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Profit America

David Sirota

We have a government run by people whose only goal is to enrich corporate profits, and we're paying the price; with our jobs, our health care, our international credibility, and our future.

We need to stop ignoring what's obvious. We need to stop pussyfooting around what we all know is true, but refuse to say in public. We need the reporters and the pundits and the politicians and Bill O'Reilly and the Republican Party to stop telling us that all the problems America faces are too complex for us to understand � or so simple that they can be solved with another round of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Soldiers dying in Iraq, millions unable to afford health care, the international double standards that make everyone hate us, an unemployment crisis while we're cutting taxes for the wealthy and exporting jobs to China � we do understand what it's all about. It's right there in front of us and it's completely pathetic that we have been so afraid to say it: we have a government run by people whose only goal is to enrich corporate profits , and we're paying the price; with our jobs, our health care, our international credibility, and our future.

John Adams once wrote that "facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." From John Adams to Dragnet ("just the facts, ma'am"), facts have always served us well.

In truth, the only people they haven't served well are those with something to hide. So let's abandon the party-line lock-step talking points, the canned rhetoric, and the abstract theories. Let's just take an honest look at the facts to see what they tell us about the predilection of those in power to reward power, and what that means for the rest of us.

Diplomatic Profiteering

The facts: A year and a half ago, the Bush Administration supported an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected president of Venezuela. That same month, President Bush met with Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah, calling the U.S.-Saudi relationship "a strong and important friendship", and strengthening our ties with one of the most autocratic regimes in the world. Why the disparity in relations with these two oil-producers? It certainly can't be human rights. Yes, Hugo Chavez has his problems. But what the Bush Administration wants us to forget (and what the American news media regularly omits) is that he was twice freely elected by his people and, in contrast to past Venezuelan governments, has preserved freedom of speech. (Though reported in only one U.S. newspaper, Jimmy Carter said after a trip, "freedom of speech is as alive in Venezuela as it is in any other country I've visited.").

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is classified by our own State Department as "a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties." Those who speak up for a right to vote "are subject to arrest and detention until they confess to a crime" and then face punishments such as "flogging, amputation, and execution by beheading, stoning, or firing squad."

What's really going on: We treat these two countries differently because the Saudi regime guarantees oil and corporate profits, while the Venezuelan government might not. The Saudi government has no interest in bettering the economic situation of the average Saudi. The royal family is a bunch of billionaire dictators interested solely in making and spending money, and that means the oil spigots will stay open.

Chavez, on the other hand, is a populist whose "support comes from the poor who see him as the first national leader to look out for their interests," as the New York Times put it. In fact, Chavez's support is so strong among the masses that, as one columnist for the International Herald Tribune wrote, the U.S.-backed coup failed "because the vast majority of his country is poor and has rejected the traditional governing elite after 40 years of corrupt rule."

In other words, Chavez is not in corporations' pocket, and this makes American industry and the Bush Administration nervous. Popular leaders like Chavez might one day decide they no longer want their country to be a subservient American oil reserve. Or, they might resist American-backed trade deals that would transform their country into a cheap labor colony. No, this administration likes it better when corrupt dictators like the Saudis are at the helm � even if that means the money we send their way ends up funding atrocities like September 11th.

War Profiteering

The facts: Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans � Saddam Hussein did not. The CIA classifies Al Qaeda as the most imminent threat to American security. We know that bin Laden and Al Qaeda are plotting somewhere in northwest Pakistan. We also knew before we went to war that there was absolutely no evidence linking Hussein to Al Qaeda or 9/11. In fact, most experts believe bin Laden and Hussein probably hate each other. Finally, we know that Saudi oil money is probably connected to terrorism.

Faced with these realities, a justifiable course of action would have been to immediately go after bin Laden where he lives, and wean ourselves off Mideast oil. Instead, on September 11th, the Bush Administration decided to drop a few bombs on Afghanistan, but then proceed to the real target: Iraq. This administration expected us to believe invading Iraq and slapping Old Glory bumper stickers on our SUVs was the way to secure America (and, if you believe that one, then I'm sure George Bush or his buddy Ken Lay have some Enron stock they'd like to sell you).

What's really going on: George Bush and Dick Cheney looked at the world as if they were both still oil company CEOs. They saw a threat to oil profits in Venezuela, and a potential threat should an Iran-style revolution overtake the Saudi royal family's tenuous hold on power, as many fear. So after 9/11, they decided to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attack, but coincidentally held one of the largest oil reserves in the world. To justify this action, they concocted one of the most intricate, bizarre, and unsubstantiated lies since Nixon said he wasn't a crook (or at least since Fox News said it wasn't a Republican propaganda machine). They falsely claimed that Saddam had nuclear weapons and was working with Al Qaeda to deploy them against us, while intimidating the U.N. weapons inspectors who questioned their assertions. Sure, it is good a tyrant like Saddam is no longer in power -- but that could not have been our rationale for war considering some countries America calls "friends" (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and China, for instance) are as bad if not worse.

