Sunday, July 24, 2005

Let's Be Blunt: Bush's Proxy is Spreading Social Darwinism to the State Level

Jason Miller 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

By Jason Miller

"Show-Me" the state of Missouri, and I will show you a microcosm of George Bush's domestic agenda for America. Under Governor Matt Blunt, Missouri is rapidly implementing laws reminiscent of the Gilded Age, when corporations ruled and the people were disposable cogs in their profit-making machines. Virtually each day I pick up the newspaper, Blunt has advanced this despicable agenda still further. Watching my former home state (and current neighboring state) become an ally to the American plutocracy in their bid to sweep away the remains of the progressive, humanitarian advances of the Twentieth Century leaves me deeply sickened and saddened.

Legislating immorality….

From the plutocratic point of view, businesses and corporations simply cannot make their owners, executives, or shareholders obscenely wealthy enough without breaking the backs of the poor and working class. For the affluent to afford multiple multi-million dollar homes, cars that cost more than many homes, yachts, trophy wives, and jet-setting lifestyles, the poor must remain extremely poor. Freeing businesses (and corporations) of pesky impediments like paying taxes, having to negotiate with labor unions, and legal accountability for death or injury resulting from their products or services are essential to ensuring astronomical profits to fulfill the extravagant "needs" of the rich. Cutting "socialist government hand-outs" to the poor enables the plutocrats to give themselves additional tax breaks. In the New Corporatcracy, the elderly, the working class, victimized consumers, the homeless, minorities, the disabled, the sick, and the poor will increasingly discover that they are on their own as Social Darwinists implement "survival of the fittest (with the fattest wallets) policies through the government.

Friends in high places, including Dad and himself….

In 2004, Matt Blunt narrowly won the Missouri gubernatorial race by garnering a mere 51% of the popular vote. Did he really win the election though? Unlike George Bush in the 2000 presidential election, he did not need Katherine Harris to hand him a false victory. He had himself. Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt retained his office through the election, meaning he certified the results his own narrow victory in the governor’s race. In Bush-like fashion, Blunt seized the reins of the state of Missouri without an objective measure of how the people had truly voted. Our wealthy, elite rulers were not taking the chance that the “herd” would make the “wrong choice”.

Throughout Blunt’s campaign for governor, Bush and Cheney both heavily endorsed Blunt to ensure that Missouri would be fertile ground for instituting their domestic agenda at the state level. Roy Blunt, Sr., Matt's father, is the House Majority Whip in the US Congress. From that position, he wields a great deal of power and has forged close ties with the Bush administration. While both Blunts assert that Roy's status and connections were not factors in Matt's rise to power in Missouri, facts and logic belie the depth of their denial. During Matt's 2000 campaign for Missouri Secretary of State (the position which propelled him into the governor's mansion), he received contributions from numerous sources from outside of Missouri. State records show that several of the out of state donors had legislation beneficial to them under review by Congressional subcommittees on which Roy Blunt sat. Most reasonable-minded individuals would call that a conflict of interest, but in a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, it is business as usual.

Who were some of these individuals and entities with such a burning interest in the outcome of the Secretary of State race in Missouri, where they did not reside? Executives from Freddie Mac donated $4,000.00, while two of their lobbyists (who were from Virginia) donated $1,000.00 each. A lobbyist for Phillip Morris donated $1,000.00. Many contributions came from companies and corporations operating in industries encumbered with heavy government regulations. Records also indicate that $65,000.00 of Matt's campaign contributions came from 84 of Roy's colleagues in Congress. And Matt Blunt bristles at the implication that he rode his father's coat-tails into office? If I did not know better, I would conclude that Bush, Blunt, and major corporate interests colluded to position Matt to begin imposing their Social Darwinism at the state level, but in a democracy based on the “freedom and liberty” we are spreading to Iraq, this would not be possible.

Now that Blunt is comfortably nestled into the cozy confines of the governor's mansion, he has begun to systematically engage the perverse social agenda of the Bush administration. In the new "pull oneself up by one’s boot straps" paradigm, laissez faire capitalism and gross socio-economic inequality are beginning to predominate in Missouri. Blunt's pretexts for creating a haven for avaricious corporations and dramatically cutting assistance to the poor are to prevent tax increases and to create jobs in Missouri. In true Social Darwinian form, Blunt has rationalized the enrichment of the "haves" and the abandonment of the "have nots".

