excerpts and quotations from the
by Michael Parenti
City Lights Books
... we are ... a nation besieged, not
from without but from within, subverted not from below but from
above. The moneyed class exercises a near monopoly influence over
our political life, over the economy, the state, and the media.
... stop blaming the powerless and the
poor and , in that good old American phrase, start " following
the money." Let's keep our eye on who has too much of the
real power in this country. That is the first and most important
step toward lifting the siege and bringing democracy back to life.
THE EVASION OF POLITICS
Many Americans know very little about
other countries and the destruction wrought by U.S. ruling elites
THE PRESIDENT AS CORPORATE SALESMAN
... a president's primary commitment abroad
is not to democracy as such but to the global "free market."
... the president must present himself
as a "man of the people" while quietly serving those
who control the wealth and power of the country.
... the president plays a dual role in
that he must satisfy the major interests of corporate America
and high finance and at the same time make a show of serving the
The success any group enjoys in winning
presidential intercession has less to do with the justice of its
cause than with the place it occupies within the class structure.
... during times of crisis, such as war,
we hear that we must have faith in our leaders, for they are the
ones who will see us through. What is overlooked is that they
are likely the ones who created the crisis and should be held
accountable for their actions.
It is the essence of democracy that we
not trust and not have faith in our leaders. Democracy is a system
built on distrust. That is why-when a close approximation of it
works-we get real debate, investigation, exposure, and accountability.
At the heart of all procedural democracy is the idea that we must
watch leaders closely, question them sharply, demand to see the
documents, look for differing explanations, and pursue open debate
about policies, before, during, and after elections.
REPUBLICRATS AND DEMOPUBLICANS
With the exception of a small group of
Democratic progressives in the House of Representatives (numbering
about fifty) and a few progressives in the Senate, both political
parties in Congress are committed to the preservation of an untrammeled
giant corporate economy, huge military budgets, and the funneling
of public monies through private conduits in order to bolster
business profits. With relatively few exceptions, both are committed
to the use of repression against opponents of the big business
structure, the defense of the multinational corporate empire,
armed intervention against social revolutionary or nationalist
elements abroad, and the transfer of sovereign power to international
business oligarchs under NAFTA and GATT - all at great cost to
the life chances of people at home and abroad.
Whatever their differences, the two major
political parties collude in maintaining their monopoly over electoral
politics, and discourage the growth of progressive third parties.
All fifty states have laws that are written and enforced by Democratic
and Republican officials, regulating and frequently thwarting
third-party access to the ballot.
... Americans would balk at seeing any
particular religious denomination designated the state religion,
to be favored by law over all other religions. Indeed, the First
Amendment of the Constitution explicitly forbids governmental
establishment of any religion. Yet we have accepted laws that,
in effect, make the Democrats and Republicans the official state
parties, a rigged two-party monopoly and this at a time when they
are less popular than ever.
... The very system of representation
discriminates against third parties. The single-member-district,
winner-take-all plurality elections used throughout most of the
United States, tend to magnify the strength of major parties and
the weakness of smaller parties. Winner-take-all means the party
that polls a plurality, be it 40, 50, or 60 percent, wins 100
percent of a district's representation with the election of its
candidate. The smaller parties, regardless of their vote, receive
zero representation, thus suffering a higher percentage of wasted
or unrepresented votes. The minor parties invariably win a lower
percentage of seats, if any, than their actual percentage of votes.
Proportional representation (P.R.) is
the most popular voting system in the world.
... in countries that have P.R. there
is a broader choice of parties, a higher rate of participation,
and greater representation of various groups.
THE POLITICS OF SIN
There is no social formation more profoundly
immoral than a big capitalist corporation. It operates without
any scruples and will try to get away with whatever it can.
The savings-and-loan conspiracy ... cost
us [Americans] more than all the burglaries, bank robberies, and
other grand-larceny street crimes in all of America over the past
The corporate-owned media give far less
exposure to corporate crimes than to street crime.
Long ago, the Supreme Court created one
of its legal fictions by proclaiming corporations to be "persons,"
entitled to all the rights and privileges of other persons. Nothing
in the Constitution supports this strange notion. It is nothing
more than a legal fiction to shield directors and chief executive
officers from personal responsibility for their crimes-which is
why so few of them ever land in jail.
The military is one of the great sinners
of our society, although we would never know it, given the esteem
and praise heaped upon the armed forces. Military facilities are
among the worst environmental violators.... Furthermore, the cost
of the war machine makes beggars of us. It seems there is not
enough money to help handicapped children and impoverished families,
but there is enough for a huge defense budget, the largest single
item in the federal budget, allowing the military brass to enjoy
a very good life indeed with its officers clubs, golf courses,
polo fields, huge salaries, and fat pensions.
