The Honduras Coup – Is Obama Innocent? By Michael Parenti

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By Michael Parenti
July 08, 2009 “Information Clearing House

Is President Obama innocent of the events occurring in Honduras, specifically the coup launched by the Honduran military resulting in the abduction and forced deportation of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya? Obama has denounced the coup and demanded that the rules of democracy be honored. Still, several troubling questions remain.

First, almost all the senior Honduran military officers active in the coup are graduates of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas (known to many of us as “School of the Assassins”). The Honduran military is trained, advised, equipped, indoctrinated, and financed by the United States national security state. The generals would never have dared to move without tacit consent from the White House or the Pentagon and CIA.

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North Korea: “Sanity” at the Brink By Michael Parenti

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By Michael Parenti
June 20, 2009 “Commondreams

Nations that chart a self-defining course, seeking to use their land, labor, natural resources, and markets as they see fit, free from the smothering embrace of the US corporate global order, frequently become a target of defamation. Their leaders often have their moral sanity called into question by US officials and US media, as has been the case at one time or another with Castro, Noriega, Ortega, Qaddafi, Aristide, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Hugo Chavez, and others.

So it comes as no surprise that the rulers of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) have been routinely described as mentally unbalanced by our policymakers and pundits. Senior Defense Department officials refer to the DPRK as a country “not of this planet,” led by “dysfunctional” autocrats. One government official, quoted in the New York Times, wondered aloud “if they are really totally crazy.” The New Yorker magazine called them “balmy,” and late-night TV host David Letterman got into the act by labeling Kim Jong-il a “madman maniac.”

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Michael Parenti: Economic Crisis the Inevitable Result of “Capitalism’s Self-Inflicted Apocalypse”

with Michael Parenti
Writer, Dandelion Salad
March 13, 2009

Democracy Now! on 3.12.09

Michael Parenti: Economic Crisis the Inevitable Result of “Capitalism’s Self-Inflicted Apocalypse”

Michael Parenti is a longtime political analyst and author of twenty books, including Democracy for the Few and Superpatriotism. Parenti writes, “Free-market corporate capitalism is by its nature a disaster waiting to happen.”

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Michael Parenti: The JFK Assassination and the Gangster Nature of the State (1993)

with Michael Parenti
Writer, Dandelion Salad

Note: replaced video Aug. 3, 2014

filmreiheanarch1e on Jun 17, 2012 Continue reading

Promises, Promises And Obamese Seduction by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
16 February 2009

“To seduce also means to destroy”

I ran into a reference to The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits and found the suggestive old poem extensively reproduced and commented on line. The work consists of a poem, The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest, and an extensive prose commentary. The poem which first appeared in 1705 was intended as a commentary on England, as the Dutch Englishman, Bernard de Mandeville, saw it. Here is a stanza:

A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.

The ‘hive’ is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for. It’s all quite familiar and contemporary. Eh?

(Rome) Since I have been over the whole route, from the political no-man’s land of the “majority”, across the cavernous divide to the independent and autonomous state of intense engagement, paying for my mistakes and reaping immeasurable rewards along the way, I can now permit myself some liberties of opinion. Still, I listen and listen and listen and wonder where I stand in the never-ending discussion on What is to be done? Like other emancipated people I wonder not only about my own ideas but also about those persons of Power dedicated to the methodical conditioning and fierce control of the malleable consciousness of the masses, Power dedicated to the seduction of humanity.

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Capitalism’s Self-inflicted Apocalypse, by Michael Parenti

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Parenti
Global Research, January 21, 2009

After the overthrow of communist governments in Eastern Europe, capitalism was paraded as the indomitable system that brings prosperity and democracy, the system that would prevail unto the end of history.

The present economic crisis, however, has convinced even some prominent free-marketeers that something is gravely amiss. Truth be told, capitalism has yet to come to terms with several historical forces that cause it endless trouble: democracy, prosperity, and capitalism itself, the very entities that capitalist rulers claim to be fostering.

Plutocracy vs. Democracy

Let us consider democracy first. In the United States  we hear that capitalism is wedded to democracy, hence the phrase, “capitalist democracies.” In fact, throughout our history there has been a largely antagonistic relationship between democracy and capital concentration. Some eighty  years ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis commented, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Moneyed interests have been opponents not proponents of democracy.

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Afghanistan, Another Untold Story by Michael Parenti

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Parenti
Global Research, December 4, 2008
Author’s website:

Barack Obama is on record as advocating a military escalation in Afghanistan. Before sinking any deeper into that quagmire, we might do well to learn something about recent Afghan history and the role played by the United States.

Less than a month after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, US leaders began an all-out aerial assault upon Afghanistan, the country purportedly harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization. More than twenty years earlier, in 1980, the United States intervened to stop a Soviet “invasion” of that country. Even some leading progressive writers, who normally take a more critical view of US policy abroad, treated the US intervention against the Soviet-supported government as “a good thing.” The actual story is not such a good thing.

Some Real History

Since feudal times the landholding system in Afghanistan had remained unchanged, with more than 75 percent of the land owned by big landlords who comprised only 3 percent of the rural population. In the mid-1960s, democratic revolutionary elements coalesced to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 1973, the king was deposed, but the government that replaced him proved to be autocratic, corrupt, and unpopular. It in turn was forced out in 1978 after a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace, and after the army intervened on the side of the demonstrators.

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Michael Parenti: Terrorism, Globalization, and Conspiracy (2002)

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Parenti
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad

Replaced video May 11, 2013

Mar 1, 2012


Dr. Michael Parenti, one of North America’s leading radical writers on U.S. imperialism and interventionism, fascism, democracy and the media, spoke to several hundred people at St. Andrews Wesley Church in Vancouver. Dr. Parenti has taught political science at a number of colleges and universities in the United States and other countries. He has written 250 major magazine articles and 15 books and is frequently heard on public and alternative radio.

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Michael Parenti: Spanish American War (videos)

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Michael Parenti uses the history of the Spanish American War to answer several very intriguing questions. Who first expressed the desire to annex the island of Cuba – and when? Why was the US government concerned about Spanish repression of the rights of Cubans while the repression of African Americans within the US was ignored? Why did the US attack the Philippines when it was Cuba they supposedly wanted to rescue? Why did the US give verbal support to the Cuban liberation movements against Spain while selling weapons to Spain to fight the popular movement? The Spanish American War was an important turning point in the transition of the US to an imperial power and many of the forces at work are eerily contemporary.


Michael Parenti: The Myth of the Founding Fathers (videos)


Michael Parenti: Is Bush A Failure? + Contrary Notions

Dandelion Salad

ForaTv on Jan 31, 2008

Progressive author Michael Parenti argues that popular liberal perceptions of a “failed” Bush Administration may not be accurate.

Michael Parenti Discusses Contrary Notions.

Michael Parenti is one of America’s most astute and engaging political analysts. Covering a wide range of subjects, Parenti’s work has enlightened and enlivened readers for many years. Here is a rich buffet of his deep but lucid writings on real history, political life, empire, wealth, class power, technology, culture, ideology, media, environment, gender, and ethnicity – along with a few choice selections drawn from his own life experiences and political awakening.

Parenti serves on the board of judges for Project Censored, and on numerous advisory boards as well as the advisory editorial boards of New Political Science and Nature, Society and Thought. He is the author of twenty books….

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Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

Dandelion Salad

by Dr. Michael Parenti

Global Research, November 18, 2007

Michael Parenti Politcal Archive – 2007-01-02

Expanded and Updated Version

For Lords and Lamas

Along with the blood drenched landscape of religious conflict there is the experience of inner peace and solace that every religion promises, none more so than Buddhism. Standing in marked contrast to the intolerant savagery of other religions, Buddhism is neither fanatical nor dogmatic–so say its adherents. For many of them Buddhism is less a theology and more a meditative and investigative discipline intended to promote an inner harmony and enlightenment while directing us to a path of right living. Generally, the spiritual focus is not only on oneself but on the welfare of others. One tries to put aside egoistic pursuits and gain a deeper understanding of one’s connection to all people and things. “Socially engaged Buddhism” tries to blend individual liberation with responsible social action in order to build an enlightened society.

A glance at history, however, reveals that not all the many and widely varying forms of Buddhism have been free of doctrinal fanaticism, nor free of the violent and exploitative pursuits so characteristic of other religions. In Sri Lanka there is a legendary and almost sacred recorded history about the triumphant battles waged by Buddhist kings of yore. During the twentieth century, Buddhists clashed violently with each other and with non-Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, India, and elsewhere. In Sri Lanka, armed battles between Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils have taken many lives on both sides. In 1998 the U.S. State Department listed thirty of the world’s most violent and dangerous extremist groups. Over half of them were religious, specifically Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist. 1

In South Korea, in 1998, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its millions of dollars worth of property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various offices. The brawls damaged the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.” 2

As with any religion, squabbles between or within Buddhist sects are often fueled by the material corruption and personal deficiencies of the leadership. For example, in Nagano, Japan, at Zenkoji, the prestigious complex of temples that has hosted Buddhist sects for more than 1,400 years, “a nasty battle” arose between Komatsu the chief priest and the Tacchu, a group of temples nominally under the chief priest’s sway. The Tacchu monks accused Komatsu of selling writings and drawings under the temple’s name for his own gain. They also were appalled by the frequency with which he was seen in the company of women. Komatsu in turn sought to isolate and punish monks who were critical of his leadership. The conflict lasted some five years and made it into the courts. 3

But what of Tibetan Buddhism? Is it not an exception to this sort of strife? And what of the society it helped to create? Many Buddhists maintain that, before the Chinese crackdown in 1959, old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La. The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” 4

A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers. 6

For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” 7

In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” 8 An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. 9 This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.