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

--John Kenneth Galbraith

Some of Governor Blunt's first targets were those dependent on Medicaid for their basic health needs. In Blunt's short tenure, Missouri is preparing to cut 100,000 from the Medicaid rolls. First Steps, a $27 million program to aid 8,000 children with severe disabilities is fading into history. As a part of this program, the federal government matched the state dollar for dollar. The funding paid for sorely needed therapy and equipment for special needs children. Blunt’s Medicaid cuts will also target children adopted through the state's foster care program, which will most likely reduce the number of those willing to adopt children who desperately need parents. Obviously, in a corporatacracy like the one Blunt is forging in Missouri, the poor, the adopted, and the special needs children (who lack the good fortune of having been born to affluent parents) do not have the right to proper medical care.

You can fool some of the people some of the time….

Blunt's justification for the cuts was two-fold. He stated it would enable him to avoid raising taxes and that it would reduce fraud in the Medicaid system. Neither assertion holds water.

Medicaid spending cuts do project the image that Matt Blunt is a fiscal hero for preventing tax increases. However, leaving that many people uninsured places a financial burden of another kind on those fortunate enough to have insurance. Medical costs for the uninsured receiving treatment without the ability to pay are passed on to the rest of society through increases in prices by providers and higher health insurance premiums. The uninsured people who opt not to get treatment because they are too poor become more infirm, and ultimately become a financial drain on society. The lesson here for the plutocrats is that besides the moral imperative for society (and hence upon our government, the manager of society's public coffers and the makers of society's rules) to care for the weaker and less fortunate, there is a pragmatic imperative to offer medical insurance to the poor.

Blunt's specious argument that the Medicaid cuts will reduce fraud is a pitifully weak when one examines the facts. In 2004, the state of Missouri registered 243 cases of Medicaid fraud that cost about $1 million. 974,559 Missourians were on Medicaid. At .02%, Missouri Medicaid fraud hardly rises to the level of a crisis or warrants an overhaul of the system. Matt Blunt needs to go back to the drawing board if he wishes to come up with a truly convincing justification for his selfishness.

Why worry about human suffering when there are profits to be had?

While many of the poor scramble to obtain basic health services, corporations and businesses are basking in the radiant sunshine of Matt Blunt's state level corporatacracy. $250 million in tax credits for businesses create a virtual paradise. In March, Governor Blunt signed a law making it more difficult for employees to qualify for worker's comp benefits. Under Blunt, collective bargaining rights for state employees are a thing of the past. Is this a precursor to similar laws aimed at the private sector? Handing a gift-wrapped package to the insurance industry, Blunt allowed several executives from major insurance companies help him interview the finalists to become head of the Missouri Department of Insurance, the state department that acts as a watchdog over the insurance industry. Some of the interviewees were also Blunt campaign donors. Blunt has made great strides toward a corporatacracy in his short tenure. Remember the Chicago song “Only the Beginning”?

Fortunately for the working people, not all entrepreneurs agree with the grossly immoral actions of our plutocratic leaders like Matt Blunt. According to Missouri, Garland Land of Jefferson City wrote:

We own a small business that collects sales tax on the merchandise we sell. What most people may not realize is that by state law we get to keep part of the sales tax we collect. Our business, like most, is computerized. It just takes a few minutes each month to complete the form and send the check to the state. I calculated that the state is paying us over $800 per hour based upon the amount wee keep and the amount of time it takes us to process the form.

I question whether it is morally right to keep the sales tax when others are losing services due to the state’s budget problems.

I have decided that keeping part of the sales tax is not doing justice for others. We have decided to send 100 percent of the sales tax we collect to the state. Our decision will not significantly affect the profit margin of our business and it will not make much difference for the state budget, but it is the right thing to do.

I laud Mr. Land for his stance, and hope that other business owners follow his lead.

What other tricks does he have up his sleeve?

Virtually all consumers and voters are vulnerable to some of Blunts other "social evolutions". Blunt has paved the way to higher utility costs by easing restrictions on rate increases. Thanks to the new governor, it is now more difficult for victims of medical malpractice to receive compensation and justice. His tort reforms are even more draconian than the ones former Missouri governor Bob Holden vetoed in 2003 and 2004. Mr. Blunt vetoed legislation that would have made campaign contributions more transparent. The man who purportedly did not ride to office via questionable campaign financing wants to limit public scrutiny of sources of campaign money. How astounding!

