Economic Injustice: America's New Leading Export
All men are not created equal...As the US wages war against the "terrorists" in Iraq, our ruling plutocrats tell us that we are spreading the hallowed (and unfortunately hollow) American ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice. Yet Americans live in one of the most economically unjust nations in the world. While it is true that there are more overtly oppressive governments, and there are nations where poverty is far more wide-spread and devastating, it is a perversity that the wealthiest society in the history of humanity allows some of its people to suffer in poverty. Yes, the economic injustice and disparity in the US is overwhelming.
Despite the obscene wealth available to America, we still have homelessness. According to an Urban Institute study in 2000, 3.5 million people, of whom 1.35 million are children, are likely to experience homelessness each year. While one can argue that this only represents one percent of the population, I argue that this is one percent too many. America has enough resources that one individual, Bill Gates, has made a scandalous $300 per second in his ascendancy to the largest fortune in the world. Gates' net worth is 800,000 times that of someone with a net worth of $70,000. While an elite few like Gates experience the American Dream on steroids, 3.5 million live the American Nightmare while eating from garbage cans and using newspapers for insulation to fend off the cold. Our plutocracy's answer to human suffering is to decrease funding for social welfare programs, lower taxes on the wealthy, and increase military spending.
American poverty also manifests itself in less extreme ways than homelessness. In 2002, only 89% of Americans were food secure. This means that 11% of the populace did not have access to the food necessary to lead an active, healthy life. In the same year, 3.5% of Americans experienced periods where they went hungry. How twisted is that? The US farm economy perpetually struggles with over-production, yet over 12 million human beings suffered from hunger in 2002. This is the justice we are spreading in Iraq, or so the rationalization for the invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation goes.
Somebody needs to prop them up....US Census figures for 2003 reveal the huge burden many Americans bear to sustain the ruling plutocracy. According to standards devised by our "benevolent leaders," the poverty level for a family of four is a paltry $18,660 per year, while a single person 65 years or older has to make less than $9,573 to be considered poverty-stricken. Those determining the poverty thresholds are out of touch with reality if they believe a family of four making $20,000 or even $25,000 is not experiencing poverty. Even applying their distorted standards, 12.5% of the US population lived in poverty in 2003, increasing from 12.1% in 2002. Of non-Hispanic whites, who comprise most of the ruling plutocracy, only 8.2% experienced poverty. Blacks and Hispanics did not fare so well in the land of plenty. Coming in at 24.4% and 22.5% respectively, somehow many of them missed the plethora of opportunities to "get ahead." Perhaps the saddest census figure is that 12.9 million (17.6%) of US children lived in poverty in 2003.
In his second inauguration speech, Bush made one of his many bold promises to the rest of the world:
"Start on this journey of progress and justice and America will walk at your side."
When will Mr. Bush explain to those 12.9 million children why the plutocrats who rule America have not begun their journey of progress and justice? More importantly, when will he end the hypocrisy and start America on that journey?
Health is a privilege of wealth
The Bible tells me so...Apparently, many of our so-called Christian leaders did not read their Bibles very thoroughly:
Bush, who currently spearheads the plutocracy which has been bleeding the "commoners" dry for years, responded to the deepening plight of America's poor by proposing a 2006 budget calling for significant increases in military spending. To offset the costs of military expansion, Bush proposed cuts to programs such as the Center for Disease Control, Even Start, subsidies for the family farmers (who are already getting crushed by corporate monstrosities like Conagra), and Medicaid. Continuing a trend toward a new Gilded Age (which started gaining serious momentum under Ronald Reagan), the rich are indeed getting richer and major corporations are flourishing like mushrooms in a dark room full of manure. A majority of our leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, are plutocrats themselves, or genuflect to their wealthy campaign contributors. US leadership is steadily eliminating the progressive reforms of the Twentieth Century that helped mitigate the gross economic disparities in the land of plenty.
All tax cuts are not created equal eitherConsider that since 1962, federal revenue from progressive taxes (in which higher income people pay a higher tax percentage than lower income) dropped by 17%. Federal income from regressive taxes (which place a higher burden on those with lower income) increased by 135%. Since 1980, taxes on inheritance and investment have dropped by 31% while taxes on income derived from work have increased by 25%. Between 2000 and 2003, corporations (the institutions that perpetuate and insulate the plutocracy) saw their contribution to federal revenue through taxes fall by 36%.