Religions have had a close relationship not only with violence but with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.” 10

Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.” 11

Secular leaders also did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. 12 Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.” 13 In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their peasant families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they were bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated rape, beginning at age nine. 14 The monastic estates also conscripted children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.

In old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. 15 The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand.16 Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location. 17

As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.

One 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf, reports: “Pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished”; they “were just slaves without rights.”18 Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture those who tried to flee. One 24-year old runaway welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” He testified that under serfdom he was subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold. After his third failed escape, he was merciless beaten by the landlord’s men until blood poured from his nose and mouth. They then poured alcohol and caustic soda on his wounds to increase the pain, he claimed.19

The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being cast into slavery.20

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation–including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation–were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.”21 Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. 22

In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, gouging out eyes, breaking off hands, and hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disemboweling. The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master’s cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away.23

Earlier visitors to Tibet commented on the theocratic despotism. In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft.” Tibetan rulers “invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people. In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them. . . . The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.”24 As much as we might wish otherwise, feudal theocratic Tibet was a far cry from the romanticized Shangri La so enthusiastically nurtured by Buddhism’s western proselytes.

II. Secularization vs. Spirituality

What happened to Tibet after the Chinese Communists moved into the country in 1951? The treaty of that year provided for ostensible self-governance under the Dalai Lama’s rule but gave China military control and exclusive right to conduct foreign relations. The Chinese were also granted a direct role in internal administration “to promote social reforms.” Among the earliest changes they wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build a few hospitals and roads. At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect reconstruction. No aristocratic or monastic property was confiscated, and feudal lords continued to reign over their hereditarily bound peasants. “Contrary to popular belief in the West,” claims one observer, the Chinese “took care to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion.”25

Over the centuries the Tibetan lords and lamas had seen Chinese come and go, and had enjoyed good relations with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and his reactionary Kuomintang rule in China.26 The approval of the Kuomintang government was needed to validate the choice of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. When the current 14th Dalai Lama was first installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chinese troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with centuries-old tradition. What upset the Tibetan lords and lamas in the early 1950s was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they feared, before the Communists started imposing their collectivist egalitarian schemes upon Tibet.

The issue was joined in 1956-57, when armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. The uprising received extensive assistance from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including military training, support camps in Nepal, and numerous airlifts.27 Meanwhile in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA-financed front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that organization. The Dalai Lama’s second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA as early as 1951. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet.28

Many Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself, meaning they were most likely captured and killed.29 “Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure,” writes Hugh Deane.30 In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: “As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed.”31 Eventually the resistance crumbled.

Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa.32

Heinrich Harrer (later revealed to have been a sergeant in Hitler’s SS) wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. He reported that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese “were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived.” They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants–all of which Harrer treats as sure evidence of the dreadful nature of the Chinese occupation.33

By 1961, Chinese occupation authorities expropriated the landed estates owned by lords and lamas. They distributed many thousands of acres to tenant farmers and landless peasants, reorganizing them into hundreds of communes.. Herds once owned by nobility were turned over to collectives of poor shepherds. Improvements were made in the breeding of livestock, and new varieties of vegetables and new strains of wheat and barley were introduced, along with irrigation improvements, all of which reportedly led to an increase in agrarian production.34

Many peasants remained as religious as ever, giving alms to the clergy. But monks who had been conscripted as children into the religious orders were now free to renounce the monastic life, and thousands did, especially the younger ones. The remaining clergy lived on modest government stipends and extra income earned by officiating at prayer services, weddings, and funerals.35

Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that “more than 1.2 million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation.”36 The official 1953 census–six years before the Chinese crackdown–recorded the entire population residing in Tibet at 1,274,000.37 Other census counts put the population within Tibet at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves–of which we have no evidence. The thinly distributed Chinese force in Tibet could not have rounded up, hunted down, and exterminated that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.

Chinese authorities claim to have put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. They themselves, however, have been charged with acts of brutality by exile Tibetans. The authorities do admit to “mistakes,” particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when the persecution of religious beliefs reached a high tide in both China and Tibet. After the uprising in the late 1950s, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. During the Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization and grain farming were imposed on the Tibetan peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect on production. In the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls “and tried to undo some of the damage wrought during the previous two decades.”38

In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit some Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal.39 By the 1980s many of the principal lamas had begun to shuttle back and forth between China and the exile communities abroad, “restoring their monasteries in Tibet and helping to revitalize Buddhism there.”40

As of 2007 Tibetan Buddhism was still practiced widely and tolerated by officialdom. Religious pilgrimages and other standard forms of worship were allowed but within limits. All monks and nuns had to sign a loyalty pledge that they would not use their religious position to foment secession or dissent. And displaying photos of the Dalai Lama was declared illegal.41

In the 1990s, the Han, the ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s immense population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Han colonization are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing. Chinese cadres in Tibet too often view their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.” During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were once again launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in “political subversion.” Some were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment.42

Tibetan history, culture, and certainly religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus mainly on Chinese history and culture. Chinese family planning regulations allow a three-child limit for Tibetan families. (There is only a one-child limit for Han families throughout China, and a two-child limit for rural Han families whose first child is a girl.) If a Tibetan couple goes over the three-child limit, the excess children can be denied subsidized daycare, health care, housing, and education. These penalties have been enforced irregularly and vary by district.43 None of these child services, it should be noted, were available to Tibetans before the Chinese takeover.

For the rich lamas and secular lords, the Communist intervention was an unmitigated calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Many, however, escaped that fate. Throughout the 1960s, the Tibetan exile community was secretly pocketing $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama’s organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama’s annual payment from the CIA was $186,000. Indian intelligence also financed both him and other Tibetan exiles. He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked for the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment.44

In 1995, the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline “Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right.”45 In April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and the first George Bush, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist dictator of Chile and a longtime CIA client who was visiting England. The Dalai Lama urged that Pinochet not be forced to go to Spain where he was wanted to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Into the twenty-first century, via the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable sounding than the CIA, the U.S. Congress continued to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for “democracy activities” within the Tibetan exile community. In addition to these funds, the Dalai Lama received money from financier George Soros.46

Whatever the Dalai Lama’s associations with the CIA and various reactionaries, he did speak often of peace, love, and nonviolence. He himself really cannot be blamed for the abuses of Tibet’s ancien régime, having been but 25 years old when he fled into exile. In a 1994 interview, he went on record as favoring the building of schools and roads in his country. He said the corvée (forced unpaid serf labor) and certain taxes imposed on the peasants were “extremely bad.” And he disliked the way people were saddled with old debts sometimes passed down from generation to generation.47During the half century of living in the western world, he had embraced concepts such as human rights and religious freedom, ideas largely unknown in old Tibet. He even proposed democracy for Tibet, featuring a written constitution and a representative assembly.48

In 1996, the Dalai Lama issued a statement that must have had an unsettling effect on the exile community. It read in part: “Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” Marxism fosters “the equitable utilization of the means of production” and cares about “the fate of the working classes” and “the victims of . . . exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and . . . I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.49

But he also sent a reassuring message to “those who live in abundance”: “It is a good thing to be rich… Those are the fruits for deserving actions, the proof that they have been generous in the past.” And to the poor he offers this admonition: “There is no good reason to become bitter and rebel against those who have property and fortune… It is better to develop a positive attitude.”50

In 2005 the Dalai Lama signed a widely advertised statement along with ten other Nobel Laureates supporting the “inalienable and fundamental human right” of working people throughout the world to form labor unions to protect their interests, in accordance with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In many countries “this fundamental right is poorly protected and in some it is explicitly banned or brutally suppressed,” the statement read. Burma, China, Colombia, Bosnia, and a few other countries were singled out as among the worst offenders. Even the United States “fails to adequately protect workers’ rights to form unions and bargain collectively. Millions of U.S. workers lack any legal protection to form unions….”51

The Dalai Lama also gave full support to removing the ingrained traditional obstacles that have kept Tibetan nuns from receiving an education. Upon arriving in exile, few nuns could read or write. In Tibet their activities had been devoted to daylong periods of prayer and chants. But in northern India they now began reading Buddhist philosophy and engaging in theological study and debate, activities that in old Tibet had been open only to monks.52

In November 2005 the Dalai Lama spoke at Stanford University on “The Heart of Nonviolence,” but stopped short of a blanket condemnation of all violence. Violent actions that are committed in order to reduce future suffering are not to be condemned, he said, citing World War II as an example of a worthy effort to protect democracy. What of the four years of carnage and mass destruction in Iraq, a war condemned by most of the world—even by a conservative pope–as a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity? The Dalai Lama was undecided: “The Iraq war—it’s too early to say, right or wrong.”53 Earlier he had voiced support for the U.S. military intervention against Yugoslavia and, later on, the U.S. military intervention into Afghanistan.54

III. Exit Feudal Theocracy

As the Shangri-La myth would have it, in old Tibet the people lived in contented and tranquil symbiosis with their monastic and secular lords. Rich lamas and poor monks, wealthy landlords and impoverished serfs were all bonded together, mutually sustained by the comforting balm of a deeply spiritual and pacific culture.

