. As a result the gap between rich and poor widens every decade and certainly this nepotism can be seen in taxation: A system, wherein the wealthiest people and corporate giants often pay little or no taxes while the poorer and middle class are marginalized by the amount of taxes they pay. (Taxes should be progressive and so obviously fair. People who earn $20,000 and below should pay 5% tax, $21,000 through $40,000 10% (and so forth) with a ceiling of 55% for those earning mammoth amounts of money. This would immediately balance income inequality and assist in creating a more beneficial flow of capital throughout the general population. The gap between rich and poor would actually narrow for a change. (As for corporate taxation, this is more complex and far too complex to attempt addressing here).
In regard to all this, the American myth is that there is something intrinsically wrong with welfare and government assistant programs. A great number of Americans shout Halleluiah on Sundays and then denounce the Christian ethic when it comes to caring for the poor. The hypocrisy is obvious when those same people approve (or close their eyes to) spending trillions of tax dollars on the country’s war machines but resent government spending money on healthcare, childcare, food allowances and adequate housing. In regard to this, a great observation arrives from the Essential Writings of Heider and Don Camara: “When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Unfortunately our culture is fundamentally social-Darwinistic; a reminder of Victor Hugo’s observation: “There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.”
Most virtually no one—NO ONE—in the world today needs to be hungry, needs to go without clean water or needs to die because of lack of vaccines except for the greed and inhumanity of man.
A Challenge for Change
As established in the above there are lots wrong right here at home but this is not merely a localized problem it is a an international malady and has existed since our species took that walk out of the wilderness and began structuring so-called civilization in Mesopotamia. When the first city/states emerged they were believed to be central to the workings of the world like believing Salt Lake or Pasadena was built in the actual center of the universe. And, anyone living outside those centers became foreign and therefore threatening. War soon enough became our kind’s way of life and a way to expand these centers while increasing both wealth and power. This describes basic expansionism. (In later history, Alexander and Hitler saw their centers as encompassing the entire globe). In any case, basic expansionism includes murder, rape and theft. These are the traditional activities of triumphant warriors who warred in the name of their centers. This has not changed for the past 5,000 to 10,000 years. If we take away all the smoke and mirrors and all the ideological nonsense war is still about murder, rape and theft.
The only war that can be justified then is a defensive war. Certainly America’s arsenals of technical and tactical weapons are necessary evils in a dangerous world. However, when we discover that unnecessary wars are fought for geo-political dominance, market controls and/or homeland economy, the defense justification, in a term, goes out the window.
The U.S. presently is the most powerful nation on the planet but as we all know power corrupts unless one is extremely conscientious and…caring. This is the second decade of the 21st century folks, an age of high tech and so, amazing electronics, unimaginable scientific advancement and of incredible information. In addition, we have known for a very long time that our planet is a mere dew drop in the vast sea of the universe.
What is being implied in the above paragraph is that our technology has advanced beyond imagination but we—as a species—apparently have not. For one thing, the planet is still supporting the concept of “centers” no less than the most ancient people did—how backward and ignorant is killing other human beings in the name of a warrior god…how backward is racism and sexism in their cloaks of superiority…how backward is the concept of expansionism itself?
The operative word in the above is “backward.” After all, as in the most ancient times we are still living in a might is right reality. A world where, as Marvin Harris reports, “Death squads, secret police, and the torture of prisoners remain at all-time highs, and ethnic, religious and racial groups are killing each other on a grander scale than ever before.” How backward is all of this in a world that is virtually ready for space exploration and presently capable of not only ending world hunger but uplifting the standards of living…for all!
The argument is that hatefulness, greed and warmongering persists in our world if we like it or not and so the greatest deterrent of a third world war (cold or hot) is to maintain the lead in military preparedness and strength. This is a common sense theory and one that no American could sensibly resist. This theory, however, should not be a bullying factor, or reason to line the pockets of a special few or to satisfy particular oil barons but to simply maintain the peace and to build upon it for a better, safer, more peaceful and…fruitful world than now exists.
This of course calls for change.
It is, in my view, our country’s challenge is not to leverage the rest of the world into change as this is an absurd notion. Change, after all, is only possible from within—this is true for a an entire society as it is for an individual. We must then follow the wisdom of Gandhi who told us that “we must become the changes that we desire for the world.” And so, this does not only apply to our government but to each of us as individuals. After all, a society, country or nation is merely a collection of individuals.
Our first change would be to decentralize our worldview and, at the same time begin looking at ourselves as part of an undivided whole. For the first time in history, we would break from the “us and them” prospective which has been at the root of world conflict since the first stone was thrown at a stranger. Indeed, we would officially recognize that we people are all the same with our differences only being apparent.