Bush's corporate tax cuts of 2002 and 2003 made this corporate wet dream possible. His individual tax cuts between 2002 and 2004 were a propaganda ploy to buy votes and ensure that the financial oligarchy retained a strangle-hold on the US government. Average working Americans received rebate checks of $400; $600 billion dollars in tax cuts went to those earning more than $288,000 per year. To ice the cake, the wealthiest one percent of Americans received $197 billion in additional tax breaks. That means that each of those lucky plutocrats enjoyed a staggering $56.3 million in tax relief. But don't worry--in theory, they put that money back into the economy and it will "trickle down" to the rest of us. I have not been trickled upon yet. Have you?
Masked tyranny: the corporation
Corporations act as the primary vehicle for the plutocrats to maintain their economic tyranny over US citizens, and much of the rest of humanity. Operating with many of the legal rights of a human being, the corporation provides an ideal shield behind which the wealthy can evade personal responsibility for raping the earth, plundering the public treasury, enslaving the populace with artificially low wages, abusing human rights, and forming complex, incestuous networks with governments.
In 2001, Noam Chomsky asserted:
"Always low prices"....always a blight on AmericaWal-Mart leads the charge in corporate suppression of employee compensation and workers' rights, and has done significant damage to the US economy. This corporate behemoth is the largest private sector employer in the US, with 1.2 million employees. Their power to influence the US economy is significant, and they have grossly abused that power. Average wages at Wal-Mart are significantly less than those paid by comparable employers for similar work. To avoid offering benefits, Wal-Mart maintains a work-force that is one third part-time. They have aggressively fought unionization, which would essentially force them to pay fair wages and offer decent benefits. (What a blow to America it would be if Wal-Mart allowed a socialist entity to slither into their capitalist organization and demand that they treat their employees like human beings.) Wal-Mart's buying power and draconian demands for cheap goods have caused many suppliers to go out of business or move their operations overseas where labor is less expensive. Revealing the lie behind their "Buy American" propaganda of the 1990's, Wal-Mart buys billions of dollars worth of goods from China each year ($15 billion in 2004). When Wal-Mart opens a store in a small community, they often put virtually every competitor out of business, leaving the local citizens dependent upon them for both employment and the purchase of necessities. Once Wal-Mart becomes their largest of sole employer, local governments are subject to the tyranny of the Bentonville Behemoth. I didn't realize their "always low prices" could be so expensive.
Sociopathic leader of "Big Oil"Exxon, the world's largest and most profitable oil company, is one of the lead corporate perpetrators against the environment and humanity. Their actions include continuing to avoid payment for damage caused by the Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, heavily lobbying Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and paying think tanks to create false science to "prove" that global warming is not happening. As an energy company with healthy profits, they bear a social responsibility to reinvest some of those profits in developing alternative energy sources. Fossil fuels are a finite resource which will result in continued detriment to the environment through air pollution, global warming, and damage to coastal areas and wildlife refuges as the search for precious oil becomes increasingly extensive. Exxon and their fellow oil companies have also assured themselves of hefty profits by limiting controlling and limiting the refining capacity in the US. Regardless of the cost and supply of crude oil, the bottleneck they have created at the refinery level enables them to restrict the supply of gasoline available to consumers.
What a tangled web we weaveAs America has begun to fall behind other nations in some industries, the governing plutocrats have covered their bets by funneling billions of tax dollars to the military-industrial complex. Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans in his 1961 farewell address:
"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, but he military-industrial complex."
Despite this warning, America has now put two Bushes in the White House. The Bush family has extensive ties to the military-industrial complex dating back to the 1920's. One of the more disturbing aspects of this connection is a closely held company called The Carlyle Group, with extensive holdings in the defense contract industry. George H.W. Bush and James Baker (Bush Sr.'s Secretary of State) are but two of several former influential US policy-makers who are closely connected with the company and who still play significant roles in the US political arena.
