Saturday, February 12, 2011

Democracy in question in U.S. and Canada, highlighted by Egypt

By Bob Herbert, New York Times, February 12, 2011
As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.


...what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
How is this picture so different from the one we are watching emerge in Ottawa, where  $6 billion in corporate tax breaks trump poverty, health and social programs in the view of the Harper neo-cons?
And where another $20 billion for F-35 Fighter Jets is mor important than re-negotiating the Canada Health Act, and providing clean fresh water, housing, education and health care for the nation's poorest?
And their rebutal, as outlined by John Baird, he of 'who-can-shout-the-loudest-in-the-Commons' fame, is that the best social program is a "job"....and many of the people we are talking about are not even close to being ready for a job. They need a life, a place to live, and a healthy body, mind and spirit and the government needs to change its perception that so long as it gets them a job, they will be fine.
The provinces are not declaring bankruptcy in Canada, but are certainily facing budget cuts of sibstantial proportions. There is really no attempt by the one-man-band in Ottawa to reach out to work with the provinces in health care, on the environment, nor on social issues.
Out international reputation is faded, if not eroded. And the rich continue to control the major decisions taken by the Canadian government. Is that what we call the 'new democracy'?
If the table has not been set for a significant opportunity for Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals to hear the calls for a change in the direction of this country, by the perseverance and the dedication of the people in Tahrir Square, and in Tunisia, and in Yemen, and in Algieria, and in Jordan....then what will it take.
Of course, our situation is not nearly as serious as the situations in those countries, but the groundwork is being firmly installed taking us on a road in that direction....And only Canadians can change the course of our country toward a much more inclusive democracy. We do have the tools, the knowledge and the opportunity.
Will we take it?

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