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Lootocracy by Paul Loeb

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  • Keri Lynch
    LOOTOCRACY By Paul Rogat Loeb http://www.soulofacitizen.org/articles/Lootocracy.htm If you run a lootocracy, you have no conception of sufficiency. You set up
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2003
      By Paul Rogat Loeb


      If you run a lootocracy, you have no conception of sufficiency. You set up
      the rules to grab as much money as you can, as if you've won a supermarket
      shopping spree. You also concentrate power, the better to arrange the world
      for your benefit. Unchecked by modesty, satiety, or shame, you take all you
      can get away with. You loot until someone stops you.

      The word lootocracy was originally coined to describe the corrupt cartels
      that have ruled and plundered countries like Nigeria, Kenya, and some of the
      former Soviet Republics. But with an amazingly small amount of national
      debate, George Bush is installing a more global and sophisticated
      version-one where those on top can do whatever they choose without the
      slightest constraints. Bush began his presidency by giving the wealthiest
      five percent of all Americans massive tax breaks of $75 billion a year. He
      paid for them in part by cutting child abuse prevention, community policing,
      Americorps, low-income childcare, health care, housing, and even support for
      military families. This spring he passed another round of cuts, $35 billiona
      year targeted overwhelmingly to the same lucky lootocrats.

      You'd think these victories would leave the Bush administration and its core
      supporters satisfied that they'd transferred more than enough wealth to the
      very richest Americans. You'd also think they might have noticed that the first
      tax cut neither created new jobs or stemmed the continuing loss of existing
      jobs. But no. House Republicans have now just voted to end the Estate Tax
      permanently. If the Senate goes along, this will transfer a trillion dollars
      more, over the coming two decades, to an even tinier group of individuals.

      And key Republican strategist Grover Norquist promises more cuts down the
      line, explaining, "My goal is to cut government...down to the size where we
      can drown it in the bathtub." Conservatives once preached fiscal restraint.
      Now strategists like Norquist view massive deficits as a tool to strip away
      government's ability to affect public life. And the administration neglects
      practically every real need so they can shift as much money as possible away
      from communities that could use it the most to those who already have more
      than they know what to do with.
      As 2001 Nobel economics laureate George Akerlof said recently, in calling
      the administration "the worst government the US has ever had in its more
      than 200 years of history, "This is not normal government policy What we
      have here is a form of looting."

      It's not just taxes. Previous administrations have certainly been corrupted by
      a coziness with the wealthy and powerful. That's why we need to follow the
      path of public election financing that's been pioneered by states like Arizona
      and Maine. But Bush's regime descends to new depths in
      institutionalizing an America (and indeed a world) that is there for the
      taking. Private HMOs craft health bills. Oil, coal, and nuclear industries
      create energy policy in secret meetings. Chemical companies write
      environmental regulations. Timber companies promote a "Healthy Forests
      Initiative" letting them cut just about at will. Credit card companies
      rewrite bankruptcy laws. Fresh from cozying up to Saddam Hussein,
      Halliburton and Bechtel get offered instant contracts for the new Iraqi
      occupation. Bush appointees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission let
      Enron manipulate West Coast energy prices, then stick California ratepayers
      with $12 billion of onerous long-term contracts after the company collapses.

      The administration is now pushing to cut back 70 years of extra pay for
      overtime and to sharply restrict ordinary citizens' ability to challenge
      gross abuses of corporate power through class action lawsuits.
      Appropriately, one of the new key coordinators of these efforts is Senate
      Majority Leader Bill Frist, whose family controls the largest private
      healthcare company in the country, HCA Columbia. HCA profits bankrolled
      Frist's initial Senate run, and the company just paid the largest fine in
      American corporate history--$1.7 billion for defrauding Medicaid, Medicare,
      and the health program that serves the military services. You'd think Frist
      would be shy about eroding further public checks on corporate malfeasance. But
      in a lootocracy, Frist's background and approach are business as usual.

      A lootocracy embodies power as its own end, overriding any challenges,
      criticisms, or constraints. Open markets and deregulation have long been
      core conservative principles, but this administration pushes them farther
      than ever. They treat environmental laws, even ones enacted by Republicans, as
      obstacles to be evaded or demolished, opening up every possible domain to be
      auctioned off to the highest (or best-connected) bidder. They also treat the
      government's own workforce as expendable, eroding longstanding union and civil
      service protections, outsourcing key tasks, and doing their best to muzzle
      employees who challenge the administration's priorities, whether staffers of
      the Environmental Protection Agency or generals opposing the Iraq war.

      The notion that the world should be run at the discretion of the powerful
      also underpins Bush's foreign policy. We see the same lust for control, the
      same assumption that those in charge can do whatever they can get away with,
      the same sense that disagreement is forbidden. We see the same denial of
      long-term costs and consequences.

