You Take Your Poison?
By Chris Hedges
September 23, 2012 "Information
- We will all swallow our cup of corporate poison. We can take
it from nurse Romney, who will tell us not to whine and play the
victim, or we can take it from nurse Obama, who will assure us
that this hurts him even more than it hurts us, but one way or
another the corporate hemlock will be shoved down our throats.
The choice before us is how it will be administered. Corporate
power, no matter who is running the ward after January 2013, is
poised to carry out U.S. history’s most savage assault against
the poor and the working class, not to mention the Earth’s
ecosystem. And no one in power, no matter what the bedside
manner, has any intention or ability to stop it.
If you insist on participating in the cash-drenched charade of a
two-party democratic election at least be clear about what you
are doing. You are, by playing your assigned role as the
Democratic or Republican voter in this political theater, giving
legitimacy to a corporate agenda that means your own
impoverishment and disempowerment. All the things that stand
between us and utter destitution—Medicaid, food stamps, Pell
grants, Head Start, Social Security, public education, federal
grants-in-aid to America’s states and cities, the Women,
Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC), Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families and home-delivered meals for
seniors—are about to be shredded by the corporate state. Our
corporate oligarchs are harvesting the nation, grabbing as much
as they can, as fast as they can, in the inevitable descent.
We will be assaulted this January when automatic spending
reductions, referred to as “the fiscal cliff,” begin to
dismantle and defund some of our most important government
programs. Mitt Romney will not stop it. Barack Obama will not
And while Romney has been, courtesy of the magazine Mother
Jones, exposed as a shallow hypocrite, Obama is in a class by
himself. There is hardly a campaign promise from 2008 that Obama
has not broken. This list includes his pledges to support the
public option in health care, close Guantanamo, raise the
minimum wage, regulate Wall Street, support labor unions in
their struggles with employers, reform the Patriot Act,
negotiate an equitable peace between the Israelis and the
Palestinians, curb our imperial expansion in the Middle East,
stop torture, protect reproductive rights, carry out a
comprehensive immigration reform, cut the deficit by half,
create 5 million new energy jobs and halt home foreclosures.
Obama, campaigning in South Carolina in 2007, said that as
president he would fight for the right of collective bargaining.
“I’d put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll … walk on
that picket line with you as president of the United States of
America,” he said. But when he got his chance to put on those
“comfortable pair of shoes” during labor disputes in Madison,
Wis., and Chicago he turned his back on working men and women.
Obama, while promising to defend Social Security, also says he
stands behind the planned cuts outlined by his deficit
commission, headed by Morgan Stanley board member Erskine Bowles
and former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican. The
Bowles-Simpson plan calls for cutting 0.3 percentage points from
the annual cost-of-living adjustment in the Social Security
program. The annual reduction would slowly accumulate. After a
decade it would mean a 3 percent cut. After two decades it would
mean a 6 percent cut. The retirement age would be raised to 69.
And those on Social Security who continued to work and made more
than $40,000 a year would be penalized with further reductions.
Obama’s payroll tax cuts have, at the same time, served to
undermine the solvency of Social Security, making it an easier
target for the finance corporations that seek to destroy the
program and privatize the funds.
But that is just the start. Cities and states are frantically
staving off collapse. They cannot pay for most pension plans and
are borrowing at higher and higher interest rates to keep
themselves afloat. The country’s 19,000 municipalities face
steadily declining or stagnant property tax revenues, along with
spiraling costs. Annual pension payments for state and local
plans more than doubled to 15.7 percent of payrolls in 2011 from
6.4 percent a decade ago, according to a study by the Center for
Retirement Research at Boston College. And local governments,
which made some $50 billion in pension contributions in 2010,
face unfunded pension liabilities of $3 trillion and unfunded
health benefit liabilities of more than $1 trillion, according
to The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. State and
local government spending fell at a rate of 2.1 percent in the
second quarter of this year, according to the Commerce
Department. It was the 11th consecutive quarterly reduction in
expenditures. And in the past year alone local governments cut
66,000 jobs, mostly those of teachers and other school
employees, reported The Wall Street Journal, which accumulated
this list of grim statistics.
The costs of our most basic needs, from food to education to
health care, are at the same time being pushed upward with no
control or regulation. Tuition and fees at four-year colleges
climbed 300 percent between 1990 and 2011, fueling the college
loan crisis that has left graduates, most of them underemployed
or unemployed, with more than $1 trillion in debt. Health care
costs over the same period have risen 150 percent. Food prices
have climbed 10 percent since June, according to the World Bank.
There are now 46.7 million U.S. citizens, and one in three
children, who depend on food stamps. The U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement agency under Obama has, meanwhile, expelled
1.5 million immigrants, a number that dwarfs deportations
carried out by his Republican predecessor. And while we are
being fleeced, the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank
has since 2008 doled out $16 trillion to national and global
financial institutions and corporations.
Fiscal implosion is only a matter of time. And the corporate
state is preparing. Obama’s assault on civil liberties has
outpaced that of George W. Bush. The refusal to restore habeas
corpus, the use of the Authorization to Use Military Force Act
to justify the assassination of U.S. citizens, the passing of
the FISA Amendments Act to monitor and eavesdrop on tens of
millions of citizens without a warrant, the employment of the
Espionage Act six times to threaten whistle-blowers inside the
government with prison time, and the administration’s recent
emergency appeal of U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest’s
permanent injunction of Section 1021(b)(2) of the National
Defense Authorization Act give you a hint of the shackles the
Democrats, as well as the Republicans, intend to place on all
those who contemplate dissent.
But perhaps the most egregious assault will be carried out by
the fossil fuel industry. Obama, who presided over the
repudiation of the Kyoto Accords and has done nothing to halt
the emission of greenhouse gases, reversed 20 years of federal
policy when he permitted the expansion of fracking and offshore
drilling. And this acquiescence to big oil and big coal, no
doubt useful in bringing in campaign funds, spells disaster for
the planet. He has authorized drilling in federally protected
lands, along the East Coast, Alaska and four miles off Florida’s
Atlantic beaches. Candidate Obama in 2008 stood on the Florida
coastline and vowed never to permit drilling there.
You get the point. Obama is not in charge. Romney would not be
in charge. Politicians are the public face of corporate power.
They are corporate employees. Their personal narratives, their
promises, their rhetoric and their idiosyncrasies are
meaningless. And that, perhaps, is why the cost of the two
presidential campaigns is estimated to reach an obscene $2.5
billion. The corporate state does not produce a product that is
different. It produces brands that are different. And brands
cost a lot of money to sell.
You can dismiss those of us who will in protest vote for a
third-party candidate and invest our time and energy in acts of
civil disobedience. You can pride yourself on being practical.
You can swallow the false argument of the lesser of two evils.
But ask yourself, once this nightmare starts kicking in, who the
real sucker is.
Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent
nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central
America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has
reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The
Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas
Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign
correspondent for 15 years
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