Those who think the super-rich are smarter than the rest of us might want to take a look at the foreign policy speeches given in the millionaire-laden United States Senate recently. In one thick headed oration after another, the pro-war majority of the nation’s "elite" legislative chamber gave some remarkably dippy reasons for authorizing the daft George W. Bush to attack Iraq. Against all the evidence and common sense, they claimed that Saddam Hussein is a serious threat to the US, that Hussein can no longer be deterred except by pre-emptive U.S. military action, and that there is a serious link between the Iraqi dictator and extremist Islamic terror networks.
Few of the "elite" legislators surpassed Texas’ Kay Bailey Hutchinson, however, for sheer Senatorial stupidity. At the end of a 5-minute oration that repeated many of her colleague’s inanities regarding Iraq and the War on Terrorism, Hutchinson came to her version of a political and intellectual climax. "Mr. President," she announced, in words repeated on her official web-site, "we are going to meet this test of our generation. We are going to protect the freedom and the way of life that the beacon to the world of the way life should be. We can do no less."
Say what? Yes that second sentence, if that’s what it deserves to be called, needs to be read at least twice. Welcome to the oratorical statecraft of Texas, home to Bush-onics, perfected by that notorious serial killer of spoken language George Junior. To cringe at hundreds of statements that rival and even go beyond Hutchinson’s, see Marc Crispin Miller’s marvelous book The Bush Dyslexicon: Reflections on a National Disorder (2002), recently updated to include numerous examples of Bush’s post-911 podium wizardry.
Syntax aside, the deeper horror is Hutchinson’s narcissistic belief, shared by the President and most of Hutchinson’s Congressional colleagues, that America is the embodiment of human existence at its very best. As any good American historian knows, her statement mangles a deeply rooted American faith that America is a God-ordained City on a Hill, one that "stands taller and sees farther" (as the more grammatically correct Madeline Albright put it years ago) than the rest of the world. It is consistent with the more carefully constructed declarations of many past American rulers of greater intellectual and oratorical capacity than Hutchinson (e.g., John Winthrop, James Madison, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, to name a few). It expresses a central part of the world-view of American policymakers and, no doubt, a considerable number of more ordinary Americans.
As such it deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness. Consider, then, the following not-so shining facts of life in the nation that, according to Hutchinson, shows the world "the way life should be":
The US is by far the most unequal of all industrialized societies, with the richest 10 percent of the population owning more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth and the richest 5 percent of families receiving as much income as the bottom 50 percent.
These numbers are prior to George W. Bush’s tax cut, which gives the top 1 percent of taxpayers nearly 40 percent of a tax reduction that will cost the US Treasury at least $1.8 trillion.
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.
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 23 million Americans relied on their agencies in 2001; 40 percent of those came from working families.
One in eight US households has recently 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, enough to feed 49 million people, equal to more than twice the number of people in the world who die of starvation each year.
Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion per year on pet food, $4 billion more than the annual cost of providing universal health care and nutrition for everyone in the world.
40 million or 16 percent of Americans, including 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) and half of US adults with below average income report they did not see a dentist in the last year because of the expense.
American have the longest working hours and commuting times in the industrial world, exacerbating widespread job dissatisfaction and 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.
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.
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.
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.
Nearly one out of every two blacks in America earns less than $25,000 but one in three American whites makes that little.
Median black household income ($27,000) is less than two thirds of median white household income ($42,000) in the U.S.
Black families’ median household net worth in the U.S. is less than 10 percent that of white families. The average white household has a net worth of $84,000 but the average black household is worth only $7,500.
While white men make up 43 percent of America’s Fortune 2000 workforce, they hold 95 percent of the Fortune 2000 senior management jobs.
The U.S., the nation that proclaims itself the homeland and headquarters of world freedom, comprises 5 percent of the world’s population but houses roughly 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.
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-American males ages 20 to 29 are under correctional supervision – either in jail or prison or on probation or parole.
Between 1980 and 2000, the number of black men in jail or prison grew fivefold (500 percent), to the point where there were more black men behind bars than enrolled in colleges or universities in the US.
While blacks and whites in the U.S. are victims of murder in almost equal numbers, 82 percent of prisoners executed since 1977 were convicted for the murder of a white person.
Only China, Saudi Arabia and Iran execute more prisoners than the U.S. and the U.S. has highest known death row population in the world.
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 just 12 percent of the nation’s population.
A typical African-American individual lives in a neighborhood that is only 33 percent white and more than 50 percent black.
There are 10 to 15 million alcoholics or problem drinkers in the US and more than 100,000 American deaths each year are attributed to alcohol. Drunk driving kills 8,000 Americans each year
More than 60 million Americans smoke cigarettes, thereby drastically expanding their incidence of cancer, coronary heart disease, chronic bronchitis and emphysema and other deadly ailments.
The United States has the highest substance abuse rate of any industrialized nation.
Each year, roughly 300,000 US adults dies of causes attributable to obesity. The American obesity rate is 19 percent, the highest in the world.
40 percent of American adults do not participate in any leisure time or physical activity.
The average American watches 3 hours and 46 minutes of television each day (the equivalent of 52 days of nonstop TV-viewing per year). By age 65, the average American will have spent the equivalent of 9 years watching television
American children spend considerably more time each year watching television (1,500 hours) than they do in the classroom (900 hours)
The typical U.S. citizen is exposed to between 50 and 100 advertisements each morning before 9 AM.
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.
Sixty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.
Every year, 40,000 Americans, including 7,000 teenagers die in automobile accidents.
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.
The U.S. gun industry produced 85,644,715 firearms, including more than 39 million handguns, from 1977 to 1996.
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.
Children’s television programming contains more than 26 violent acts per hour and by the time the average American child leaves elementary school he or she will have witnessed at least 8,000 murders and 100,000 other assorted acts of violence on television.
Almost two-thirds of children 7 to 10 years old in the U.S. are afraid that they might die young.
Domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women in the U.S. and each day four American women are murdered by a relative or a partner.
Four in 10 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 in the U.S. report that they or a friend their age has been physically abused by a boyfriend.
More than 40 percent of U.S. 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. Women experience depression at twice the rate of men in the U.S.
Suicide took the lives of 29,350 Americans in 2000 and suicide was the 11th highest cause of death for all Americans and the 3rd highest cause for 10-14 year olds, 15-19 year olds, and 20-24 year olds.
After all this, it seems only fitting to add that:
In 1999, just 6 percent of respondents to the U.S. Gallup poll reported having confidence in the U.S. Congress
The list of societal failures in the US goes on but this is enough, I think, to suggest that Hutchinson and her comrades in Marie-Antoinette-like Senatorial comfort are in no legitimate position to make decisions of life and death significance for the masses of the Middle East or anywhere else. What does it say about their plans for the rest of the world when they view a society with such grave internal problems as the "beacon to the world of the way life should be?"
But then, as radicals have long argued, such deep domestic contradictions and the domestic power structure’s desire to escape their dangerous consequences are precisely the point. They are the "taproot," in the early 20-century British writer J.A. Hobson’s excellent word-choice, of the modern imperialism in which Bush is now so gloriously engaged under the guise of defending the chosen land from terrorism.
That imperialism made the 20th century one of murderous mass warfare. It promises now to widen the rivers
of blood for at least another hundred years, including now more than a few victims within the leading imperial
state. And so perhaps it will unless and until the people of America redefine "the way life should be" by
un-doing the illegitimate power structures that create so much poverty, misery, violence and sheer stupidity
at home and abroad.
Paul Street is an urban social policy researcher and freelance writer in Chicago, Illinois.
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