United States: Challenges to the corporate system

September 20, 2008

Until last month's major party conventions, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's victory was looking the pretty likely. With his message of "change", it isn't hard to see why.

The Bush presidency is one of the most unpopular ever.

As is the case globally, a majority of US people are against the Iraq war. Furthermore, they have to pay for their government's imperial wars — both with the lives of soldiers who are often "economic conscripts" driven to join the army out of desperation, but also economically.

The billions spent on the high-tech mass slaughter of Afghans and Iraqis is money that is not being spent on basic infrastructure in the US. For those who cannot afford to pay, healthcare and education in the US falls well below that of other Western countries.

Poor abandoned

The appalling response to the 2005 hurricane disaster in New Orleans — where the city's mostly African American poor were abandoned, troops with shoot-to-kill orders were dispatched instead of rescue workers and the disaster subsequently used has as an opportunity to "cleanse" the city of its poorer inhabitants — became a symbol of why most Americans wanted change.

This was repeated in a lesser way with Hurricane Ike, which hit Texas and the Louisiana coastline in mid-September and "left a trail of destruction, with the estimated death toll reaching over 30 people", Roger Dwyer explained in the September 17 US Socialist Worker.

"Thousands are homeless, millions are without power, and the full extent of the damage is yet to be determined. Yet before the storm even made landfall, the blame-the-victim game had begun ..."

Dwyer noted "the sheer viciousness of the government — from the federal level, down to the municipal — and the corporate media in blaming those who lose everything for their own misfortune".

After giving evacuation orders from the island town of Galveston, which took the main force of the storm, "City officials made it clear that anyone who stayed had only themselves to blame if they needed help, got stranded or died. This mantra of 'we told you so' has continued and intensified since the storm hit."

However, when Hurricane Rita hit in 2005, people were told to flee and in the subsequent mad rush 100 people were killed — compared to seven in the storm itself, Dwyer noted.

"Or maybe some of the people who stayed were immigrants, who feared what would happen to them if they encountered police or other law enforcement agents, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"At a time when getting pulled over for a minor traffic violation can result in deportation, is it any wonder that many immigrants on the Gulf Coast have already stated that they stayed behind to face the storm — preferring their chances with Ike to ICE?"

He added: "Or perhaps folks just stayed behind because they had nowhere else to go and no way to get there, and decided their best bet was to stay and protect what little that they do have.

"Now that the storm has passed, entrance back onto the island is prohibited. So thousands of people who left, with little to no resources and no work, are now told that they can't go home. Damned if you stayed, damned if you left."

It is clear that the policies of the Bush administration have been a disaster for working people, and why at the Republican convention, John McCain attempted to distance him self from the president by attacking the record of his administration.


However, since the conventions, Obama has lost his lead in the opinion polls.

Conventional wisdom is that this is due to the "Palin effect" — the appeal to the right-wing Christian fundamentalist constituency of McCain's choice for a running partner, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

While it is true that her "values" may appeal to a minority section of US voters' prejudices, and her soap opera-like persona has given the Republican ticket some novelty value, there is another reason for the narrowing of the gap in the polls.

That is, since winning the Democratic primaries, Obama's rhetoric has increasingly emphasised the similarities between his policies and the Republicans', despite the fact that it was the posture of "change" — combined with the possibility of the first-ever African-American president in a country founded on slavery and infamous for its entrenched racism — that created his strong swell of support.

On issues from offshore drilling of oil, to support for US and Israeli wars of aggression, the two major parties have near-identical positions.

As Obama's rhetoric has moved from vague references to Martin Luther King to specific policy details, it has become clearer to many that the "change" Obama offers may not (to quote his slogan) be one "which you can believe in".

The current economic crisis, and the government's response: multi-billion dollar bailouts for the finance corporations that caused the crisis but no assistance to the steadily increasing number of people who've lost homes or jobs, highlights the need for real change.

Anti-corporate candidates

Standing outside the major parties controlled by the corporate interests behind the current economic crisis, and in whose interst the wars in the Middle East are being fought, is long-time consumer rights activist Ralph Nader, running as an independent. Nader also ran in 2000 as a Greens-endorsed candidate and 2004 as an independent.

Nader has played a leading role in campaigns to establish occupational health and safety and car safety laws. More recently he has campaigned against the deregulation of the finance industry that made the current economic meltdown inevitable.

In 2000, Nader predicted that the mortgage corporations Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac would eventually be bailed out and by 2006 he was suggesting their top executives be treated as criminals.

"This is a crisis that was born out of deregulation, letting them do whatever they want, Financial [Services] Modernization Act of 1999, [under then-president Bill] Clinton, and so on. Once the restraints were off, once there was not enough disclosure and regulation, then the risk assumption became crazy", Nader explained to the September 17 National Journal.

"It was a classic bubble and totally preventable ... It was basic greed, excessive power and speculation. What a cocktail."

Nader is struggling to get registered on the ballot in states nationally, and is being mostly excluded from the corporate media and its televised candidate debates. Despite this, polls have given Nader 6% of the vote according to a July 30 CNN poll — an indication of the depth of desire for genuine change.

Speaking on the importance of Nader's continuing challenge to the two corporate parties, legendary activist Peter Camejo, who was Nader's running mate in 2004 and who succumbed to cancer on September 13, told the audience at a Peace and Freedom delegate convention on August 2 that the reason the corporate elite is scared of Nader is because "Nader is more than a candidate, he is an issue".

Also challenging the corporate parties is the Green Party-endorsed candidate Cynthia McKinley, running with Puerto Rican hip-hop activist Rosa Clementes, has also rejected the lesser evil argument.

"The people of Venezuela voted their values, and they got real substantive change. They got their values being implemented in public policy", McKinley said in a July 21 interview on the Democracy Now radio program — answering those who argue it is necessary to vote for Obama as a "lesser evil". "Now, what are we supposed to do? Give up on our values?"

Like Nader, McKinney draws the link between the global and domestic crimes of the US corporate elite and their parties.

"Our national leaders have decided that it's OK to spend [US]$720 million every day for war and occupation ... at the expense of a single-payer healthcare system in this country ... like, for example, subsidizing education", McKinley argued.

"We need to make sure that we are investing in our infrastructure and greening our economy, making sure that we are providing jobs ... at a livable wage. These are not the things that the Democratic majority in Congress has ensured for all of us in public policy."

The near total media-blackout and undemocratic laws have stopped McKinley or Nader even being on the ballot. However, historically progressive change in the US has come about from mass movements of ordinary people.

The candidacies of activists such as Nader and McKinney, by standing for the principles of, and helping to build such movements, therefore represent a change that really can be believed in.

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