The following piece appeared in Addicting Info by Don Hamel (link here). I took some editing liberties in my reprint. The first point is relevant, there is a big hoo-hah about whether we are a democracy or a republic (note the root words for our two party system – they’d both like to be the driving value that is considered to be ultimately American). The truth is that we are a constitutionally limited democratic republic.
This term “constitutionally limited democratic republic” means that #1 the Constitution is our founding document and authority, #2 we have a representative government – each individual citizens does not vote on each piece of legislation, so we elect people to act on our behalf, and #3 those representatives are supposed to be elected democratically – by the people for the people.
I agree with the author that the heart of our nation lies in democratic ideology. Indeed many of the current movements – Move to Amend, Occupy, Transition Towns, even many Tea Partiers are all about increasing citizen empowerment – they’re about democracy. The Citizens United ruling that granted corporate personhood is the backdoor that allows a corporation to pretend like they are also a citizen that is looking for some individual empowerment and wants to take liberties (and oh boy do they!).
I know some readers love to point out the disadvantages of having government involved in our daily lives, my question is, would you rather it be replaced with an entity just as large – or larger – but with a mission statement that clearly does not have the best interest of humans in mind. This question is especially poignant in the case of that entity providing human services. Also my question is: does their ideology make them comfortable with watching people suffer and die as a result of losing those human services if the “beast” really could be drowned in the proverbial bathtub?
My value system does not allow me to be comfortable at all with our status quo. My ideology and value system is outraged at every life taken by military force whether it is through direct targeting, “friendly fire”, or the poison that is put into the earth and slowly kills those around it. My values are insulted at every belch of toxic waste onto this beautiful planet. My conscience screams out as cyclical poverty leads to ignorant, desperate people, who hurt each other in their struggle for survival. My religious upbringing tells me to love my neighbor, feed my people, and to give and forgive. My spiritual being feels sucker punched when I see our prison industrial complex, our military industrial complex, and all of our our fear based industrial complexes. I am deeply disturbed at how our collective greed and laziness have allowed disposable gadgets to outweigh the value of the human being – depending on what socio-economic benefit can be rendered from them.
That’s why I can’t stay silent about the injustices happening to me and my fellow humans. What follows is Don Hamel’s piece; here’s what he has to say about it:
..first of all, if we identify the United States as a representative democracy, you are the beast; or at least a part of it. In theory, if not in practice, we elect leaders who will represent our interests in government; we pay our fair share of taxes, and that money is divvied up in proportion to our needs. If you look at it as a business transaction, (an increasingly popular, but ultimately flawed viewpoint) we pool our money to supply our society with goods and services that individuals can’t afford on their own. Even the money spent to build government buildings, or even monuments, is supposed to be an investment. Those buildings belong to us.
A recent conservative mantra sets forward the idea that we’re not a democracy (and never have been), but a republic. This is a semantic smokescreen designed to make the wholesale dismantling of our government more palatable. Let’s settle the question this way: When we invaded Iraq, George Bush talked a lot about our ‘mission’ there. He didn’t say we were building a ‘republic.’ Here’s what he did say:
“I’m open to any idea or suggestion that will help us achieve our goals of defeating the terrorists and ensuring that Iraq’s democratic government succeeds.”
– NOVEMBER 10, 2006
Saddam Hussein’s trial is a milestone in the Iraqi people’s effort to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law. It is a major achievement for Iraq’s young democracy and its constitutional government.”
– NOVEMBER 6, 2006
“Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day. I don’t believe that. Our military commanders don’t believe that. Not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose — and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq.”
– DECEMBER 19, 2005, Speaking after Iraqi elections
And so on…You probably remember how often conservatives crowed about the democracy they were building in Iraq, while they were vacuuming up our government’s surplus, and depositing it into the pockets of Halliburton and other private companies. So did we liberate the Iraqis (without their consent) and initiate a system of government that’s different than our own? That doesn’t sound like us. Or anybody else for that matter.