In keeping with the tactics of his mentor in Washington, Governor Blunt weaves pleasant fictions to pacify the masses. In May, he spent two days traversing the state to tout his $158 million increase in education spending, "proving" he made good on his campaign promise to improve Missouri schools. The truth is, he was taking credit for something that would have happened whether he had been governor or not. Over 70% of that $158 million stemmed from increased tax revenue that was already committed to education funding (i.e. casino taxes). Is Karl Rove on the Blunt payroll?

Tom Kruckemeyer, an economist with the non-profit Missouri Budget Project commented:

"All or virtually all of this money is from tax sources that are dedicated already to K-12 education, and it is money they had to give them."

Blunt shows them how he really feels

Slapping the 650,000 black residents of Missouri in the face, Mr. Blunt decided to allow the Confederate flag to fly at a Higginsville, MO historical site in June. While one can argue that the flag has multiple meanings, to most black Americans, and to many others, it is a symbol of hatred. The designer of the flag was a South Carolina Congressman who advocated secession from the Union and was an ardent supporter of slavery, one of the most evil institutions in mankind's history. Just as Bush has little regard for the rights or interests of black Americans (other than social conservatives like Condoleezza Rice or Clarence Thomas), Governor Blunt has shown his lack of concern for this segment of the population.

Cake is made to eat, isn’t it?

Blunt’s governorship in Missouri makes it apparent that Mr. Bush intends to apply the “Trickle Down Theory” in a new way. Under the rule of the Social Darwinists, only the "fittest" (and richest) possess the "inalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Blunt exemplifies that their power grab is “trickling down” to the level of state government. With the current Supreme Court vacancy, the plutocrats will move to complete their inevitable seizure of control over the third branch of the federal government. Some have even raised the possibility that Marbury vs. Madison will be overturned, rendering the Judicial Branch virtually insignificant. Middle and working class Americans are witnessing their final shield from tyranny disintegrate. However, the plutocratic and corporate interests are not content simply dominating the federal government. They are shrewdly seeding state governments with men like Matt Blunt to exercise their agenda. To satisfy many amongst their conservative, libertarian constituency, they will need to cede more rights to the states. With men like Matt Blunt waiting in the wings to further the plutocratic agenda, they can safely diffuse their power while still enjoying the delectable fruits of Social Darwinism. America's wealthy are setting out to prove the axiom that you can have your cake and eat it too. Fortunately, it is not too late for the working people, poor, and minorities to prevent that from happening, and I believe we will.

How to beat the terrorists: Lessons from a journey across the Arab world

Rami Khouri is Editor-at-Large for The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.

Rami G. Khouri

In the last seven weeks I have had the opportunity to make working visits
to seven different Arab countries and to engage in political and other
discussions with local officials, academics, journalists and opposition
activists. The experience has been instructive, and simultaneously
heartening and depressing, but has suggested obvious opportunities and
dangers in the dual quest to respond to the rights of Arab citizens and
defeat the global terror plague.

Based on my visits and discussions in Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt,
Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco, along with meetings with colleagues from
Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Kuwait, I sense a common
mood across the Arab world: The prevailing status quo is neither
satisfying to the majority of citizens, nor sustainable for the rulers in
its current state, but neither is it on the verge of revolutionary or
violent change.

The obvious overarching trend throughout the Arab world is that of
citizenries and ruling elite that are worried by the status quo, but
unsure of how to change it. In every Arab society, demons from the past —
a harrowing litany of excesses and errors — now haunt the rulers and the
ruled alike. Tens of millions of educated but underemployed, unemployed,
restive and frustrated young men and women have given unnatural birth to
thousands of active terrorists and anarchists, targeting our own and
foreign lands. A deep distortion of traditional Islamic and Arab values is
manifested in a desperate, violent, criminal search for revenge against
the domestic and foreign forces that have degraded the last three
generations of Arabs. Urban environments are exploding in uncontrollable
spontaneous growth, with increasingly negative impacts on water, arable
land and other vital natural resource bases. Drug- and corruption-based
criminality is our new pan-Arab growth industry, expanding on a regional
and global scale. Tens of millions of armed men and women in official
military, police and security establishments have brought neither
palatable security nor even the more modest goal of honourable national
self-respect to the Arab region as a whole. Some desperate lands in our
midst are ruled like private fiefdoms by thugs, killers, former cops and
men of very limited abilities, in some absurd cases men who have remained
in power for three or four decades without interruption — and in all cases
without any formal, credible ratification by their own citizens.