One is reminded of the idealized image of feudal Europe presented by latter-day conservative Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For them, medieval Christendom was a world of contented peasants living in the secure embrace of their Church, under the more or less benign protection of their lords.55 Again we are invited to accept a particular culture in its idealized form divorced from its murky material history. This means accepting it as presented by its favored class, by those who profited most from it. The Shangri-La image of Tibet bears no more resemblance to historic actuality than does the pastoral image of medieval Europe.

Seen in all its grim realities, old Tibet confirms the view I expressed in an earlier book, namely that culture is anything but neutral. Culture can operate as a legitimating cover for a host of grave injustices, benefiting a privileged portion of society at great cost to the rest.56 In theocratic feudal Tibet, ruling interests manipulated the traditional culture to fortify their own wealth and power. The theocracy equated rebellious thought and action with satanic influence. It propagated the general presumption of landlord superiority and peasant unworthiness. The rich were represented as deserving their good life, and the lowly poor as deserving their mean existence, all codified in teachings about the karmic residue of virtue and vice accumulated from past lives, presented as part of God’s will.

Were the more affluent lamas just hypocrites who preached one thing and secretly believed another? More likely they were genuinely attached to those beliefs that brought such good results for them. That their theology so perfectly supported their material privileges only strengthened the sincerity with which it was embraced.

It might be said that we denizens of the modern secular world cannot grasp the equations of happiness and pain, contentment and custom, that characterize more traditionally spiritual societies. This is probably true, and it may explain why some of us idealize such societies. But still, a gouged eye is a gouged eye; a flogging is a flogging; and the grinding exploitation of serfs and slaves is a brutal class injustice whatever its cultural wrapping. There is a difference between a spiritual bond and human bondage, even when both exist side by side

Many ordinary Tibetans want the Dalai Lama back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented. A 1999 story in the Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but

. . . few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power. “I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”57

It should be noted that the Dalai Lama is not the only highly placed lama chosen in childhood as a reincarnation. One or another reincarnate lama or tulku–a spiritual teacher of special purity elected to be reborn again and again–can be found presiding over most major monasteries. The tulku system is unique to Tibetan Buddhism. Scores of Tibetan lamas claim to be reincarnate tulkus.

The very first tulku was a lama known as the Karmapa who appeared nearly three centuries before the first Dalai Lama. The Karmapa is leader of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition known as the Karma Kagyu. The rise of the Gelugpa sect headed by the Dalai Lama led to a politico-religious rivalry with the Kagyu that has lasted five hundred years and continues to play itself out within the Tibetan exile community today. That the Kagyu sect has grown famously, opening some six hundred new centers around the world in the last thirty-five years, has not helped the situation.

The search for a tulku, Erik Curren reminds us, has not always been conducted in that purely spiritual mode portrayed in certain Hollywood films. “Sometimes monastic officials wanted a child from a powerful local noble family to give the cloister more political clout. Other times they wanted a child from a lower-class family who would have little leverage to influence the child’s upbringing.” On other occasions “a local warlord, the Chinese emperor or even the Dalai Lama’s government in Lhasa might [have tried] to impose its choice of tulku on a monastery for political reasons.”58

Such may have been the case in the selection of the 17th Karmapa, whose monastery-in-exile is situated in Rumtek, in the Indian state of Sikkim. In 1993 the monks of the Karma Kagyu tradition had a candidate of their own choice. The Dalai Lama, along with several dissenting Karma Kagyu leaders (and with the support of the Chinese government!) backed a different boy. The Kagyu monks charged that the Dalai Lama had overstepped his authority in attempting to select a leader for their sect. “Neither his political role nor his position as a lama in his own Gelugpa tradition entitled him to choose the Karmapa, who is a leader of a different tradition…”59 As one of the Kagyu leaders insisted, “Dharma is about thinking for yourself. It is not about automatically following a teacher in all things, no matter how respected that teacher may be. More than anyone else, Buddhists should respect other people’s rights—their human rights and their religious freedom.”60

What followed was a dozen years of conflict in the Tibetan exile community, punctuated by intermittent riots, intimidation, physical attacks, blacklisting, police harassment, litigation, official corruption, and the looting and undermining of the Karmapa’s monastery in Rumtek by supporters of the Gelugpa faction. All this has caused at least one western devotee to wonder if the years of exile were not hastening the moral corrosion of Tibetan Buddhism.61

What is clear is that not all Tibetan Buddhists accept the Dalai Lama as their theological and spiritual mentor. Though he is referred to as the “spiritual leader of Tibet,” many see this title as little more than a formality. It does not give him authority over the four religious schools of Tibet other than his own, “just as calling the U.S. president the ‘leader of the free world’ gives him no role in governing France or Germany.”62

Not all Tibetan exiles are enamoured of the old Shangri-La theocracy. Kim Lewis, who studied healing methods with a Buddhist monk in Berkeley, California, had occasion to talk at length with more than a dozen Tibetan women who lived in the monk’s building. When she asked how they felt about returning to their homeland, the sentiment was unanimously negative. At first, Lewis assumed that their reluctance had to do with the Chinese occupation, but they quickly informed her otherwise. They said they were extremely grateful “not to have to marry 4 or 5 men, be pregnant almost all the time,” or deal with sexually transmitted diseases contacted from a straying husband. The younger women “were delighted to be getting an education, wanted absolutely nothing to do with any religion, and wondered why Americans were so naïve [about Tibet].”63

The women interviewed by Lewis recounted stories of their grandmothers’ ordeals with monks who used them as “wisdom consorts.” By sleeping with the monks, the grandmothers were told, they gained “the means to enlightenment” — after all, the Buddha himself had to be with a woman to reach enlightenment.

The women also mentioned the “rampant” sex that the supposedly spiritual and abstemious monks practiced with each other in the Gelugpa sect. The women who were mothers spoke bitterly about the monastery’s confiscation of their young boys in Tibet. They claimed that when a boy cried for his mother, he would be told “Why do you cry for her, she gave you up–she’s just a woman.”

The monks who were granted political asylum in California applied for public assistance. Lewis, herself a devotee for a time, assisted with the paperwork. She observes that they continue to receive government checks amounting to $550 to $700 per month along with Medicare. In addition, the monks reside rent free in nicely furnished apartments. “They pay no utilities, have free access to the Internet on computers provided for them, along with fax machines, free cell and home phones and cable TV.”

They also receive a monthly payment from their order, along with contributions and dues from their American followers. Some devotees eagerly carry out chores for the monks, including grocery shopping and cleaning their apartments and toilets. These same holy men, Lewis remarks, “have no problem criticizing Americans for their ‘obsession with material things.’”64

To welcome the end of the old feudal theocracy in Tibet is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in that country. This point is seldom understood by today’s Shangri-La believers in the West. The converse is also true: To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. Tibetans deserve to be perceived as actual people, not perfected spiritualists or innocent political symbols. “To idealize them,” notes Ma Jian, a dissident Chinese traveler to Tibet (now living in Britain), “is to deny them their humanity.”65

One common complaint among Buddhist followers in the West is that Tibet’s religious culture is being undermined by the Chinese occupation. To some extent this seems to be the case. Many of the monasteries are closed, and much of the theocracy seems to have passed into history. Whether Chinese rule has brought betterment or disaster is not the central issue here. The question is what kind of country was old Tibet. What I am disputing is the supposedly pristine spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. We can advocate religious freedom and independence for a new Tibet without having to embrace the mythology about old Tibet. Tibetan feudalism was cloaked in Buddhism, but the two are not to be equated. In reality, old Tibet was not a Paradise Lost. It was a retrograde repressive theocracy of extreme privilege and poverty, a long way from Shangri-La.

Finally, let it be said that if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free-market paradise, then this does not bode well for the Tibetans. China boasts a dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate and is emerging as one of the world’s greatest industrial powers. But with economic growth has come an ever deepening gulf between rich and poor. Most Chinese live close to the poverty level or well under it, while a small group of newly brooded capitalists profit hugely in collusion with shady officials. Regional bureaucrats milk the country dry, extorting graft from the populace and looting local treasuries. Land grabbing in cities and countryside by avaricious developers and corrupt officials at the expense of the populace are almost everyday occurrences. Tens of thousands of grassroot protests and disturbances have erupted across the country, usually to be met with unforgiving police force. Corruption is so prevalent, reaching into so many places, that even the normally complacent national leadership was forced to take notice and began moving against it in late 2006.