The military budget is loaded with bloated
contracts, padded cost overruns, and other lavish giveaways to
profit-hungry defense firms. The sinners who benefit from all
this are the arms profiteers and military brass. The victims are
those who perish when bridges and tunnels collapse, the children
jammed into overcrowded classrooms, those who go homeless and
hungry or who cannot find affordable medical care, and the rest
of us who wonder how we can pay all these taxes for missiles,
corporate subsidies, and S&L bailouts and still make ends
meet. A war machine that is so expensive as to deprive most of
us of some modicum of economic security, sapping our ability to
improve the life chances of millions of our most vulnerable citizens-such
a war machine is a sinful social formation.
What does the military do with all that
money? It spends generously upon itself. It wastes billions in
corruption and mismanagement. But most of all, it constructs a
technology whose goal is to intimidate and subdue people around
the world and, if necessary, kill many of them so that their lands
and labor can be better put at the disposal of rich owners and
foreign investors. The manner of killing has been diluted by the
technology-along with the sense of sin. When someone is killed
on the street with a gun, it is called murder. But when the killing
is performed by long-range missiles or high-altitude jet bombers,
the screams are not heard, the mangled bodies are not seen, and
sin is not only easily denied but is hailed as a patriotic virtue.
Medals are awarded, flags are waved, and greater sums are voted
for new weapons systems. ~
Reality is turned on its head. Aggressive
war is called defense. Imperialism is called maintaining our way
of life. U.S.-supported death-squad fascism has been used to defend
economic privilege in El Salvador, Guatemala, and dozens of other
countries, and is called protecting democracy from communism or
We need to expand our understanding of
sin, and for that matter, virtue, moving from personal piety and
interior experience to the realm of social evil and social virtue.
Personal piety and worshipful proclamations
are nice enough, but the really virtuous people in this world
are those who work for social justice. They are fighting sin on
a grand scale.
BEFORE WE GIVE AWAY THE POST OFFICE
Free-market conservatives are hostile
toward any sector of the economy that performs important social
services on a nonprofit basis. Be it libraries, hospitals, schools,
colleges, transit systems, or public retirement and disability
plans, such services are living demonstration that important human
needs can be met collectively in the public sector, without anyone
making a profit from them. This is in direct conflict with capitalism
itself, which is dedicated to organizing all human activities,
all labor and all consumption, in such a way as to maximize the
capital accumulation of the owning class. So corporate America
and its conservative acolytes in the press and in academia push
hard to privatize-and in effect reduce or eliminate-every public
service, especially those human services that serve the ordinary
public rather than the big corporations.
THE NATIONAL INSECURITY STATE
Within the government there exists what
some hay: called "the national security state." It consists
of the president, the secretaries of State and Defense, the National
Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and numerous intelligence
agencies. The national security state often operates like an unaccountable
sovereign power of its own. Its primary function is to defeat
political forces that seek alternatives to capitalism at home
or abroad or that try to introduce any seriously reformist economic
policies, even within the existing capitalist framework.
U.S. intelligence agencies have perpetrated
terrible crimes against the peoples of other nations. In countries
like Guatemala, Greece, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Argentina, Zaire,
Haiti, and the Philippines, U.S. national security forces have
used military intervention, terror, sabotage, bribery, propaganda,
and political disruption to bring down populist or democratically
elected governments and install regimes that better suited the
needs of global investors, including reactionary dictatorships
of the worst sort.
Countries that embarked upon popular revolutions,
such as Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Angola, found their economies
and peoples devastated by the mass-murder assaults of U.S.-supported
mercenary armies. The CIA has sabotaged and stolen elections abroad,
waged massive disinformation campaigns, and infiltrated and fractured
the trade-union movements of other nations. It has funded and
trained secret armies, paramilitary forces, torture squads, and
death squads, and pursued destabilization and assassination campaigns
against labor, peasant, religious, and student organizations in
numerous nations. Jesse Leaf, an ex-CIA agent active in Iran,
reported that CIA operatives instructed the Shah's secret police
on interrogation "based on German torture techniques from
World War II" and that the torture project was "all
paid for by the USA" (New York Times, Jan. 7, 1979).
REPRESSING THE LEFT
Officials and operatives of repressive
right-wing governments and almost any anticommunist emigre departing
from a communist country-including persons who just want to pursue
more lucrative careers in the United States-have gained easy entry
as visitors or permanent residents. Over the years these have
included former Nazis from Germany, Nazi collaborators from Eastern
Europe, and Vietnamese, Nicaraguan, Cuban, and Afghani right-wingers
and erstwhile terrorists.
