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Alexander Cockburn
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 10 September 2011
You can find America’s future in blueprints minted in business-funded think tanks 30 to 40 years ago at the dawn of the neo-liberal age: destruction of organized labor, attrition of the social safety net, erosion of government regulation and a war on the poor

The Waste Land

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Across two evenings this week, we've been offered America's future in a couple of visions. Neither of them offered the prime vitamin of bearable politics, the promise of good cheer and a better life at the end of a short-ish tunnel.

Version one came in the Republican presidential candidates' debate at the Reagan Library in California on Wednesday evening. This was Texan Gov. Rick Perry's first joust with the other contenders. As is customary, feather-puff punches and leaden sarcasms were inflated by the press into Swiftian repartee.

There were some disappointments. I was hoping for fire and brimstone from Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party's Pasionaria. But her performance was pallid, her vibrant persona dulled down, even her natural hair resembled a wig.

Hardly had I raised a cheer for her denunciation of the Libyan adventure — delivered with a clarity apparently beyond the powers of America's left leaders — before she was doing some Cheney-esque tub humping about the Iranian threat and groveling to the Israel lobby.

Ron Paul, who attracts passionate and well-deserved adherents for the lucidity of his denunciations of empire, came over as principled but a bit daffy. He was in the mode of a nutty professor or like a character in one of Thomas Love Peacock's splendid satires. His fans swiftly claimed he was aced out of the debate, which I don't think is true. He just didn't use the openings he was given to his best advantage.

Paul hates every manifestation of government. I don't think he cares much for immigrants from south of the border either. I didn't hear a cry of outrage from him when most of his fellow debaters were calling for a heavier federal presence —"boots on the ground," drones and a continuous fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. And he seems to favor the Keystone XL pipeline, even though, as my coeditor Jeffrey St. Clair points out to me, it will require one of the largest and most aggressive eminent domain actions since the construction of the interstate highways. Opposition to eminent domain is bedrock for any libertarian.

The most rational sounding Republican was Utah's former Gov. and Obama's Chinese Ambassador, Jon Huntsman Jr. This is probably because he's languishing in the low single digits and has nothing to lose by occasionally extending a friendly hand towards the world of reason, excepting his predictable servility to the anti-global warming lobby. He called for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and refused to make absolutist pledges about no new taxes. He doesn't stand a prayer.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had the task of trying to cut Texas Gov. Rick Perry down to size. They bickered back and forth, but without any decisive knockdowns.

Perry had some simple assignments — mainly to show that he could speak in coherent sentences and hold his own without hauling out his laser gun. (Perry says he packs heat even in jogging rig because he's frightened of snakes.) As something of a Reagan look-alike, in decent physical shape and with a strong voice, he did OK. He and his advisors are sticking to the game plan, which is presently aimed at capturing the right-wing core votes in the early caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina. Two Perry plusses: he really hates Karl Rove and Kinky Friedman likes him.

Perry's headliners were an accusation that Social Security is a vast Ponzi scheme, Obama is most likely a brazen liar and, amid wild cheers in the Reagan library auditorium, that he hasn't lost a wink of sleep after signing execution warrants for convicted murderers — 234 at time of writing, more than any other governor in U.S. history.

It seems hard to imagine that an onslaught on Social Security won't cost him among the vital elderly independents, assuming he gets the Republican nomination and goes head-to-head with Obama just under a year from now.

But then, having followed Reagan through his early primary battles back in 1979 and early 1980, I remember all the demented campaign statements of the Californian: His reiterated belief that the "Apocalypse" would come in our lifetimes, his amazing fictions, like liberating Auschwitz and his folksy imbecilities. If Reagan could win in 1980 and 1984, Perry certainly has a fighting chance in 2012. Many a politician, Bobby Kennedy for example, learned that it could be fatal to underestimate the Gipper in debate.

No Republican offered a plan, except the African-American Herman Cain. They all contented themselves with brickbats for government and a call for the release of supposedly pent-up market forces that are hog-tied by government red tape and onerous taxation.

America's problems are huge: 14 million Americans are officially looking for jobs. There are about four job seekers for every job vacancy; 8.8 million part-time workers since the recession began; and roughly 2.6 million people are too discouraged to even look for a job. Total — about 25 million people need work or more work, and this economy is creating no new jobs.

This brings us to Thursday night, and Obama's address to Congress. He flourished a $447 billion plan involving tax cuts, public works, extensions of unemployment relief and credits to businesses hiring people who'd been out of work for more than six months.

It'll do something. Economists raced to their calculators and said that the proposal might add about a million jobs.

But as the economists Randall Wrey and Stephanie Kelton point out, "Business will not hire more workers until it has more sales. Consumers will not spend more until they've got more jobs.

"A private-sector recovery requires 300,000 new jobs every month. But the private sector doesn't need 300,000 new workers per month to meet prospective sales. The new jobs can only come from the federal government — the only economic entity that can afford to hire. Obama's 1 million infrastructure jobs is a nice down-payment, but it is only three month's worth."

They call for a real New Deal program like Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. The program would offer a job to any American who was ready and willing to work at the federal minimum wage, plus legislated benefits. No time limits. No means testing. No minimum education or skill requirements.

