Forget for a second that the predominant majority of the politically conscious human race views the
Put all that aside, if you can, and consider the degree of aristocratic indifference to homeland realities readily visible in the nation's ghetto-ridden capital (where at least a third of children live in poverty) required to claim that the US is in a position to "repair broken societies." Even prior to the passage of George W. Bush's harshly regressive 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, the US was by far and away the most wealth-top-heavy and unequal of all industrialized societies. The richest 10 percent of the population own more than 70 percent of the nation's wealth. The richest 5 percent of families receive as much income as the bottom 50 percent, leaving more than 9 in 10
It would be one thing if this gross inequality were not accompanied by massive and increasing poverty at the bottom of the pyramid. But serious poverty is deeply, widely, and increasingly evident across the
Meanwhile, more than 42 million Americans, more than 16 percent of the population, including more than 8 million children lack health insurance. Americans have the longest working hours in the industrial world, exacerbating widespread job dissatisfaction and a deepening crisis of civic- (dis-)engagement among the
These are just a small portion of the terrible statistics that could be cited to show that the
As throughout its history, the burden of American societal fracturing falls with special weight on the shoulders of those who trace their American origins to the Middle Passage. More than three and a half decades after the historic victories of the black Civil Rights Movement, contrary to the conventional wisdom of a white population that believes that all the racial "corrections" (no incarceration-related puns intended - see below) have been made, equality remains a highly elusive goal for African-Americans. In a nation that possesses the highest poverty rate, and the largest gaps between rich and poor, in the industrialized world, blacks are considerably poorer than whites and other racial and ethnic groups. Economic inequality correlates closely with race and black
Sadly, young black males are more likely to go to prison than college in a broken society that gives most of its breaks to whites. Beyond its sheer magnitude, the most striking aspect of
In my home state of
"Corrections," indeed: as the racially skewed demographics of the American "correctional" system suggest, the
Such is the tragic legacy of black chattel slavery, a savage 250-year regime whose devastating impact on African-Americans and American society is alive and well. Yet while US "elites" claim to embrace the "liberation" of Iraqis from "oppression," to the tune of more than $40 billion so far, they can't advance so much as an official apology, much less pay reparations, to black America, for the crime and consequences of the slave system. It actually became acceptable in the 1990s for certain US intellectuals to claim to the white America did blacks a favor by enslaving them -- thereby rescuing them from the supposedly inevitable horrors of modern Africa (which are divorced from any meaningful relationship to western imperialism) -- and that disproportionate black poverty reflects black genetic inferiority.
Last April, the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) reported that more than one million African-American children live in "deep poverty," in households with incomes less than half the
The coverage given to this story was easily eclipsed by that given just a few days later to the revelation that leading right-wing moral-crusader, Republican political strategist, and educational and "virtue" magnate William J. Bennett was a serious problem gambler. According to various reports, Bennett, a onetime Secretary of Education, and past Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, was a casino-owners' dream who "lost more than $ 8 million" playing Las Vegas slot machines during the last decade alone. Too bad Bennett and his reactionary Republican ilk don't see the need to cycle a few more million (or better yet billion) dollars worth of enrichment through the bodies and minds of
Too bad, also, that that the mainstream discussion of Bennett's curious little habit was discussed in complete isolation from facts like those reported by CDF. The commentators were stuck at the Charles Dickens level, arguing in good bourgeois-moralist terms about the propriety of a rich man's behavior. They had nothing to say about the deeper immorality involved in the creation and maintenance of a social structure whereby one such man can afford to entertain himself by dropping in machines a sum greater than the lifetime earnings of most of more than 9 in 10 of his fellow citizens.
But that's how things go in a "broken society," fractured along savagely unequal and related lines of class and race.
Do US policy intellectuals like James Dobbins really want to see the causes and consequences of a "broken society?" They can skip their next trip to
Two weeks ago,
Let the policy intellectuals come to Chicago, well, to the South and West Sides of that city, where 20 percent of the population lived in poverty and ten percent lived in deep poverty at the turn of the millennium. In the city's ten most African-American zip codes, each more than 90 percent black, 17 percent or more than one in six people lives in deep poverty. In 15 of the city's 77 officially designated Community Areas, moreover, more than 25 percent of the kids are growing up in deep poverty. All but one of these 15 neighborhoods are located in predominantly black stretches of Chicago's South and West Sides. There are six heavily black neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of the children are deeply poor and one (Riverdale) where more than half the children are that incredibly poor.
Let the great thinkers of the Beltway step outside their air-conditioned offices and into the nearby slums of the nation's capital, a practically bankrupt city with the world's highest
The deception-addicts in the White House pretend to care about these miserable dilemmas in the "world's most prosperous nation." In reality, they are guided by the skin-crawling "free-market" racism of leading right-wing political strategist Grover Norquist, whose explicitly stated "goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Of course, Norquist and his allies target some parts of "government" for downsizing a little more energetically than others. They are most concerned to dismantle the parts of the public sector that serve the social and democratic needs of the non-affluent majority of the American populace. The parts that provide free service and welfare to the privileged and opulent minority and dole out punishment and misery to the poor are magically saved from the budgetary guillotine by the neo-Reaganite Republican Robespierres of regression and their cowardly Democratic enablers. In the age of the neo-liberal garrison state, the successful American policymakers' notion of a noble public work is to build yet another prison, to attack and occupy a harmless but oil-rich nation halfway across the world, to build another expensive, military base in yet another distant non-white corner of the planet, to pour yet more depleted uranium into the polluted streams and fields of Iraq and the blood streams of their mostly working-class and disproportionately black soldiers, or to advance another initiative to monitor and manipulate their domestic population. Their public sector is "broke" when it comes to social democracy for the people but its cup runs over in powerful ways when it comes to meeting the needs of wealth, repression, racial disparity and empire.
It is interesting to hear their desire to fix "broken societies" when they broke long ago with the founding founders' sense of duty to maintain an elementary integrity of the societal whole and with the founders' related belief that there is more to life and society than the endless pursuit of individual wealth and advantage. The current White House and its allies within and beyond government are at once agents and reflections of a broken society.
It is only superficially paradoxical that Robbins and his ilk aspire or claim to aspire to repair such societies and "build nations" abroad while ignoring, indeed exacerbating, the horrific fracturing of their own supposed national "homeland." There's a lot more money to be made and control to be gained by the interlocked centers of corporate, financial, and political power in foreign than in domestic "nation-building." At the same time, it is a standard cornerstone of great white (not just contemporary) US political strategy past and present that saber-ratting against foreign Evil Others is a serviceable antidote to the domestic population's growing unrest over issues of socioeconomic homeland insecurity and related deep inequality. As James Madison noted in 1799, "the fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad."
As the left has long argued, domestic contradictions and the desire of the imperial nation's domestic power structure to escape their dangerous consequences are the source of empire. While the institutional and ideological configurations of modern imperialism have changed significantly since the days of early 20-century British writer J.A. Hobson, those contradictions still function as what Hobson called the "taproot of imperialism." That imperialism continues to manifest a strong, if increasingly hidden and covert racial dimension, being conducted primarily by whites (with all due respect to Powell and Rice) and imposed primarily on non-whites across the world.
Empires, which often break the societies of subject states -
Paul Street (email@example.com), an urban social policy researcher, is the author of "'The Economy is Doing Fine, It's Just the People that Aren't: Towards a Social-Democratic Alternative to the Indexes of Leading Economic and Cultural Indicators," Z Magazine (November 2000): 27-31, available online at http://www.zmag.org/zmag//articles/nov00street.htm, and "'How You Gonna Export Something You Ain't Even Got At Home?' Notes from