Saturday, July 18, 2009

From Here to China and Back
Connecting a Few Dots

“Hey, you White House—ha-ha! Charade you are!”
(Pink Floyd)

Cindy Sheehan was in Norfolk July 14 and 15 as part of her Myth America Tour promoting her new e-book, Ten Greatest Myths of the Robber Class and the Case for Revolution.

Her message, in a sentence, is that America is not and never was the exceptional City on the Hill, with all the grand trappings of liberty and justice for all, that it has been widely advertised to be. (Read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States for scholarly verification.)

I missed Cindy, as she asks to be called, on her first night here, an informal and, I understand, packed gathering at the Off-Base Coffee House down by the Norfolk Farmers’ Market. But I caught her the second night at the Naro Expanded Cinema, Norfolk’s independent movie theater and hub for area progressives, where she held forth for an hour and a half with no perceptible dip in her boundless energy in opposition to the American Masters of War.

Cindy stepped into the national media spotlight in August, 2005, when she camped out along the only road leading to George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, TX, while he was vacationing there. She had a question for Bush which he had not answered to her satisfaction, and she went to Crawford demanding he meet with her to discuss it.

Her question was simple enough. Borrowing his words from a speech in praise of those who had fallen in Iraq, she wanted him to explain to her for what “noble cause” her son, Casey, had died when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on April 4, 2004.

Bush refused to meet with her or to answer her question, and her protest continued for nearly a month as activists from across the country joined her at what became known as Camp Casey, in honor of her son.

After Bush returned to Washington, Cindy followed in a caravan of peace activists, stopping for rallies in cities along the way until she reached the Capital, where the campers held a mass anti-war rally on September 24, 2005.

The war, of course, did not end but dragged on, as it still does today. As Cindy pointed out in her talk at the Naro, our troops have not left Iraq, despite Obama’s celebrated campaign promise to draw down forces. They’ve just been moved to one of the reported fourteen U.S. military bases maintained throughout the country.

In last fall’s election, Cindy challenged House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her San Francisco Congressional seat. She lost by a wide margin, but the loss has not dampened her ardor.

In fact, her passion for changing the fundamental dynamic of American society is infectious, her old-fashioned, rabble-rousing spirit irresistible. I, for instance, had no expectation of writing about her visit when I arrived at the theater. I came as a spectator, more to support the efforts of my friend Tom Palumbo, one of her sponsoring hosts, than to learn much more than I already knew about the sorry state of our nation.

But during her discussion with audience after her informal talk—delivered extemporaneously, with no notes—comments surfaced which changed my mind.

It began when a woman in the audience who seemed troubled—perhaps even angry—questioned Cindy’s assertion that American business leaders had willfully betrayed our workers, our economy, our nation, and, indeed, humanitarian values in general by exporting their factories to China, a dictatorship where democratic impulses are brutally repressed and poisoned products are manufactured for export, in large part back to Americans.

The question brought to my mind an article I’d read back in the Reagan era on the American business exodus to China. The article pointed out that corporate executives are actually quite comfortable running their companies in China because, unlike our own open society, Chinese society more nearly resembles the top-down management structure of the corporate world.

In other words, since corporate structure is itself a dictatorship, not a democracy, corporations prefer to operate in a society where their hands are not tied, for example, by fair labor laws or environmental protection and worker safety regulations. Such measures, holding bosses accountable for the welfare of their workers and for the health of our planet’s ecology, cut into profits by holding them liable for the real costs of their operations.

Corporate executives admire Chinese society because in China capitalism and government are on the same page. Business likes the no-nonsense control over the population which government provides. No need to deal with troublesome labor unions because they’re illegal. The work force, virtually inexhaustible, is docile and compliant, accustomed to obeying authority. Environmental concerns, beyond a certain low-level maintenance to keep the wheels of business-as-usual turning, are minimal in a system where life is cheap. And government, for its part, appreciates the economic growth business generates, making the country—i.e., the rulers—rich.

Capitalism in a dictatorship is a mutually satisfactory relationship which gives the lie to the rosy prediction that free enterprise will eventually liberalize China. Quite the contrary, the Chinese version of capitalization has de-liberalized America.

This hit me as an epiphany one day recently. The relentlessly repressive pattern of the policies laid down by Bush-Cheney & Co., Inc., I realized, are part of a deliberate, conscious plan to make America over in the image of the admired Chinese capitalist dictatorship.

The disaster of 9-11, no matter who really carried it out, was a windfall for these crony capitalists, or, as Cindy refers to them, this Robber Class. The attack created an ideal environment for fomenting a national security panic, clearing the way for a smooth consolidation of power in the hands of a few at the top of the pyramid.