Workers in China who try to organize labor unions in the corporate dominated “business zones” risk losing their jobs or getting beaten and imprisoned. Millions of business zone workers toil twelve-hour days at subsistence wages. With the health care system now being privatized, free or affordable medical treatment is no longer available for millions. Men have tramped into the cities in search of work, leaving an increasingly impoverished countryside populated by women, children, and the elderly. The suicide rate has increased dramatically, especially among women.66

China’s natural environment is sadly polluted. Most of its fabled rivers and many lakes are dead, producing massive fish die-offs from the billions of tons of industrial emissions and untreated human waste dumped into them. Toxic effluents, including pesticides and herbicides, seep into ground water or directly into irrigation canals. Cancer rates in villages situated along waterways have skyrocketed a thousand-fold. Hundreds of millions of urban residents breathe air rated as dangerously unhealthy, contaminated by industrial growth and the recent addition of millions of automobiles. An estimated 400,000 die prematurely every year from air pollution. Government environmental agencies have no enforcement power to stop polluters, and generally the government ignores or denies such problems, concentrating instead on industrial growth.67

China’s own scientific establishment reports that unless greenhouse gases are curbed, the nation will face massive crop failures along with catastrophic food and water shortages in the years ahead. In 2006-2007 severe drought was already afflicting southwest China.68

If China is the great success story of speedy free market development, and is to be the model and inspiration for Tibet’s future, then old feudal Tibet indeed may start looking a lot better than it actually was.

Michael Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, in the United States and abroad. Some of his writings have been translated into Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.

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Reviewing Michael Parenti’s “Democracy For the Few” by Stephen Lendman

by Stephen Lendman
Global Research, July 26, 2007

Michael Parenti is an internationally known speaker and award winning author of 20 books and hundreds of articles. He’s also a noted academic having taught at a number of colleges and universities in the US and abroad.

Parenti is also one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts and social critics. He strongly opposes US imperialism, the shredding of our civil liberties, decline of our social state, and the Bush Doctrine of preventive wars on the world for predatory capitalism’s need for new markets, resources and cheap exploitable labor.

Parenti’s latest book, and subject of this review, is the newly updated eight edition of one of his most noted and popular earlier ones – Democracy For the Few. In it, he shows how democracy in the nation really works. It dispels the fiction Americans are practically weaned on from birth, taught in school to the highest levels, and get daily from the dominant media.

Parenti’s view is quite different from the mainstream’s suppression of the “shadier sides of US political life.” He explains “proponents of the existing social order have tried to transform practically every deficiency in the US political system into a strength.” They want us to believe “millions of nonvoters are content with present social conditions, (and) the growing concentration of executive power is a good thing because the president is democratically responsive to broad national interests (ones affecting the public).” They tell us “exclusion of third parties” makes our system work better, and all state vices are, in fact, virtues. Those popularly presented views turn reality on it head in a nation dedicated to wealth and power interests since inception. It only ever yields a little (and grudgingly) when forced to by grassroots activism or in periods of social crisis like The Great Depression to save what elitists value most – the soul and substance corporate capitalist America.

Parenti addresses the nature of American capitalism that’s the beating heart of our politico-economic system. He covers our political institutions, the “foundations and historical development of American political politics….Who governs….Who gets what, when, how and why.” Central to ask is cui bono? Who benefits and who doesn’t is key to his core theme showing how power, wealth and class dominate America and the notion of real democracy is pure illusion. Today, America the beautiful only exists for the privileged few and no one else. But it’s always been that way in a nation ruled by rich white, predominantly Christian elitist men from birth. Parenti deconstructs our system, from its roots, in 19 incisive, thought provoking chapters, encyclopedic in depth, and up to date to the current age of George Bush neocon rule.

This review covers them all briefly to convey a full flavor of his important book, all of which needs to be digested and understood. It’s must reading and should be kept as an essential reference guide for future examination and reflection. Knowing its contents is key to arousing enough public concern for change in our own self-interest. In the age of George Bush’s America, and his coterie of extremist rogues, the issue is now survival at a time a reckless leadership threatens everyone with potential nuclear or ecological Armageddon because of their lust for wealth, power and empire.

Without public awareness, angst and plain determination not to take it any more, this agenda will continue with potential consequences too disturbing to ignore. It doesn’t have to happen if enough people know the danger, collectively act to defuse it in self-defense, and decide to make the country work for everyone. Parenti dedicates his book to them – “To all those who struggle for peace, social justice, and real democracy. May their numbers continue to grow.”

Partisan Politics Favoring the Privileged

Privilege always counted most from the time the nation was founded. The prevailing fiction then and now is an egalitarian country “free from the extremes of want and wealth that characterized (18th century) Europe” and most parts of the world today. It was as untrue then as now with wealthy 18th century colonialists having vast disproportional land holdings and control of banking, commerce and industry, such as it was back then.

These “wealthy and powerful ‘gentlemen,’ our founding fathers,” gathered in 1787 in the same Philadelphia State House where the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier. They came to draft a Constitution intended to last into “remote futurity” for their interests alone. Democracy for the many was not on the table in 1787.

Yet, they nominally managed to include unimaginable freedoms, up to that time, in the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791. They gave people the rights of free expression, religion, peaceable assembly, protection from illegal searches and seizures, due process and more even though it only got done through compromise after these ideas were twice rejected earlier. The delegates finally agreed out of necessity to get their document ratified and avoid a second convention some states wanted. To do it, they had to win over dissenting state representatives who wanted Bill of Rights protections for their own propertied interests.

They weren’t added to the Constitution as a democratic gesture to “the people” who were nowhere in sight then or henceforth. As history later showed repeatedly, the entire Constitution was flawed from the start as governments, then and later, freely and willfully ignored and set aside these less than inviolate freedoms as Presidents Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Johnson, Nixon, George W. Bush, and many others easily were able to do and often did.

Overall, “the Constitution was consciously designed as a conservative document” the way the framers wanted it to be. They achieved their aims with provisions in it, or omitted by intent, to “resist the pressure of popular tides” and protect “a rising bourgeoisie(‘s)” freedom to “invest, speculate, trade, and accumulate wealth” the way things work for capital interests today. It was to codify the law to let the country be run the way politician, jurist and nation’s first Chief Supreme Court justice, John Jay, said it should be – for “The people who own the country….to run it (for their benefit alone).”

Benjamin Franklin was reportedly asked at the end of the Constitutional Convention whether the 55 attending delegates created a monarchy or republic. He responded “A republic, if you can keep it” without acknowledging notions of an egalitarian nation were stillborn at its birth. It was true then and now in spite of all the pretense contrived to portray an idealized society, in fact, always out of reach for most in it.

This is Parenti’s dominant theme – of a government, since inception, serving the privileged few at the expense of the neglected or exploited many. That’s hardly a textbook definition of democracy, yet it’s the model one we’re taught to believe we have serving everyone equally. Parenti says his book is intended to show how vital it is for everyone to critically examine our society as a step toward improving it. He stresses a nation’s greatness is measured by its freedom from “poverty, racism, sexism, exploitation, imperialism….environmental devastation,” and a fundamental opposition to war and pursuit of peace everywhere. Benjamin Franklin also said “There never was a good war or bad peace,” a notion unimaginable to our leaders today.

Wealth and Want in the United States Getting More Extreme

Parenti distinguishes between society’s owner and worker classes with the latter paid much less than the value they create. He calls corporations “organizational devices” to exploit labor and accumulate capital with working people being society’s real producers. Publicly owned corporations are the dominant institution of our time existing for one purpose only, mandated by law – to maximize the value of shareholders’ equity by increasing sales and profits, securing new markets, and continuing to grow in size and dominance or be left behind. Their success is measured by their concentrated, virtual-monopoly size today. Of the world’s 100 largest economies, 51 are corporations, more US-based ones than from any other country. Noam Chomsky calls them “private tyrannies.”

They’re run by wealthy and powerful figures comprising, along with other elites, the top 1% of the nation’s affluent. Today they own 40 – 50% of the country’s wealth in the form of stocks, bonds, land, natural resources, business assets and other investments. In contrast, 90% of American families have little or no net worth after mortgage and other debt burdens are taken into account. Parenti stresses America has the highest level of inequality of all developed nations, the country is rigidly structured by class, and most people die in the same class they were born into. It debunks the notion of “a land of opportunity” for everyone.

It’s for CEOs who are practically deified in today’s business press. They’re hugely over-paid powerful figures gaining wealth at the expense of their rank and file. In 1965, they earned, on average, 24 times more than workers, in 1973 it was 45 times, in 1990 85 times, and in 2004 an astonishing 431 times as the disparity in wealth continues growing to levels economist Paul Krugman calls “unprecedented.” In the last generation, worker productivity grew, but wages didn’t keep up with inflation, and essential benefits declined and are disappearing. Corporations rely on downsizing and offshoring manufacturing and other high-paying jobs to cheap labor markets to reduce costs and raise profits. They maintain lean labor forces, rely heavily on part-time workers, are hostile to unions, and achieve the benefits of a huge reserve army of unemployed or underemployed to contain wage pressures.

