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Voice From The Back

THIS IS DEMOCRACY?

The US government are very fond of lecturing other governments about democracy and extolling the virtues of democracy as opposed to one party regimes. Where it suits their economic interests, such as in oil-rich Middle East states they are less adamant about democracy though. Nevertheless, compared to dictatorship like Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the USA would seem to be a model for the superiority of democracy. However on closer examination the US model is far from perfect. "In 2000, Jon Corzine spent tens of millions of his personal fortune to vault himself from political obscurity to the United States Senate. In 2005, he spent millions more to jump from Washington to Trenton and become New Jersey's governor. This year he's opening his wallet again as he looks to overcome a steep deficit in the polls to win re-election, in what could be the ultimate test of whether money trumps all in politics today. Throughout American history, personal wealth has often played a significant role in winning political office. But as campaigns are increasingly decided by 30-second TV ads and sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts, the two major parties are increasingly looking to recruit individuals with personal fortunes that can help bankroll campaign costs that now more often than not run into the tens of millions of dollars." (Yahoo News, 9 July) In US-style democracy anyone can become politically powerful but it does help if you happen to be a multi-millionaire.

THE POWER OF MONEY

It is axiomatic in capitalist society that if you have more money you eat better than those with less of the stuff. Likewise when it comes to accommodation the rich live in palaces while the poor live in inadequate housing. In education, recreation and every other human pursuit money allows for the best of everything and consequently lack of the stuff leads to the cheap and the shoddy. A recent example of this was provided by a review of the treatment of mental health patients in the NHS. "A bleak picture of a mental health service that tolerates bullying and houses children alongside adults in breach of guidelines is revealed in a damning report from a government monitoring body. The Mental Health Act Commission claims many more patient deaths will occur through inadequate staffing and lack of training. The 248-page study, the last by the commission before it is replaced by the new Care Quality Commission, highlights how patients put on suicide watch are often poorly observed, leading to tragedies half-concealed by ‘falsification’ of nursing records." (Observer, 19 July) Needless to say this sort of treatment is reserved for those who cannot afford the luxurious treatment provided for the very rich. As the Bob Dylan song has it - "Money doesn't talk, it swears!"

PROPHETS AND PROFITS

The financial journalist Richard Wachman recently wrote an article in the Observer entitled "We're two years older and sadder, but perhaps not a great deal wiser". He reviewed the financial collapse that had occurred from August 2007 to August 2009. "What happened two years ago was to lead to a chain of event that involved the nationalisation of about half the major banks in Britain and the United States. It was also to lead to the collapse of emerging markets from Latvia to Pakistan and the biggest ever globally co-ordinated government rescue package, involving trillions of pounds. The world is now an uglier place with mass unemployment, widespread business failure and dramatic falls in world trade." (Observer, 2 August) Wachman's analysis of the problem is not particularly revealing but what is of interest in his article is how the crisis has left so-called experts with egg on their faces. Mervyn King (August, 2007) "I don't think there's any real evidence here of a fundamental challenge to the macroeconomic outlook." and then (February, 2009) "The UK is in deep recession ... Restoring both lending and confidence will not be easy and will take time." George W Bush (August, 2007) "The fundamentals of our economy are strong ... and we are headed for a soft landing." and then "If money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down." (September, 2008) Alistair Darling (August 2007) "People should have confidence that many of the investment they make will be good investments." and then "Times are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years... it's going to be more long-lasting than people thought." (September 2008) Capitalism is a social system based on economic slumps and booms and it makes fools of all the "experts".

LAS VEGAS, ANOTHER VIEW

We are all aware of the Hollywood depiction of Las Vegas as a fun-loving city, full of casinos, nightclubs and good times, but the reality for its growing homeless numbers is far from idyllic. As jobs and homes disappear many of the dispossessed street dwellers are subject to attacks of violence. Now even the streets are being abandoned by the homeless. "Some of the Las Vegas homeless resort to living in a maze of underground flood channels beneath the Strip. There they face flash floods, disease, black widows and dank, pitch-dark conditions, but some tunnel dwellers say life there is better than being harassed and threatened by assailants and the police. ‘Out there, anything goes,’ said Manny Lang, who has lived in the tunnels for months, recalling the stones and profanities with which a group of teenagers pelted him last winter when he slept above ground. ‘But in here, nothing’s going to happen to us.’” (New York Times, 7 August) In one of the most sophisticated urban areas in the world some members of the working class are living like sewer rats. What a hellish system capitalism is.

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