There's a problem, aside from the fact that Obama has displayed zero appetite for big liberal ideas, he has yet to get a plan, any plan, let alone a really bold, new plan past Republicans in Congress. Republicans, who with his eager co-operation, ate him for breakfast in the showdown over raising the debt ceiling and who will sabotage even his present modest proposals.

"Stop the political circus," he cried to Congress last night. Why should the Republicans listen to him after he himself stopped the circus at the start of August by mumbling, "You win."

You can find America's future in blueprints minted in business-funded think tanks 30 to 40 years ago at the dawn of the neo-liberal age: destruction of organized labor, attrition of the social safety net, erosion of government regulation and a war on the poor that will be fought without mercy at every level. Last year, the New York police stopped and questioned 601,055 people — predominantly blacks and Hispanics — and those numbers were up 13 percent for the first six months of this year.

Texas, near the bottom in so many social indicators, is the model: Rick Perry is its latest salesman. But whoever the Republican presidential candidate may be, they face in Obama an opponent who agrees with at least half of what they say. In 40 years, I've not seen a gloomier political landscape.


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ABOUT Alexander Cockburn

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

THANK YOU, Alexander, for

THANK YOU, Alexander, for bringing in a fact which, for some, might appear a non-sequitor, but which is actually the whole story (or nearly all of it): the excessive policing and targeting of low income black and brown people by stop-and-frisk programs like that of the NYPD. Though it may seem disconnected from what you cover in this story--big economic and political landscape--in reality, our society's constant dehumanization and criminalization of people of color accounts for a lot of unemployment as millions are out of work due to legalized discrimination against "ex-felons," and our school systems are more concerned with locking up young children of color than they are with educating them! So thank you thank you thank you for bringing this into the conversation, which even in left and liberal circles is often ignored!

The American Public is not in

The American Public is not in touch with reality. It's the expected result of every empire that crumbles or is crumbling beneath us as we write today.I keep waiting to see Gingrich and Obama with violins in Roman garb (anyone remember Nero?).This country, you and I included, were bought and sold years ago. There is one set of rulers now and we're NOT in the club.Government policy has not reflected the needs of the people or desires of the citizenry for years in the U.S.A. These politicians don't give a damn about any of you. At All........................At All!

log on to LaRouchePAC and get

log on to LaRouchePAC and get your eyes opened

Yes, but where is the

Yes, but where is the outrage? The media analysts and pundits and Democrats discuss this like it's happening in someone else's country. The Republicans bright idea is that we return to the 19th century, the Democrat's lights may be on but nobody's home believing that agreeing with their opposition is a way to get things done. Yet, even then nothing gets done. Where is the outrage?

Alexander Cockburn's

Alexander Cockburn's trenchant analysis and criticism is always a breath of fresh air.

@ DonCordell: With all due

@ DonCordell:
With all due respect, you must be insane! Obama and "Socialism," the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral Commission! and the best inanity of them all, you as the next President! Are you on very strong mind-altering meds? is that your doing or did the doc put you on them? It's gotta be the latter, and you must be sneaking an email from an asylum

The closing comment is well

The closing comment is well supported. More than any president, Obama has shown democracy doesn't really work. What works is capitalism, but, given its underlying Ponzai scheme (I remember real, backed-by-Fort Knox-gold money!), only for so long. What the US has now is a cyclical monarchy whose royalty are but corporate puppets, pawns of the few atop the pyramid. Obama has shown it really doens't matter who's elected as long as we're provided the illusion of choice and change.

The next election will

The next election will determine if we are to continue as One Nation, with Liberty and Justice for All. Honestly I've been for Big Business since I was 9 years old in 1936. Why? Because Big Business means large employment. Many small businesses exist to feed the needs of Big Business manufacturing. Can you imagine what an automobile would cost if small companies tried to be the sole manufacturer? Yes we had small auto manufacturers in Indiana, the costs were prohibitive for the average citizen. How many could afford a Duesenburg, at about $8000 in the 1920s, Ford mass manufacturing made a car for about $400, and they set the auto industry in to operation. With out Big Business we would not have 747's, we'd still be taking the bus or train. So what must we do? WE must return all manufacturing to America, we must not only control our borders for invasion of illegal aliens, but control the imports that compete with the cost of American workers. If we do not restore the Middle Class, we will all end up slaves to a One World Government, controlled by European Bankers as has happened since 1806, when the First U S Bank started next door to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA. The World Bankers are the most involved in the Bilderberg Group, the TriLateral Commission who's mission is a One World Government. If you Citizens of America elect a Republican or continue with Socialist Obama we will be put out of business. Is this what you really want for the future of our nation? When we have 47 Million citizens on Food Stamps, with more to come, if you don't ReVote now, we have failed all of those who gave their life to start this nation, and those who've died to protect us. Can we win? It's up to all of us, we have been overtaken by those who's poverty havc them believing only Democrat's will provide Welfare, that you will need when you no longer have a job. Patriot or Coward, that's the million dollar question. AS your next President, I will Restore not Change America.

You are right and we on the

You are right and we on the liberal/progressive side had better be ready for it. We have no effective leadership and you can't win without it. Perry may say crazy things but he is entirely a puppet of business and they know a thing or two about spin and creating images.

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