by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
If it feels like this economic roller coaster ride is stuck on down, you’re right. At the same historical moment that the public sector is put on a starvation diet, the demands of the military reach record levels. “The height of brute force brings with it the nadir of support for human needs.”
Freedom Rider: Public Theft and the End of Empire
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“The contradictions inherent in our system have finally finished it off and we are all caught in its death throes.”
Americans are a people living on the precipice of economic disaster, both as individuals and as a group. The continued precariousness of their situation is a direct result of government connivance in stripping them of public assets and the distribution of those assets to the corporate sector. Retired public employees are literally having money they earned stolen from them. Children are losing days in public schools and counties are eliminating public transportation because political leaders are firmly committed to expanding empire abroad, assisting rapacious individuals and corporations at home and keeping workers and people of color in their place.
All of these examples of public theft mean that America’s demise is real and becoming more and more obvious by the day. It is no longer a subject of conjecture among a small group of well informed people. When the state of Hawaii reduces the number of days students will attend public school and Utah proposes eliminating the 12th grade altogether, the destruction of our society is plain for all to see.
The American empire has reached its military apex, with troops stationed in more than 100 countries, and two wars of occupation which have lasted for more than eight years. The height of brute force brings with it the nadir of support for human needs. The two conditions go hand in hand. It is impossible to sustain military spending which exceeds that of every other country on earth combined, without also stealing from the public.
“Retired public employees are literally having money they earned stolen from them.”
Camden, New Jersey proposes closing its three-branch public library system entirely. The $1 million needed to keep it operating every year is a proverbial drop in the bucket in comparison with the bail out of the financial services industry and the cost of foreign occupation and mass death. If public schools and libraries are no longer sacrosanct, if they can be eliminated without protest, then this country has at last shed any pretense of being a democratic, civilized society.
The stated reason for the elimination of these services is budget shortfalls. There is no disputing that states and local governments are suffering from the revenue losses created by the “great recession.” What should be disputed is the only remedy offered: continued robbing of the have nots in order to benefit the haves. In Colorado, retired state employees have been told that cost of living increases will be cut in the future. These retirees are not covered by Social Security and are entirely dependent upon the agreement the state of Colorado has made with them over many years.
According to the Pew Center on the States, states face a $1 trillion gap in pension funding. So far the only solutions presented involve reneging on the promises made to working people. Neither the Republican nor Democratic parties have suggested redirecting public funds from the military industrial complex to bail out the states and the people served by them. Defense appropriations and corporate bailouts continue in the absence of any meaningful debate.
When Clayton County, Georgia does away with its bus service and Boulder, Colorado decides not to light its streets at night, the veneer of a social contract is gone for good and the decline of the United States is visible to all. The exact how and why of America’s ultimate decline is unknown. What is clear is that the continued supremacy of the ruling class will make the lives of millions of people a living hell before the shoe finally drops.
“America’s demise is real and becoming more and more obvious by the day.”
It is truly chilling to contemplate the various ways in which our lives can worsen. Debtors prisons have returned, in the form of greedy lenders taking debtors to court and jailing those who don’t realize the importance of showing up. Questionable loans are bought and sold to squeeze the last dime out of working people unaware that there are statutes of limitation on debt collection.
The first step in fighting back against this onslaught is the realization that America is A, an empire, and B, on the downward slope of something bigger than a U or V shaped recession. We aren’t fighting just against Republicans and Democrats won’t save us unless forced to do so. The contradictions inherent in our system have finally finished it off and we are all caught in its death throes. When we organize it must be because we realize the enormity of our situation. Yes, we must fight against gentrification and war and we must fight for environmental sustainability. Yet none of those desired outcomes will ever come to pass unless we know precisely what we are up against.
We are up against an empire which like its predecessors will not go quietly. They never do, but they can be beaten and real civilization can be saved if we acknowledge who and what we are fighting.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.