From this view we would make compromise and not conformity our goal—this would begin with our own laws and so with congress members stopping to make laws that limit our freedom and reversing laws that already do. For example, all consensual crimes would be eliminated in the U.S. and the right to the pursuit of happiness for individualswould, at long last, become national policy as opposed to political mythology.
We would stop closing our eyes to the horrors of homelessness and reinstate institutions to house and help the mentally ill…this would include those mentally disturbed persons who are now inmates in prisons and should not be. At the same time, we would create centers and work programs for the destitute and despaired. A reduction in outrageous military spending would easily accomplish this goal and give hope and help to a great number of disadvantaged and extremely poor Americans.
We would initiate reform laws that reconstruct our justice system. This would mean actually structuring our legal system based on justice as opposed to letter-of-the-law procedures. This would begin by taking away all mandatory sentencing and outlawing plea-bargaining. Plea-bargaining has created more false confessions and unjust sentencing than it has ever prevented. Sentencing itself needs to be given back to the judge’s discretion. While this is not a perfect system it is better than the mindless callousness of sentencing without sensitivity.
Programs need to be developed to clean up and refurbish our nation’s poorest districts—this could be done by funding some of the very people who live in ghettoes and barrios to better their own lives and the lives of their neighbors as well. The character of all countries can be judged by its prisons and the living conditions of its poorest citizens.
Lobbying must be restricted and the number of lobbyists reduced—I read somewhere that the banking industry alone has literally more than a thousand lobbyists. What if this is so or not, the bottom line is that the lobbying system spawns corruption. Its as simple and complex as that.
Deregulation is favored by most Americans but unfortunately deregulation has been proven to fail the individual, the consumer and the worker at every turn: The very selfishness of corporations and other businesses tend to disregard the need for safe and healthy workplaces for their employees, tend to neglect the environment and simply hedge on fair play and adequate benefits for workers. Indeed, the simplest way to close the gap between the wealthy and the poor is to regulate the gap between the remunerative policies between top executives and the lowest echelon employees of the company or corporation. This would upgrade living conditions for the worker while not diminishing the life style of those at the top. Human need simply has to take conscientious-precedence over profit.
Progressive taxation is essential to more conscientious distribution of the wealth. Again, this would not reduce the rich’s lifestyle but, at the same time, it would serve to increase the circulation of money and therefor help reduce the constant financial struggles of the middle and poorer classes. Incidentally, select purposes for higher taxation could be left to the discretion of the citizen—a “democratic” first. That is special interest taxation for such things as health care, education and cleaning the environment. Most Americans have said they would pay higher taxes for these purposes. However, the government would have to be accountable for their spending. Government accountability has never been a serious expectation for our so-called representatives but if we are truly headed by a people’s government then accountability becomes a public necessity.
The above does not claim to have all the answers but if we are to ever make this planet safer, better, happier and yes, more loving we need to start with ourselves and then spread the goodwill around the globe. Indeed, what if we never again raised our flag in arrogance and aggression but only for peace and cooperation…what if we never again raised our flag to represent our power but rather our compassion and what if we never again raised our flag to coerce but rather to inspire…What if we never raised our flag to boast our wealth but instead signal our generosity…our human kindness, What if we never again raised our flag to dominate but rather to assist? Well, all this would work in a perfect world but obviously our kind continues to be center-orientated and self-serving. This is why it is so vital for the U.S. to become the “light in the window” for the rest of the world.
While we have never even attempted to live up to our ideals as a people or as a nation, we must lean heavily on them if we are truly to succeed as a world leader. Indeed, if we want to believe it or not, nationalism is, as it should be, destined to become obsolete. Our planet is far too small to accommodate the egocentricities of ideologies and religious center-ism in the modern world. In fact, this is what makes Americans so unique—they are not a nationality but rather a nation of individuals from all over our globe. As the old saying goes…a melting pot!
Along our way we have been imperfect, even hypocritical. We have been racists, sexists and yes, in some instances international bullies. We have made capital our concern over human rights and have often made profit even more important than justice. Capitalism, however, is not flawed, only the people are. And so we need to deconstruct capitalism as symbolizing wealth and power and reconstruct a Compassionate Capitalism; a capitalism that is of service and charity; of voluntary contracts and win/win negotiations.
How can you, the reader, start becoming the changes that you want for the world? Choose to walk in tolerance, kindness and understanding today or, in other words, choose to treat others as you would be treated. If we would all do this war and hunger and all unnecessary human suffering would simply go away.
References and Suggested Further Reading
Johnson, Paul * Modern Times *Perennial Library
Zinn, Howard * A People’s History of the United States * HarperPerennial
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