Working people suffer the effects. Since 1999, consumer debt grew at twice the rate of their income, millions live in poverty, many more millions just above it, far more still have inadequate or no health insurance or other safety net protections, and defenseless children and single mothers (many black and other minorities) suffer most. Parenti sums up America’s dark side, unreported in the mainstream. Our nation “squanders our national resources, exploits and underpays our labor, and creates privation and desperate social needs serving the few” at the expense of the many. It mocks the notion of a egalitarian democratic society serving all its people and shames the nation for unjustifyably claiming it.

Our Plutocratic Culture Defiles Our Nominal Democracy

Parenti stresses America is a plutocracy, run predominantly by hugely affluent business people in industry and commerce, the dominant media as well as others in academia, entertainment, the clergy, and private foundations and charities. They spread the false gospel that “capitalism breeds democracy and prosperity” ignoring how democratic freedoms are incompatible with acquisitive corporate free-enterprise thriving on the exploitation of the majority everywhere.

Parenti asks “What about (forgotten) values relating to justice, health, occupational and consumer safety, regard for future generations, and accountability in government” along with concern for the environment, an educated and informed citizenry, affordable housing, worker rights, and peace on earth and an end to wars and conflict. In a “capitalist democracy,” we’re on our own, able to have anything if we can pay for it. The result is an enormous growing disparity between haves and have-nots and an uncaring government unwilling to help the ones in greatest need. That’s “The Other America” Michael Harrington wrote about 45 years ago that aroused John Kennedy’s concern in ways unimaginable in today’s age of greed and imperial arrogance.

A Constitution for the Privileged Few Alone

The origins of republican America were addressed above – to create a nominally democratic government Adam Smith said should be “instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor.” The nation’s founders achieved mightily, handing down their legacy to succeeding generations of leaders always mindful of who gave them power and who they had to serve. At the nation’s birth, only adult white male property owners could vote; blacks were commodities, not people; and women were childbearing and homemaking appendages of their husbands.

Religious prerequisites existed until 1810, and all adult white males couldn’t vote until property and tax requirements were dropped in 1850. States elected senators until the 17th amendment in 1913 gave citizen voters that right, and Native Americans had no franchise in their own land until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act gave them back what no one had the right to take away in the first place. Women’s suffrage wasn’t achieved until the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 after nearly 100 years of struggling for it.

The 1865 13th Amendment freed black slaves, the 1870 15th Amendment gave them the right to vote, but it wasn’t until passage of the landmark Civil and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s, abolishing Southern Jim Crow laws, that blacks could vote, in fact, like the Constitution said they could decades earlier. Today those rights are gravely weakened for all through unfair laws still in force and a nation growing more repressive and less responsive to the needs of ordinary working people and the nation’s least advantaged. The limited high-water mark of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society has steadily eroded since in loss of civil liberties and essential social benefits.

Rise of the Corporate State that Rules Our Lives and the World

Parenti explains how, contrary to popular view, the history of America was marked by “violent class struggles, with the government” siding with “big business.” Native peoples were slaughtered for their land and resources, large landowners and corporations exploited slave labor, and limited labor rights were only won through pain and struggle. Government always sided with business interests “gorg(ing) themselves at the public trough, battening on such government handouts and protections as tariffs, subsidies, land grants, and government contracts.” Along the way, the public got pathetically little.

Governments also handed down friendly legislation and court decisions favoring wealth and power over ordinary people consigned to low wages, few or no benefits, unemployment, unsafe work conditions, child labor, poverty, and few of the rights democratic states are supposed to afford but don’t in America. It hardly mattered who was president, Democrat or Republican, Teddy Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft or Calvin Coolidge. “Silent Cal” belied his reticence proclaiming what all presidents swear allegiance to – that “The business of America is business,” and government officials, chief executives and others in high places better not forget it.

They never did, even during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, “an era commonly believed to have brought great transformations on behalf of (what FDR called) ‘the forgotten man.’ ” Roosevelt was a patrician allied with business interests trying to save capitalism in America from meeting the same fate as in Czarist Russia in 1917. That was job one, and giving a little to save the system was a small price to pay.

It showed in the National Recovery Act (NRA) benefitting corporations by restricting production and setting minimum price requirements. “The federal housing program subsidized construction firms and loan insurance for mortgage bankers.” Price supports and production cutbacks advantaged corporate agriculture. Only faced with mass unrest were relief programs created to relieve human need. So some real democratic gains were achieved, most notably essential social welfare legislation. Key but short-lived was the passage of the landmark Wagner Act in 1935 establishing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It gave labor the right to bargain collectively on equal terms with management for the first time ever, an achievement the repressive 1947 Taft-Hartley Act began undoing that’s now lost altogether.

Parenti sums up the era as follows: “the New Deal era hardly adds up to a great triumph for the common people” with government mostly being responsive to the will and needs of corporate capitalism. It was true then but far more so now through “subsidies, services and protections that business could not provide for itself” and even plenty of them they can but don’t have to because government largess (with our tax dollars) does it for them.

Politics: Who Gets What? Who’s Left Out?

Parenti explains today we have a corporate state writ large with government taxing the many (the public) to subsidize the few (the privileged). This practice has been especially pernicious since WW II when the US emerged as the only dominant nation left standing. “Moderate” Republican Dwight Eisenhower gave private corporations the equivalent (in today’s dollars) of $300 billion worth of offshore oil reserves, public lands and utilities, atomic installations and much more in what Parenti and others call “socialism for the rich.” The rest of us are on our own, sink or swim, under free-market capitalism. It’s heralded as the American way.

Today, corporate giants get multi-billions in all kinds of handouts we pay for. They come in tax breaks, price supports, loan guarantees (many never repaid), bailouts, marketing services, export subsidies, R & D grants, free use of the public broadcasting spectrum, and huge subsidies and other government-directed benefits proving “big government” works great and business loves it. The system works by socializing costs and privatizing profits “in an enormous upward redistribution of income from the working populace to the corporate rich.”

Even the tax system works to corporate advantage with corporations today paying, on average, a tiny 7.4% of their revenues compared to 49% in the 1950s. No need asking who makes up the difference in revenue lost, but it’s even worse than that. Sixty percent of US corporations pay no income taxes, and many profitable ones get rebates. That’s reality in today’s America with government showering business with a tsunami of benefits and ordinary working people paying for them in a huge upward distribution of income now way exceeding one trillion dollars annually and rising.

The US Global Military Empire Threatens Everyone

The US emerged from WW II as the world’s dominant superpower. Today it’s the only one, and it throws its weight around recklessly proving it. First, it spends more on the military than all other nations combined. It has many hundreds of military bases worldwide including many secret ones that by some unofficial estimates number around 1000 large, medium and smaller ones. In Iraq alone in May, 2005, the Pentagon acknowledged having 106 bases including permanent super ones the size of small towns with all their amenities included.

Further, the US is recklessly embarked on new super-weapons building programs, including nuclear ones, in defiance of arms control and reduction and other treaties it renounces unilaterally. It’s aim is “full spectrum dominance” of all land, surface and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and information systems with intent to fight preventive wars of aggression against any potential challengers to its status as lord and master of the universe.

Money is no object or restraint toward this aim with the Pentagon unable to account for multi-billions annually from waste, fraud and abuse no one in government cares about. After all, it’s taxpayer money payouts to corporate fraudsters in lieu of funding essential public services and having regard for environmental protections. It’s spent on a reckless imperial agenda claimed for national security at home and to spread democracy abroad to nations having none. In fact, it’s what Parenti calls “defending the capitalist world from social change” – even the peaceful and democratic kind seen as a threat to corporate interests.

Since WW II, it’s been a US-led “global bloodletting” through wars of aggression, CIA-instigated coups and political assassinations, and supporting a rogue’s gallery of S.O.B. tyrants as long as they’re our S.O.B.s. The list of them earlier and now is near-endless. They serve the US empire well and its corporate giants hugely at the expense of ordinary people everywhere. Parenti rightfully calls America “the greatest imperialist power in world history.” It’s also the greatest of all threats to humanity from possible nuclear or environmental Armageddon.

Health and Human Services – Victims of Corporate Capitalism

Parenti explains even plutocratic rulers have to make concessions at times, but for the last generation hard won earlier gains have eroded. He names some of them:

— the WIC program aiding women, infants and children;

— AFDC aid to needy families with dependent children wiped out by Clinton’s welfare reform;

— SSI supplemental income for the blind, disabled and low income persons;

— food stamps;

— child nutrition help and school lunch program;

— nursing home assistance for indigent elderly;

— legal services for the poor;

— remedial education;

— maternal and child health care;

– student grants and other aid;

— drug treatment;

— Medicare and Medicaid reductions, and much more.

