As US warships approached, on Feb 22 four American hostages were killed by Somali pirates. It was an ominous harbinger of the crisis in Washington, where Republican pirates are holding hostage the legislative process and threatening to kill the American dream unless their ransom demands are met.
The root cause of Somali piracy is the collapse of that impoverished nations central government. The genesis of Republican piracy is more complex but can be traced to the rise of a predatory ethic that preaches winning is worth any price; that its permissible to say and do anything to ensure political victory because of the billions of dollars involved. As a consequence, Republicans care more about wealth and power than they do the health of the US economy or the viability of democracy.
Republican pirates are holding the Federal Budget hostage until the Obama administration agrees to egregious cuts in Federal programs. On March 2 Congress approved a stop-gap spending bill that would fund the government until March 18. Few expect the next round of negotiations to be easy and its increasingly likely that Federal government will shut down and millions of Americans will suffer.
Somali piracy is a business that offers employment to thousands of Somalis and hundreds of millions in profits. Currently 51 vessels and at least 819 people are held hostage the average tab to ransom a ship is $5 million.
Republican piracy employs thousands of GOP politicians, political operatives, and lobbyists, not to mention the media personnel at the Fox News Channel and conservative radio programs. But just as the main recipients of Somali piracy are shadowy financiers many rumored to be part of International organized crime so the primary beneficiaries of Republican piracy are Americas uber-rich, those in the top one tenth of 1% who each year control more of Americas wealth. These individuals such as the notorious Koch brothers or Wall Street hedge fund managers dont care about the plight of American workers or the size of the deficit; their entire focus is to keep the government off their backs so they can make even more billions.
Its far easier to understand the motivation of Somali pirates than it is to prevent their attacks. Their East African piracy operation has become increasingly sophisticated and now covers more than one million squares miles of the Indian Ocean from Somalia to Oman to India to the Maldives to Madagascar.
Since the 1971 Powell Manifesto [a call for corporate America to become more aggressive in molding politics and law in the US, written by Lewis Powell shortly before he accepted Richard Nixons nomination to the Supreme Court], Republican pirates have also broadened their reach. They elected Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush and, more recently, sponsored the Tea Party insurrection. More to the point, they shifted the Federal tax burden from the rich onto working Americans, as economist Richard Wolff pointed out in a recent article at guardian.co.uk.
The Somali pirates have a broad base of support because the Somali economy is in shambles and theyre the only game in town. Its harder to understand the appeal of Republican piracy. In his classic political analysis, Whats the Matter With Kansas? journalist Thomas Frank analyzed politics in his native state and concluded that Republican (pirates) had successfully diverted working-class Americans from populist anger by throwing them red-meat cultural issues (abortion) or blatant lies (Obama caused the recession). Republicans have waged a decades-long propaganda campaign thats blinded most Americans to the astonishing increase in inequality, the fact that over the past 30 years average worker income has increased by a paltry $280 while the income of the uber-rich has tripled.
Republican pirates now control the House of Representatives. Theyve convinced many Americans that pirates are your friends and launched an attack on law enforcement at all levels: Federal regulators, IRS agents, not to mention public safety officials. Republicans control the dominant narrative, arguing that government is the problem. Pirates want to enact savage budget cuts, insisting that the best way to a healthy economy is to let the market do whatever it feels like. And now Republicans want to eliminate labor unions, make it impossible for American workers to stand up to their corporate bosses.
Its clear that theres a two-fold solution to Somali piracy: come down hard on the pirates while simultaneously rebuilding civil society, giving average Somalis viable economic alternatives.
Its also clear what to do about Republican pirates. The long-term solution is to rebuild populism and place the interests of average Americans over those of the uber-Rich. That means taxing wealthy Americans and corporations; increasing Federal expenditures to help educate and employ Americans; protecting the rights of workers to organize; and ensuring the requirements for effective democracy override those of a free market.
But what needs to be done first is to call Republicans by their true name: pirates. The American people must deal with Republicans as we do the Somali pirates: refuse to buckle to their hostage demands even if that means shutting down the Federal government. After all, freedom is worth fighting for.
Bob Burnett is a retired Silicon Valley executive turned writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011
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