So let’s agree that we are, for the time being, a democracy. We pay taxes in: we receive goods and services in return. Our elected representatives receive compensation for their work; the rest goes in the pot.
We are the shareholders.
We are the beast. Starve it, starve us.
There is no question, that government can be wasteful, or that bureaucracy can be difficult to deal with. There are nearly 312 million people in the United States; a government that has grown proportionally to serve all those people is bound to have some waste built in, and redundancies occurring. Because of its (our) size it can seem indifferent to our needs, which we built it to address. But does that make our government wrong or evil? No. It means we’re not doing enough maintenance.
So, we always have to be looking at ways to trim the fat, but watching your diet and starvation are two very different things.
The same people who brought you the deficit, via tax cuts and foreign wars, are the same people telling you now that the deficit proves the government can’t be run properly. They want to shut down public education entirely, and that’s creating a generation of lower-income families, that will have no avenue for upward-mobility. They’re attacking social programs with mad-eyed vengeance, and that’s creating a problem for all of us. As Bob Dylan said, “A man’s gonna do what he has to do, when he’s got a hungry mouth to feed.”
They’re creating a problem, with the purpose of supplying the ‘solution’: Privatization.
The idea that private, for-profit companies can meet our needs better than our government (ourselves) can is beyond dangerous, it is predatory. If corporations are people, they are amoral people. Profit is its only motivation, and its only master. A private company never reaches its ultimate goal, because a private company stops being successful when it stops growth. Its shareholders and investors demand growth and profit, or it ceases to exist. As does the service it was created to supply.
Here are two examples of privatization, that highlight the danger of hiring out our essential services; the first is smaller (for now) and merely disheartening, the second is growing larger and larger, and is a chilling example of how American citizens are being cut from our beast and being fed to the ever-hungry profit beast. The beast that exists for the sole purpose of taking, and not giving back.
Recently the Rude Pundit wrote about the school voucher system in the state of Louisiana, that channels money from the public school system and gives it to private schools. It’s an excellent piece, and I recommend you read it if you are more interested in being informed than offended (The Rude Pundit routinely employs language that you hope your grandma has never heard). In a nutshell, any number of ‘Christian’ schools are receiving public funds to provide education in an atmosphere that is free from pesky government (meaning our) standards. If you don’t own it, you don’t get to regulate it, right?
Then there’s the increasing practice of privatizing prisons; there are a lot of people growing fat of off that portion of the beast’s former diet. Oh, by the way, you still pay taxes for those prisons. Only now you pay them to businesses that need to keep growing. And the prison business certainly is doing that. And is projected to continue to do so.
The Sentencing Project released a paper in January, titled Too Good To Be True that tells some brutal truths about the for-profit prison system, and its voracious appetite. It eats American citizens, and it’s always hungry. As Correction Corporation of America’s 2010 annual report said:
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to
develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible
growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates
and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions and acceptance of
privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely
affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole
standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain
activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.
Right! Less people in jail, means less profits….What to do….What to do…
CCA State and Federal Contributions by Election Cycle
That’s right, they’re lobbying and contributing to the election funds of legislators, who in return become ‘tough on crime.’ They’re using part of their profits, to buy more stock. Except we’re the stock.
Horrified yet? Because it certainly gets better. You’ll be pleased to know that America’s manufacturing base hasn’t all moved to China. There’s plenty of it going on right here, in the good old U.S. of A. What’s that? You haven’t been able to find a job? Well, have you considered a life of crime? There are all sorts of opportunities to build things, for the convict with time on his hands. From Global Research:
Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Back in 2007, Forbes described it as a booming $37 billion dollar economy, with investment opportunities galore. And if you’ve ever wondered how “illegal immigrants” cost the U.S. so much money, it’s because it makes these corporations money. Lot’s of it. They detain them longer. than they have to, for sketchy reasons, and carve the price out of the beasts diet.
Privatization is indeed starving the beast, but it’s getting stronger and stronger, as it eats the beast’s food. And when the beast has no more food, and it’s weakened with starvation, what do you suppose privatization will eat then?