      Not all empires become lootocracies, but the more unaccountable power is,
      the greater the temptation to plunder. With a weapons budget greater than
      every other nation combined, our massive technological might threatens to
      flatten any nation that challenges us. If the UN supports our actions, we
      hail this as a mandate. If the UN doesn't, we act anyway, ignoring all
      international rules, and assembling a "coalition of the willing" reminiscent
      of children parading their imaginary friends. Given that the real threats of
      terrorism fly no national flags, the administration can always manufacture
      some excuse for intervention, as some of its key officials did in overthrowing
      democracies and supporting dictatorships during the Cold War. Instead of
      acknowledging the prime lesson of Sept 11, the profound interconnectedness of
      our world, this administration asserts the raw rule of power, confident that
      it will always prevail.

      Think about Bush's rejection of international treaties, whether on war
      crimes, land mines, child labor, women's rights, tobacco control, nuclear
      testing, small arms regulation, or biological weapons. To take the example
      of global warming, an international consensus of scientists agrees that it's a
      real and critical issue. If we fear Islamic terrorism, the desperation that
      feeds it will hardly be reduced by predicted outcomes like the flooding of
      Egypt's prime agricultural land, the Nile Valley. But Bush refuses to be bound
      by either the international scientific consensus or the most modest attempts,
      like the Kyoto protocol, to enact it into policy. His most recent EPA report
      on the state of the environment edited out real discussion of the issue
      entirely. To Bush, the powerful are exempt from any limits on their right to
      take what they want.

      Having already enacted far too much of its agenda, this administration
      relentlessly pursues the rest. Now that they control the Senate and House,
      and have a largely sympathetic Supreme Court, those who embrace an ethic of
      unlimited greed seem to have more power than ever.

      But this power is still subject to check by real-world consequences and by
      the activism through which we make the issues real to our fellow citizens.
      The Iraq occupation becomes more of a quagmire each day. Terrorist bombs
      explode in Morocco, Algeria, and a once seemingly pacified Afghanistan. In
      the wake of the Iraq war, the Pew Foundation's Global Attitudes Project
      finds majorities in Islamic countries like Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, and
      Pakistan saying they have "confidence in Bin Laden to do the right thing in
      world affairs." That's a staggeringly troubling response, all the more since
      after 911 many of these same people were mourning in commiseration with our
      loss. Meanwhile, every community in this country has seen services for the
      poor and vulnerable--and much of the middle class--decimated by national
      budget cuts. We need to tell the buried stories that highlight the costs.

      This administration's arrogance has begun to produce a major citizen
      response-potentially as broad as any since the height of the 1960s. We saw
      this most visibly before the Iraq War. Many who spoke out then are beginning
      to work toward the 2004 election. Those of us who marched and spoke out now
      need to reach out to friends, neighbors, and communities about the
      staggeringly destructive implications of a world where the powerful do
      whatever they choose.

      There's a widespread temptation to identify with the winners. But in a
      lootocracy we all lose out. We lose our voice, our democracy, our confidence
      that we won't be bankrupted by medical bills or thrown into the street, our
      certainty that our air and drinking water are safe, our security against the
      bitter anger of new generations of terrorists. Ultimately, we lose our
      democracy. Those are the stakes, at home and abroad. We need to be clear about
      them. If we can give our fellow citizens sufficient context to reflect, most
      Americans will recognize that they don't want a world run by the Enrons and
      WorldComs. And that the administration's actions do not serve their interest,
      but only the interests of the small group that's on top. They don't want
      their communities plundered or abandoned. They don't want to cannibalize the
      earth. They want a relationship with the world that makes us more safe, not

      Whatever particular issues we care about and take on, we also need to focus on
      the larger pattern-the destructiveness of a regime based on pillage. The very
      outrageousness of this administration's reach must inspire us to act for a
      vision based on connection, respect, and learning to live within our limits.
      For only by rejecting the ethic of relentless taking do we honor the common
      ties that bind us all.

      Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction
      in a Cynical Time. See http://www.soulofacitizen.org

      By the way, one group that's doing seminal work to challenge the
      lootocracy's hold on power is Public Campaign (http://www.publicampaign.org).
      They're the organizing center for the efforts spreading around the country
      to win "Clean Money/Clean Elections" systems of public financing like the
      ones I mentioned above in Maine and Arizona. By spreading the idea to more
      states, they eventually hope to create a national model. In addition to
      winning new state victories, Public Campaign has embarked on a broadbased
      effort to make Clean Elections an issue in the presidential election by
      highlighting Bush's sale of the White House to big contributors. They've
      also undertaken a "Color of Money Project" that will show, in geographic and
      socioeconomic detail, how ethnic and racial minorities are disenfranchised by
      our system of private elections. To get Public Campaign's nifty biweekly
      bulletin on money in politics go to
      http://www.publicampaign.org/publications/index.htm and follow the sign-up

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