In contrast, the victims of rightist procapitalist
regimes, fleeing political repression in El Salvador, Haiti, Chile,
and other U.S.-sponsored client states, have been denied entry
and deported back to their countries, often to face jail and death.
This seeming inconsistency has an underlying logic: rightists
are allowed into the country and leftists are not because the
Left generally opposes the capitalist class order, while the Right
supports it. In fact, that is the major differentiation between
Right and Left.
The fascist threat [in the U.S.] comes
not from the Christian Right or the militias or this or that grouplet
of skinheads but from the national security state itself, the
police state with the state.
POLITICAL MURDER, USA
We often think that the United States
is free of the political murders and terrorism that characterize
other countries. Think again. From 1968 to 1971, in a series of
unprovoked attacks in more than ten cities, coordinated with the
FBI, police raided the headquarters of the Black Panther Party
(a Marxist revolutionary organization), wrecking offices, smashing
typewriters, stealing thousands of dollars in funds, and arresting,
beating, and shooting the occupants. At least thirty-four Panthers
were murdered by police in that period, including Chicago leader
Fred Hampton, who was shot while asleep in his bed.
Through much of the 1970s, a paramilitary
"peacekeeping" force, established by the U.S. Bureau
of Indian Affairs under FBI direction, carried out a terrorist
campaign on the Pine Ridge Reservation that was directly responsible
for hundreds of assaults and the deaths of more than sixty supporters
of the American Indian Movement.
IS IT SPORTS OR IS IT WAR?
As presented on television, sports in
America have little to do with sportsmanship and plenty to do
with militarism and the national ego. Instead of bringing nations
together, international sports seem to fuel that winning-is-everything
mentality, a hostile rah-rah competitiveness that defeats the
purpose of international games.
With sports, we need to foster international
friendship and the more gracious side of the human spirit. Let
us have less chest-thumping and more handshaking, less emphasis
on who wins and more on how the game is played. Better a family
of nations than a multitude of screaming nationalistic egos.
WHAT IS TO DE DONE (FOR STARTERS) ?
The military spending binge is the major
cause of the nation's $5 trillion national debt, runaway deficits,
decaying infrastructure, and high taxes. It has transformed the
United States from the world's biggest lender into the world's
biggest spender and debtor. To save $2 trillion over the next
decade, we should cut the bloated "defense" budget by
Let us end U.S.-sponsored counterinsurgency
wars against the poor of the world. The billions of our tax dollars
given to corrupt regimes, with their death squads and torturers
engaged in every conceivable human rights violation, could be
better spent on human services at home.
... Congress should abolish the CIA and
drastically cut the budget of other intelligence agencies. Their
mandates should be limited to intelligence gathering. Prohibit
their violent covert actions within Third World nations and social
movements. Expose and end their domestic counterinsurgency programs
that attempt to disrupt and demoralize potentially rebellious
communities and dissident organizations.
... the ruling interests are profoundly
committed to a vision of the world that is ruthlessly exploitative,
hegemonic, self-serving, and ecologically unsustainable.
WE MUST FIGHT CITY HALL
Who are the privileged and powerful ?
Those who own the banks, corporations, factories, mines, news
and entertainment industries, and agribusiness firms of this country
are what is meant by the "owning class" or the "rich."
The "ruling elites" or "ruling class" are
the politically active portion of the owning class. They and their
faithful acolytes and scribes compose the Business Roundtable,
the Business Council, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council
on Foreign Relations, organizations started by the Rockefellers,
Mellons, Morgans, and other economic royalists. From their ranks
are recruited the secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury,
national security advisors and CIA directors, and, indeed, U.S.
senators, presidents, and vice presidents. For the very top positions
of state, the ruling class is largely self-recruiting.
It is often frustrating and sometimes
dangerous to challenge those who own and control the land, labor,
capital, and technology of society. But, in the long run, it is
even more dangerous not to do so.
Popular passivity is the goal of all rulers
who seek to preserve their entrenched privileges against the claims
of the public. It is what they usually mean by "stability"
and "order." The real name of their system is plutocracy,
rule by the wealthy few, the very opposite of democracy. In the
interest of liberty and social justice, it should be hated and
fought, resisted and replaced with a system of ... rigorous democratic
protections for public and private well-being
publisher - City Lights Books, 1998
261 Columbus Avenue
Sand Francisco, CA 94133
Michael Parenti page