As a result, the capitalist class made great and gleeful strides under the Bush-Cheney corporate proxy regime, not only gutting regulation of corporate abuse, including cancellation of international treaties, but surging on to the draconian USA Patriot Act and all that’s come with it—extravagant militarization, warrantless wire-tapping, suspension of habeas corpus, torture of “enemy combatants,” and, as we’ve only recently learned, clandestine assassinations apparently ordered from the White House which may even have taken out such prominent candidates for elected office as Benazir Bhutto, favored to defeat our chosen military strongman Perez Musharraf as President of Pakistan.

In fact, I suspect these forces of greed, as some call them, play a sly role in framing arguments on moral grounds to limit many aspects of privacy and personal freedom, stigmatizing abortion, same-sex preference, and gender equality, to name the most prominent. It’s doubtful our capitalist rulers find these freedoms morally repugnant. Too many hypocrites among them have been caught with their pants down to give that notion any credibility. It’s more that a wider freedom of choice of lifestyle for all of us makes for a diversity in society which is more difficult for a rigid and predatory capitalist system to corral for its own ends.

Yet it’s naive, if not misleading, to imagine that these repressive policies began with Bush-Cheney, as Candidate Obama repeatedly suggested. Domination of our society by corporate interests has been a growing trend in America ever since the industrial North won the Civil War. It has certainly been ongoing most of my adult life, this insidiously creeping, unsupervised, free-market capitalist take-over of our public square—our government, our media, and our popular culture—impossible to ignore ever since the return of Richard Nixon and the failed hippy rebellion of the 1960s.

In the 1980s, it gained great traction under the spell of the honey-tongued Ronald Reagan and his successor, former CIA operative and New World Order hit man George H.W. Bush. Then came congenial, back-slapping Bill Clinton, posing as a good-old-boy buddy to the common man, who prepared the way for his successors with unerring instinct, right down to getting caught in an “improper relationship” with Monica Lewinsky, disgusting ordinary Americans and assuring the election of Bush-Cheney. (Not that Al Gore would have followed a much different drummer, at least in public policy.)

Many hoped in vain that Barack Obama would change all that. Unfortunately, we now see any change is little more than skin deep. The imperial wars continue. The poor get even poorer as the bottom drops out of our economy like the trap door of a hangman’s scaffold while bankers receive wholesale bailouts. Talk of reform flourishes, but real reform of any of our systems-at-risk—and which of our systems is not at risk?—is either too little too late or taken off the table because, we’re told, substantive change is, alas, politically impossible.

How can single-payer health care, for instance, be politically impossible in a democracy when it’s supported by well over half the people, including medical professionals?

No, there is nothing contradictory about American capitalists making nice with the undemocratic regime of China. They’re natural allies, birds of a feather. And, as is becoming increasingly plain, all but a handful of our American politicians, deeply corrupted by corporate cash and their own gluttonous greed, are eager to imitate the Chinese model, concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a single, “centrist” ruling party under an all-powerful executive branch of our government.

As all of this passes in my mind with the clarity of revelation, I flash back in my life to 1970, when I was living in San Francisco, a thirty-year-old hippy seeking my bearings in a relentlessly capitalist, warfaring society where, even then, the only real crime was to be poor—which, incidentally, like many others on a quest for meaning, I was.

One day, as I sat on the city beach looking west out over the Pacific Ocean, I had a memorable but disturbing vision. (Yes, I was tripping on acid at the time.) On the crests of the waves I saw legions of oriental faces pouring toward shore—coming, I thought at the time, from China. Then I saw myself and others like me imprisoned in a dungeon overseen by giant oriental armed guards brandishing clubs and whips.

I shook off the vision as a paranoid fantasy knitted together in my imagination out of 1930s B-movies and red-baiting, sinophobic propaganda.

It might have been that, some culturally implanted, unconscious fear of a Chinese invasion rising to the surface of my mind. But what if it was a prophetic vision of a probable future when America becomes dominated by the Chinese model of a capitalist dictatorship?

Cindy would say we’re already there. But, she assures us, there’s good news because the Empire is collapsing—not too hard to believe—and that offers us both promise and danger, a rare opportunity but also an urgent problem to solve.

What can we do to prevent our being crushed under the weight of the Empire as it comes tumbling down?

Cindy urges us—implores us—to form local communities and economies that do not depend on this global conglomerate of corporate giants which suck the planet and everything on it of its life blood.

How we go about doing that remains largely to be invented. All ideas are needed and welcomed. As we are an ingenious race, the outlook, though tense, shimmers with bright possibilities. But we must stay awake and engaged in whatever part we find ourselves able to play.

I hope my vision of a Chinese take-over turns out to be just a paranoid fantasy. I’d rather go for therapy in a democracy than end up as an enemy combatant in a police-state gulag.

For more on Cindy Sheehan, her current mission, and her Myth America book, including how to order, go to


At 3:27 PM , Blogger Star Womanspirit said...

Great work as usual DD...I wish you'd put a buzz and a digg button on your blog so I could more easily recommend your blog to others.


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