The real goal was a hostile takeover of Iraq Oil, Co. on behalf of Chevron/Exxon/Halliburton/Mobil/Texaco, except instead of doing it with shares of stock, we did it with cruise missiles and tanks and on false pretenses. And just to make absolutely sure there was business for our newly-acquired Iraqi gas station, Bush had the oil companies secretly write his energy legislation, which purposely does nothing to stop America's incessant gas guzzling. Unfortunately, while the war has enriched Halliburton, Bechtel, and other Bush's backers, it also leaves bin Laden at large, Al Qaeda regrouping and American soldiers running for cover in a Baghdad shooting gallery.

Health Care Profiteering

The facts: The U.S. spends more on health care than any nation on earth, yet 41 million Americans cannot afford health insurance (for those counting, that's equivalent to the entire West Coast population of the United States, or all of New England plus New York and New Jersey). How is this possible?

It is possible because unlike other countries, our health care dollars are spent on private health care companies that pocket 31 cents on the dollar through "administrative" costs � that's a euphemism for paperwork fees, CEO compensation, and brazen profiteering. Worse still, anyone who points out those flaws and proposes universal government-funded health care (like the rest of the industrialized world), is ripped apart by the Establishment. True, everyone seems to like the government-run health program called "Medicare". But that's only because it is limited to seniors and allows private HMOs to continue ripping off the rest of us. And besides, the White House and congressional Republicans are doing their best to privatize Medicare.

What's really going on: A universal government-run health care system would put the HMOs out of business. Such a system would make the government a bulk purchaser of prescription drugs, enabling it to demand much lower drug prices from the pharmaceutical industry.

The HMO industry has spent $30 million bankrolling politicians' campaigns over the last decade. The pharmaceutical industry has spent $71 million in the same time, including almost half a million dollars to Bush. It also employs 671 lobbyists in Washington. That arsenal of money and manpower buys politicians into saying the for-profit health industry is working. It buys party platforms that proudly declare "we will promote a health care system that supports, not supplants, the private sector." In short, it buys sheer neglect of a staggering crisis.

Trade Profiteering

The facts: China is a communist country with Stalin/Hitler/Genghis Khan league human rights record. For this despicable distinction, how has America, the great bastion of freedom, responded? By rewarding China with coveted permanent normal trade status. Meanwhile, communist Cuba, with a significant, though far less severe history of human rights violations, lives under a suffocating embargo.

What's really going on: Why the difference in trade policy? The answer is that China has a billion people that corporations want to sell things to. The Chinese government allows its workers to be paid as little as 25-cents-per-hour, with no worker protection laws. These are perfect conditions for corporate exploitation. Cuba, on the other hand, is a tiny country whose small market is insignificant when it comes to global corporate profits. Corporate America has no reason to spend political capital getting its Administration cronies to break down the outdated embargo, no matter how much it might improve peoples' lives there.

The result is a trade deficit that bathes China's dictators in American cash, encourages their repressive practices and allows corporations to ship U.S. jobs there to save on labor costs � all while we suffocate a tiny island because it is too small a cash cow to bother milking.

Tax Profiteering

The facts: America's economy is struggling. There is a higher demand for things like unemployment insurance, job training, and welfare assistance. A government truly "of, by and for" the people would probably try to raise enough revenue to preserve these things. Instead, George Bush gave us deficit-ballooning tax cuts, mostly aimed at millionaires, whose did not need it.

If that wasn't bad enough, Bush actually slashed safety-net programs, using the deficit his tax cuts created to say we just couldn't afford them, anymore. To top it all off, leading conservatives continue to ignore calls for fiscal sanity, and now say America needs a giant tax cut for wealthy corporations, despite the fact that our corporations pay, per capita, about the lowest tax rates in the civilized world.

What's really going on: Bush used the recession to wage a class war on behalf of the super-rich and corporations. He shrouded his tax cut in the language of "economic stimulus," expecting us to believe that lining the pockets of fat cats in the executive suite would somehow help workers on the factory floor. No surprise: it didn't work. The economy is still sputtering, and instead of reversing course, Bush is simply increasing his photo-ops with middle class folks he screwed. At the same time, his conservative think-tank/pundit/Fox News infrastructure is once again working feverishly to transform a bad economic situation into an excuse to soak the rich. It is like a re-run of a late-night infomercial: we all know what's being sold to us doesn't really work. For some reason, though, it's 2 am and we're watching the fraud all over again.

In all of these cases, the facts � not spin � tell us what's really going on: the complete transformation of a government that is supposed to serve the people into a monolith that serves corporate power. I'm sure if our right-wing leaders heard all of this, they would simply strut around in their costume flight-suits, spew their red-blooded, we're-Americans-dammit! Rhetoric and call this analysis unpatriotic communism. But it is neither.

Economically, no one has a problem with businesses trying to profit. That is the purpose of business. There is, however, a problem with the government having a singular focus on expanding those profits. There is a problem with CEO-politicians making the terms "U.S. Government" and "private corporation" synonymous. There is a problem with government no longer intervening when the profit motive gets so out of control that it fuels a health care, economic, diplomatic, and military crisis. And in truth, those who disagree are the ones who betray America.

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