In 2005, the United States poured $455 billion into the military industrial complex. To satiate the obscene avarice of the corporations and plutocrats, the federal government bled and indebted US taxpayers to finance almost half of the world's military expenditures. While the US spent its $455 billion, the rest of the world combined only spent $545 billion. China and India, nations with triple the population of the US, spent $35 billion and $19 billion respectively. In the ongoing struggle of guns versus butter, American plutocrats are fond of saying to hold the bread and spread and pass the ammunition.
Dick Cheney and Halliburton provide another example of the many conflicts of interest existing in the marriage between the federal government and defense contractors. Cheney, former Secretary of Defense under Bush, Sr., later became the CEO of Halliburton Oil. During Cheney's tenure as CEO, Halliburton went from number 73 to number 18 on the list of top federal defense contractors. Since he abdicated his office to become Bush Jr.'s Vice-President, Kellog Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton (an ethically-challenged company which has been accused of cooking their books and tax avoidance) has become the US military's largest defense contractor in Iraq. KBR now faces an investigation by the Pentagon, which has flagged over $1 billion dollars of potential overcharges. Dick Cheney still receives deferred compensation from Halliburton of up to $1 million per year, so they probably have little to fear.
Lock them up and throw away the key....so I can make more moneyResonating closely with the military-industrial complex is the prison-industrial complex. In mid-2004, US prisons housed 2.1 million people, an increase of 2.3% from 2003. One of every 138 Americans was incarcerated. The US has the highest prison population in the world, and our ratio of those imprisoned to those free is five to eight times that of Western European nations. Welcome to the land of the free! The "War on Drugs," which has been failing badly since it began, accounts for 57% of the federal prison population. Harsh sentencing mandates have forced judges to imprison non-violent drug offenders instead of mandating community service, house arrest, and treatment for their addictions. The underlying racism, disdain for the uneducated, and intolerance for the mentally ill of our plutocrat leaders manifest themselves in the prison-industrial complex. In 2004, 27% of the total US prison population was comprised of black males aged 20 to 29. Today, 80% of prison inmates are illiterate, many suffer from severe mental illness and about 70% have a history of substance abuse.
Who benefits from warehousing the "undesirables"? Our plutocratic leaders of course. Aside from the obvious fact that it is easier to cage someone like an animal then it is to educate them or help them overcome an addiction, there is a monetary gain involved. Private contractors like Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) and Wackenhut Corrections Corporation partner with governments to design, build and maintain prisons. CCA is now the sixth largest corrections system in the US, preceded only the federal government and six states. CCA's revenue in 2003 was $1 billion with a net income of $126.5 million.
Follow the money, and you will find the plutocrats' motives. The prison industrial complex has also sparked an increased demand for architectural and construction services. Companies like Westinghouse (which is a part of the military industrial complex) have benefited from an increased demand for their products by law enforcement. Working without the benefit of labor protection laws, US prison inmates provide sweatshop labor to major corporations like Chevron, IBM, Microsoft, Boeing, Compaq, and Victoria's Secret. Killing two birds with one stone, America's ruling oligarchs can rid the streets of "undesirables" and hire labor at wages of less than one dollar per hour (with no benefits). How can they resist this tempting opportunity to add to their unconscionably large hordes of cash?
Is it too late to wrest America from the clutches of the robber barons?America holds such great promise. Despite the soaring national debt, the wealth and resources of the United States are still unmatched. The ideals embedded in our Constitution represent an unparalleled foundation for government by the people and for the people. For now, the US is the Titanic, but we still have the chance to change course before hitting the iceberg. Through grassroots movements and non-violent action, it is possible to subvert the power of the plutocrats and corporations. If we are to salvage what is left of the republic in the United States, the objectives for future leaders are clear: Implementation of these ideas would take years of courageous effort and leadership, and many brilliant minds to work out the dynamics of the changes and the specific ways in which they could be implemented effectively. There is no dearth of courage or great minds in the United States. However there is inertia against such changes created by a small percentage of the population (i.e. the richest 20% who have 83% of the wealth) which maintain a powerful influence over the government, the media, and large corporations. The history of much of the 20th Century gives us a blue-print for a powerful progressive movement carried out by the poor and middle class. All we need to do is mobilize enough people with the will to duplicate what has already been done.
Jason Miller, of Kansas, is a 38 year old free-lance activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He is a husband and a father to three boys. His affiliations include Amnesty International, the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org or comments on his blog at civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.
Copyright © 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on July 20, 2005.
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