The result is “more hunger, isolation, unattended illness,” homelessness, untreated illness and more “for those with the fewest economic resources and the least political clout.”

The picture’s even bleaker with states and private charities unable to make up for what Washington eliminates, and rising costs of essential services like health care means tens of millions unable to afford what everyone must have. The plutocrats’ solution: privatize everything including the most successful government poverty-reducing program ever – Social Security. For now, efforts to do it stalled, but the scheme won’t go away. Wall Street is drooling over the possibility of getting a huge cut out of what seniors, “survivors,” and the disabled badly need in retirement and/or supplemental income. The plutocratic sharks will be back trying again to steal what they haven’t gotten so far.

Parenti covers other areas where public need and welfare are sacrificed to plutocratic greed – occupational safety, ergonomic standards, untested chemicals and additives in foods, factory farms polluting ground water, minimum wages kept low in spite of the recent inadequate increase taking 10 years to get, disappearing low-cost housing, and education falling victim to reduced funding and efforts to let private pirates teach our kids wanting only to profit most by doing the least.

Then, there’s what Parenti calls “mess transit.” Mass transit rails efficiency and low fuel consumption got Big Oil and Big Auto to doom the system, another victim of plutocratic greed. It got us dirty air, global warming, 42,000 annual needless highway deaths and huge numbers of accidents and injuries, clogged highways, congested inner-cities, and an enormous expense to many car owners struggling to afford what many wouldn’t need if efficient mass transit served them. Parenti’s conclusion – “Once again public service was treated as something to be eliminated rather than be improved.” The public ends up the loser.

The Last Environment Becoming the Lost One

Parenti explains privilege and power give plutocrats the right to “expropriate and use….whatever natural resources” they want, “while passing off their diseconomies (or externalities) onto others.” He means maximizing profit and minimizing costs by dumping huge amounts of deadly toxins on land, in water, and in the air. Corporate giants are licensed to strip mine rapaciously, clear-cut forests, turn rain forests in wastelands, harm natural species and wildlife, erode topsoil by harmful chemical farming, sell unsafe and untested foods and drugs, destroy the ozone layer, increase global warming, and threaten human health and welfare, all for the sake of greater profits.

For their crimes, “corporate polluters are more often rewarded than punished” with lucrative contracts to clean up the mess they made. They gain at public expense twice over. They’re allowed to foul the environment, then get us to pay the cost “for the private sector’s diseconomies.” The alternate approach is obvious but untaken because it’s bad for business. So Parenti concludes “An infinitely expanding capitalism and fragile, finite ecology are on a calamitous collision course. Our very survival hangs in the balance.” But for corporate predators, that’s someone else’s problem after they’re gone.

Unequal before the Law Favoring Elites

Crime in the suites prevails in America because the law is usually written and enforced “to favor the very rich over the rest of us.” Put another way, the rule of law depends on who it’s intended for or aimed against. Corporate crime is far more costly in lives and money than crimes on streets. Even worse, what’s uncovered is the tip of the iceberg, and the worst corporate crimes go unpunished – exploiting people everywhere for profit, fouling the environment, and profiting hugely from destructive wars. Then there’s growing mass poverty from neoliberal globalized trade; turning a blind eye to corporate complicity in drugs trafficking; money laundering; underpaying employees; union busting; waste, fraud and abuse on government contracts generally ignored; insider trading rarely caught or prosecuted, and more and more.

In contrast, steal a few tomatoes to feed your hungry kids and face stiff prison terms, and do it three times in states like California and many others and get life sentences. In an age of neocon rule, it’s hardly surprising the Supreme Court ruled 5 – 4 in March, 2003 such harsh sentences don’t violate the Constitution’s Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Parenti cites the cases of a Virginia man sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for stealing 87 cents and a Houston youth getting an incredible 50 years for robbing two people of a dollar.

A nation treating its people this way is one gone mad by its brazen defiance of democratic justice exposed as a pipe dream for ordinary people and an impossible one for the least advantaged, people of color and anyone happening to be Muslim in an age of the concocted “war on terrorism.” Then there’s the other phony “war on drugs” that’s just an ugly scheme to fill prison cells, take restless minorities off the streets so they don’t get more restless, and build a huge criminal justice system as another avenue for profit. Those homeland wars and the long-standing one on the poor and least advantaged left the US with the largest prison population in the world at 2.2 million that’s rising by 1000 new inmates weekly.

It’s the shame of the nation and was the subtitle this writer used in 2006 for an in-depth article called “The US Gulag Prison System” referring to the one at home. Everyone pays for it including taxpayers and the mothers and children left behind on their own to fend for themselves. Not the families of corporate fraudsters, however, whose offending members rarely serve time if caught, do it in country club prisons if they do, and get short sentences and affordable fines made easier by automatic early releases.

Then there are government criminals caught, tried and convicted. They just enter the presidential commutation and pardon queue awaiting their turn, like I. Lewis Libby, that usually comes up before they ever serve a day in soft-on-crime prisons. In America, it’s called justice. In this review, it’s called outrageous.

Political Repression and National Security Under Police State Rules

Parenti puts it this way: “The corporate-dominated state is more sincerely dedicated to fighting dissent than fighting organized crime” including in the suites where the worst of it’s committed. So we have the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and NORTHCOM protecting the rich by coming down hard on the rest of us if we have “dangerous thoughts” or support “peace and social justice organizations.” Corporations can fire employees with the “wrong political opinions.” Secret courts can order secret surveillances, render secret decisions and keep no published records.

We can be wiretapped; illegally searched; have our possessions seized; and now declared an “enemy combatant,” denied due process and sacred habeas corpus rights, and “renditioned” to a torture-prison hellholes for indefinite incarceration and trial by a military tribunal with no right of appeal or legitimate access to proper legal help. That’s today’s America where anyone disagreeing with George Bush can end up a political prisoner in a nation claiming to have none. We’ve always had them with shameful examples to prove it like Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) leaders like Big Bill Haywood who had to leave the country to avoid serving time, others in the IWW, socialist leader Eugene Debs, and radicals Sacco and Vanzetti made to pay for crimes they never committed.

Then there were WW II and Korean War resisters arrested for their beliefs and 120,000 law-abiding Japanese Americans sent to US-based concentration camps because of their ancestry in time of war with the country most were never born in. There was repressive legislation going back to John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 criminalizing dissent in his day. There was Woodrow Wilson’s Espionage and Sedition Acts that were just as punitive. There was the 1940 Smith Act making anti-capitalist dissent a crime. There were jailings of African American leaders in the civil rights struggles, and today there are mass witch-hunt roundups and unlawful detentions of Muslims because of their faith and Latino immigrants persecuted twice over. Destructive trade agreements like NAFTA destroyed their livelihoods, forcing them here for work unavailable at home. Then, once here, they’re treated like criminals if caught or ruthlessly exploited by employers as virtual serfs.

There were Black Panther leaders murdered in their sleep like Fred Hampton, Jr. in Chicago and others imprisoned on spurious charges like Geronimo Pratt (now a free man after being held 20 years in jail unjustly). There’s Mumia Abu-Jamal framed for a murder he didn’t commit, denied due process, confined to prison on death row for the past 25 years still hoping for a new trial to vindicate himself. There were American Indian Movement leaders like Leonard Peltier also framed for a murder he didn’t commit and still incarcerated after 30 years. Add to these, Puerto Rican nationalists, peace and environmental activists, and others still fighting for their civil rights and right to dissent.

In all the above instances, “unworthy” victims paid for the crimes of their “worthy” victimizers. Parenti documents these and other examples of a repressive state apparatus protecting the rich from their exploited victims daring to resist. He sums it up saying “under the guise of ‘fighting communism, fighting terrorism, protecting US interests, keeping us safe, or defending democracy, the purveyors of state power have committed horrendous crimes against the (innocent) people of this and other countries, violating human rights and the Constitution….to make the world safe for profit, privilege, and pillage.” It’s called democracy-American-style.

Who Governs? For Whom? Who Has No Say?

Who else? Those controlling society’s wealth “exercise trusteeship over educational institutions, foundations, think tanks, publications, (and) mass media” as well as having political and economic power over the nation’s business. The ruling class is comprised mainly of wealthy white, Judeo-Christian corporate elites whose mission it is “to secure the interests of the wealthy class.”

That means relations with labor are quite the opposite and quite successful with union membership currently around 12% overall and only 7.4% in the private sector. That’s down from its post-war 1950s peak of 34.7%. Today, organized labor is at its lowest ebb since the beginning of the mass unionization struggles of the 1930s and in the private sector in over 100 years. It’s because of Democrat and Republican hostility to organized labor as well as corporations threatening plant closures and outsourcing forcing pay and benefit cuts and unions to lose out overall. The situation is grim with wealth and power firmly in charge and ordinary working people losing out. There’s no mystery about how to fix the problem. But it can only happen through mass collective action by organized people confronting organized money. There’s a lot more of us than them.