Everywhere in the Arab world, the calm on the surface is tenuous and
vulnerable. Pressures for change emanate from within the Arab countries,
and equally from external pressures. This is driven by economic stress and
a deeper sense of the average citizen's indignity at living in societies
where power is neither accountable nor contestable, and where citizen
rights are neither codified nor respected.

But these are visceral, not constitutional, societies, and verbal, not
digital or parliamentary, societies. Body language rules here more than
the eloquence or principles of national founding fathers. So do not look
for signs of stress or change in polling data, legislative votes or
political party activity. Those superficial imports from retreating
colonial European powers three generations ago have little anchorage or
meaning in most Arab societies. Here, power relationships are negotiated
over coffee, meals, chance encounters and leisurely chats — and they are
constantly, perpetually renegotiated and reaffirmed, day after day, year
after year, generation after generation.

This is what is going on now in every Arab country. Arab rulers and ruled
alike fervently but quietly search for the mechanisms of orderly change,
aware that the traditional social contract and power equation that have
defined this region since the 1920s are on their last legs. The common
phenomenon I have witnessed around the Arab world is that growing
majorities of ordinary citizens seek peaceful but effective ways to
challenge, and change, state structures and the use of power — because
these state structures mostly do not offer their people sustainable
security, expressions of their real identity, freedom of choice and
speech, relevant education, or minimally attractive job prospects.

A very small minority of violent Arab men and women has turned to terror
as an instrument that expresses their demented frustrations and
desperation; more significantly, the vast mass of Arabs has learned the
lessons of the mistakes of the secular and religious political movements
that challenged the modern Arab security state using violent means
starting in the late 1970s. Citizens throughout this region now challenge
their ruling elite and foreign interference more peacefully, but also more
directly and vocally. They demand more equitable treatment by their own
ruling authorities, less corruption and abuse of power, and a more clear
sense of equal opportunities for all citizens, rather than privileged
access to power and wealth by a small, often family-, tribe-, ethnic-, or
sect-based elite that often includes a criminal component.

Citizens nonviolently but explicitly challenge the legitimacy of their
rulers in some cases, and the conduct of their own security services in
others. The first wave of responses from the befuddled Arab security state
— a thin sliver of reforms dressed up in limited media liberalisation —
has been unconvincing to savvy Arab citizenries that expect a much more
significant acknowledgement of their humanity, and of their human and
civil rights.

The opportunity and the danger for the Arab world both seem rather clear.
The opportunity is to engage and empower the vast majority of Arab
citizens who actively and peacefully seek a better, more humane and
accountable, political order, through orderly and incremental change.
Several hundred million upright, wholesome, ordinary men and women
throughout the Arab world cry out for decency in their political order,
inspired by the deep righteousness of their faiths and the strong moral
values of their cultural and national traditions.

The parallel danger is that Arab and foreign officials will allow
themselves to be so mesmerised and distracted by the criminal antics of a
few terrorists out there that they end up perpetuating the four basic
mistakes that have plagued Arab, American, British and other anti-terror
policies in recent years: Misdiagnosing the root causes of terror,
exaggerating the religious and minimising the political dimensions of
terror, and responding mainly with heavy-handed political and military
policies that, astoundingly, only fuel the criminal hormones of the
terrorists themselves and also further alienate the hundreds of millions
of already fearful ordinary Arabs whose demand to live as dignified,
respected citizens of humane and responsive modern states is, in the end,
the only sure way to defeat terrorism.

This is the simple but profound lesson that I have learned in my travels
and conversations across the Arab world in the past seven weeks. If you
seek stability and an end to terror, mobilise the Arab masses through
democratic transformations that respect their rights as citizens, rather
than alienate them through American, British and other military fantasies
in foreign lands that only degrade the Arab people's already thin sense of
self-respect in the face of their own bitter modern legacy of homegrown
autocrats and Western armies.