It’s not easy, however, in an age of glorified globalization promoting the phony notion it lifts all boats. Ralph Nader explains the rising tide only lifts all yachts at a time corporate giants’ power is immense. It exceeds the rights of all sovereign states they operate in making them the ones that rule the world. They do it with one-sided unfair “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and DR-CAFTA. They and the World Trade Organization (WTO) super-state have power to “overrule or dilute any laws of any nation deemed to burden” corporate capital. WTO rules deny their sovereignty when it conflicts with corporate-mandated trade rules written for them. No sovereign right is sacred and none can interfere even in cases of harmful products and services member nations aren’t allowed to prohibit. Secret WTO panels alone have the final say in trade disputes that always side with business because that’s where their ruling members come from.

Meanwhile, the Constitution is null and void even though its preamble nominally states power rests with the people, not a corporate-run trade body making secret rulings putting its members above the law of the land. Parenti calls this “a coup d’etat by international finance capital….a logical extension of imperialism, a victory of empire over republic (and) corporate capital over democracy” that our own government does nothing to counteract because it supports these practices. It’s not supposed to be that way, or so we learned in school. But that’s how it is and won’t change until we end “free trade” and replace it with trade that’s “fair” for “the interests of the many rather than the greed of the few.” We have miles to go and haven’t even begun the journey.

The Shame of the Mass Media That’s A Mess

Corporate giants rule the nation, the world and the nation’s dominant means of communicating to the people through the mass media using public airwaves and the large print publications they control. In that capacity, they’re the nation’s thought control police gatekeepers filtering in information they want reported and suppressing what’s hostile to state and corporate interests. Today, they’re more able than ever to do it. Since 1983, the number of corporations controlling most newspapers, magazines, book publishers, movie studios, and electronic media shrunk from 50 to six global media Goliaths – Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, Viacom, Germany-based Bertelsmann, and Rupert Murdock’s News Corporation. Add to them cable giant Comcast and it’s a not so “magnificent seven.”

Their owners decide what’s aired and what isn’t and news reporters, commentators and so-called pundits know the rules. If someone forgets, they’ll end up in newspaper Siberia reporting obits or on TV off-camera at best, not on it. Those playing by the rules aren’t cheated, however, even though they cheat us. On TV especially, many earn handsome salaries, good benefits and lucrative speaking engagements and book deals. Lying for the state and corporate bosses pays well. It’s why the queue is long with many in it awaiting their chance for a big payday. Those of conscience and progressive leanings need not apply. Few get space in print or on-air except as setup patsies matched against hoards of conservative ideologues preaching wars are good and corporations free to pillage and plunder will make the world safe for democracy. Their job is to spread the “proper” message that excludes lots of ugliness harmful to ordinary people they ignore.

There is hope, however, and it shows up in alternate media spaces – on progressive web sites, like the one you’re on now, and on small and independent radio and some TV in cities throughout the country where this writer airs a weekly “News and Information Hour” that tells the truth in-depth with noted guests. They need support and space to grow, and that’s where the listening public comes in. They and we also need to join the struggle to save the last frontier of press freedom – to preserve Net Neutrality and keep this space out of predatory corporate media hands that want to control. They can’t be allowed to get it nor will they if enough people-power unites to prevent it. At stake is what remains of a free, open and independent media. We can’t afford to lose it to corporate giants wanting to take away what belongs to us.

Our Corrupted Electoral Process

It almost understates the problem saying our “electoral process is in need of serious rescue and repair.” In large measure, it’s on life-support barely hanging on and is now little more than theater in a nominal democracy serving the privileged alone. They make the rules in a dominant two-party duopoly, effectively keep out interloper alternative choices. While differences between both sides exist, on one issue they’re united. They’re both committed to waging imperial wars for predatory corporate capital’s right to exploit workers, gain new markets, control the world’s resources, and rule it without challenge. Unless that changes, whichever party wins elections won’t matter. Neither one will serve popular interests, only privileged ones.

Our electoral system is structured to make it near impossible for both dominant parties to lose to a third party surprise. We have “winner take all” elections artificially magnifying major parties’ strengths. Whichever party gets a plurality of votes (even if not a majority) wins 100% representation so parties on the short end getting lesser vote totals in congressional districts get no representation for their supporters. If we had a proportional representation system, it would be different as party representation would match the percent of votes it won.

Redistricting, as a function of decennial reapportionment, rigs the system as well especially when its most extreme gerrymandering method is used to maximize party strength in how district lines are drawn. Then there’s the issue of campaign funding and where most of it comes from. It’s not from the public supporting people-oriented candidates. It’s from powerful corporate donors for candidates supporting their interests, and the amounts contributed are huge. They’re in unrestricted soft money amounts to parties and evasions of the $5000 limit per candidate by donating in names of other family members, relatives, staff, the corner grocer or anyone else for the multi-millions needed for federal and many state elections today. All donations come with strings. We all know what they are and what’s expected of winning candidates.

Then there’s the issue of who gets to vote most people thought was settled long ago, but tell that to adult citizens in poor black and Latino districts and they’ll say otherwise. Many are peremptorily stricken from the rolls the way many black voters in Florida were cheated in the 2000 elections. The same thing goes on in many states, it’s illegal, but it happens anyway, and if discovered ex post facto it’s too late to matter – case closed. In addition, 4.5 million Americans can’t vote because of past criminal records, or they’re currently in prison.

Then there’s the issue of election theft in a nation where foxes now guard the henhouse under a system of privatized elections with more than 80% of 2004 votes cast and counted on corporate-owned electronic voting machines. Three Republican-supporting large corporations own, program, operate and count the votes using machines with no paper ballot receipts. The process makes it impossible to verify vote totals through recounts that will only produce the first total gotten, real or corrupted. It also makes a mockery of free, fair and open elections.

The process now is secretive and unreliable run by private interests with everything to gain if their candidates win. Based on clear evidence, that’s exactly what’s happening and will continue to until these machines are banned and independent civil servants run elections free from outside interference and do it with paper ballots counted by hand and saved. The way elections are run now, it’s easy rigging the outcomes threatening to make our two-party monopoly “an even worse one-party tyranny” the way it’s been under George Bush Republican rule with Democrat complicity helping out.

The Best Congress Money Can Buy with Its Members Having Plenty of Their Own

Parenti explains our founders created a system of checks and balances by separating government into executive, legislative and judicial branches, even though the idea sounded better than it actually was. Today it’s barely noticeable with two branches overtly supporting the chief executive’s right to do as he pleases with no effective check on his power or lawlessness. One reason is because of who gets to Congress and the courts. They’re mostly plutocracy members in good standing there to take care of their own. Half of Senate members are millionaires, and one critic believes the lower body is more “a House of Lords” than a House of Representatives.

They’re connected in an incestuous relationship with business and high-powered influence peddling lobbyists offering “succulent campaign contributions, fat lecture fees, easy-term loans (sometimes forgotten), pre-paid vacation jaunts, luxury resorts, four-star restaurants,” choice seats at major sporting events and other monetary and other inducements for easily corrupted officials quick to sell their votes and integrity for the office they want to win and hold onto. It’s all legal so long as explicit promises aren’t made in exchange for money or monetary favors. Even when they are, few offenders are caught with exceptions like lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Representative Duke Cunningham and others long forgotten in the past. The scoundrels come from Congress, the administration, states, police and one vice-president… far.

Richard Nixon got off by resigning and getting Gerald Ford to pardon him as part of a shameless deal likely struck in advance with a willing seeker of the nation’s highest office. So did Ronald Reagan for the Iran-Contra scandal and his vice-president, GHW Bush. Future judgment awaits the son for his crimes, far exceeding the father’s that alone were pretty egregious as part of the Bush crime family’s way of operating and, so far, getting off scott free.

It makes it hard imagining legislators will hold him or others accountable that’s made no easier by the way Congress is structured. It’s in about 20 standing committees, numerous subcommittees and chairmen of each with enough influence to make or block things from happening unless they goes against congressional consensus. So deals like NAFTA, “welfare reform,” and the 1996 telecom giveaway were pretty much baked in the cake, and no committee chairman dared try blocking them.

Parenti explains how the “legislative labyrinth” affects the work of Congress, how staggered Senate terms of office blunt sweeping sentiment changes, and how the very structure of Congress keeps it conservative and supportive of privilege, not the electorate. He notes “legislative democracy (is) under siege,” held virtual hostage by “the entire corporate social order” with its control of the nation’s wealth, mass media, and whole network of powerful figures working for its interests. Under Republican/Bush neocon rule, it’s even worse today from “reactionary forces within the legislature itself.” Secrecy prevails, public interest is discarded, the rule of law is what the chief executive says it is, and free, open and fair elections are an illusion under a system where wealth and power choose the candidates and often determine who wins before voters go to the polls.

Hail to the Chief Executive

Along with his other roles as chief executive and commander in chief, the president is also the lead “promoter and guardian of global corporate capitalism,” not democracy as we’re made to believe. In this capacity, he surrounds himself with a coterie of corporate leaders and advisors from industry, Wall Street and other key areas of business with a dog in the fight to keep the world safe for capital.

Another key presidential role is being the nation’s “chief liar.” It involves preaching restraint while supporting extremes, saying tax cuts benefit ordinary people when they’re earmarked for the rich and corporate giants, professing to be a peacemaker while preparing for war, and claiming to be an education president and friend of the earth while slashing funding for both to give big handouts to corporate friends who don’t care about societal betterments.

Parenti covers much more in this section including “a loaded Electoral College” overriding the popular vote when the two disagree and individual Electors free to vote against the candidate “to whom they had been pledged.” He also notes how presidents today are “would-be kings.” They usurp powers far beyond what the Constitution allows like taking the nation to war when its Article I arrogates that authority solely to Congress. He freely uses executive privilege as well through executive orders, signing statements, emergency war powers and more that for George Bush means claiming “unitary executive” authority (unmentioned in the Constitution) to ignore the law and do as he pleases.

Parenti sums it up saying “executive power….advances the process of ‘free-market’ capital accumulation.” Whoever occupies the White House, there won’t “be much progressive change from the top….unless there is also mass social unrest and mobilization for fundamental reforms at the (grassroots) base. Until then, presidents will pursue their prerogatives and their (imperial) wars.”

Bureaucracy in American Politics

Bureaucracy exists in all parts of society, public and private, but the government kind we’re told is inefficient and should be minimized. It’s so private interests can run everything because they supposedly do it better. Baloney. Unmentioned is private interests represent themselves, not society. That’s why we need government in place serving everyone in ways private business won’t because doing it hurts profits. The record makes the case. HMOs and other health insurance providers love healthy customers but discard the seriously ill; privatized, unregulated water and other utilities gouge their customers as much as they can get away with; and government-run Social Security is the most effective of all retirement programs for most people compared to private pension plan promises made and now abandoned by growing numbers of companies to save money.

Government also does what private business can’t or won’t like running the “much maligned post office” delivering first class mail anywhere in the country for 41 cents an ounce. It used to run a more efficient military until it privatized services in it, including 100,000 hugely overpaid paramilitary mercenaries, not the 30,000 phony number told the public. The changes accomplish nothing besides running up a big bill for taxpayers in a massively bloated and growing military budget that includes tens of billions off the books and mostly out of sight.

Much is done secretly with Congress helping administrations wage illegal wars, practice malfeasance and get away with all of it untouched because they’re all in on the schemes. It ends up breeding a culture of unaccountability, waste, corruption, lawlessness, and no one’s the wiser unless something important slips out by mistake. When it comes from whisleblowers, they’re condemned and threatened making coming forward honorably a risk to their careers or worse in an atmosphere where dissent means supporting terrorism.

Parenti also explains how watchdog agencies like FDA, FCC, EPA, OSHA and others protect the industries they’re supposed to monitor and regulate more than ever. So FCC supports further industry consolidation; EPA ignores dirty air, polluted groundwater and global warming; and FDA allows untested drugs and unsafe foods to be sold to consumers. These and other watchdog agencies promote profits, not the public interest or safety, and they’re staffed by corporate foxes guarding our henhouse.

Public authority is also placed in private hands with federal lands, forests, water and other resources given to corporate interests. Then there’s the so-called Federal Reserve System created in 1913 by Congress through one of their most outrageous and disastrous pieces of legislation ever, robbing the public welfare to enrich greedy bankers.

The System is a privately-owned for profit enterprise, not a government-run one as most people falsely believe. It illegally gave bankers authority Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution arrogates soley to Congress – the power to create and control the nation’s money supply they use to charge government interest on its own money. In its near-94 year existence, this banking cartel pulled off the largest ever financial heist in world history by far. The Federal Reserve Act gave private bankers power to transfer wealth from government to profiteers with the public paying for it through taxes. In a 2006 article titled “Dirty Secrets of the Temple,” this writer explained how they did it, how the system works, and the horrific consequences.

In it was mentioned what Parenti covers as well about Jack Kennedy’s displeasure with the scheme that may have cost him his life. He wanted to end the Federal Reserve System to eliminate the national debt central bankers create by printing public money and loaning it to the government. On June 4, 1963, he issued presidential order EO 11110 giving the president authority to issue currency and ordered the US Treasury to print $4 billion worth of silver-backed “United States (Treasury) Notes” notes for starters replacing Federal Reserve (banking cartel) ones. Months later he was dead, and Lyndon Johnson rescinded his order.

Abraham Lincoln met the same fate that may have resulted from his getting Congress to pass the Legal Tender Act in 1862. It empowered the US Treasury to issue paper money called “greenbacks” so the government had it own money for the Civil War and didn’t have to pay greedy bankers 24 – 36% interest they demanded for loans Lincoln needed. Right after the war ended, Lincoln was assassinated, the so-called Greenback law was rescinded shortly thereafter, and a new national banking act was passed making all money interest-bearing again.

The US “Supremes”

Parenti calls the Supreme Court an “aristocratic branch” of government as its member are appointed, serve for life and have great power for good or ill. They’re also well paid and “enjoy expensive gifts and lavish trips paid for by corporations and other affluent interests” courting influence and getting it. High Court justices most always side with corporate America, and their decisions show it. Today, it’s more obvious than ever with Court ideology conservative to reactionary (no liberals among them) in support of business and authoritarian government. But even well into the New Deal era in the 1930s, “the Supreme Court was the activist bastion of laissez-faire capitalism” that White House and public pressure finally changed by 1937 to get the Court to accept New Deal legislation.

Parenti explains how High Courts “opposed restrictions on capitalist power (overall), but supported restrictions on the civil liberties of persons who agitated against that power.” In the past and now, “the Court treated the allegedly pernicious quality of a radical idea as evidence of its lethal efficacy and as justification for its suppression.” So it was possible to convict communists or socialists under the Smith Act even though they only advocated a different economic system, not the forcible overthrow of the government that would be a crime. Dissenting ideas and beliefs are lawful under the First Amendment’s right of free expression, but often in the past and now people exercising their constitutional right pay a stiff price, and Supreme and other courts go along.

Parenti points out “the threat of revolution in the United States has never been as real or harmful as the measures taken to ‘protect’ us from revolutionary ideas…. The real danger comes from those at the top who would insulate us from ‘unacceptable’ viewpoints. No idea is as dangerous as the force that seeks to repress it.” When the nation’s courts are part of that force, freedom is a nominally democratic state is on shaky ground.

Parenti explains the High Court reflects “the climate of the times and….the political composition of the justices” although most often the Court leans to the right supporting the corporate state and conservative issues. It reflects its ideology in its decisions and by the cases it chooses to hear or not hear.

The Warren Court was an exception ruling for the first time ever “repeatedly on behalf of the less affluent” on civil liberties, reapportionment of legislative districts, and extending the “economic rights of the poor.” The Court ended state prohibitions against interracial marriage and rendered its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 ruling “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” that was a first step toward ending racially separated schools it took until the 1960s to move forward on.

Parenti continued saying post-Warren Courts reverted to form leaning “mostly in a rightward direction” on a variety of crucial issues he lists and discusses like:

— abortion and gender discrimination making positive and negative rulings;

— affirmation action and civil rights making it harder to prove discrimination;

— criminal justice weakening Miranda rights, giving child abusers more rights than their victims, weakening unreasonable searches and seizures and much more;

— the death penalty with the High Court reinstating it in 1976 but “pruning” it down thereafter;

— economic inequality by upholding laws reducing welfare aid and other rulings against the disadvantaged;

— the electoral system that was highlighted in Bush v. Gore ruling against the candidate who won and awarding it (as it turned out) to the loser;

— executive power, granting more of it to the president;

— labor and the corporate economy ruling often for business and against working Americans;

— the separation of church and state with the Court disregarding the First Amendment to rule for religious organizations’ exemptions to taxation and much more in violation of the Constitution at a time Christian hard right extremists wield enormous influence over state policy.

Parenti’s book was published in March, 2007 before the current Court’s June rulings came down, but he surely would have commented on them had he known in time. Overall, the Court affirmed how hard line it is confirming what progressives feared most about it. Call it a muscular move to the right on fundamental issues of free expression, abortion rights and more.

One decision was a 5 – 4 ruling with the Court allowing the political process to become even more corrupted by corporate money by allowing ads mentioning specific candidates to appear in the immediate days before an election. It means funding an electoral campaign just went up exponentially so lesser or poorly funded candidates have even less of a chance to win. In another decision, hypocritically, it curtailed the free expression rights of public school children because they said things the Court didn’t like.

Even more troubling was the effective gutting of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision affirming segregated public schools denied “Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.” The reactionary Roberts Court disagreed 5 – 4 saying instead public schools can’t seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures taking explicit account of a student’s race. The decision angered conservative Justice Breyer enough to emotionally denounce it in a 20 minute statement from the bench calling it a “radical” step and “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.” Justice Stevens bristled as well saying it was “a cruel irony (that the opinion) rewrites the history of one of this court’s most important decisions (and) no member of (the 1975 Court he joined) would have agreed with (it).”

One other disturbing trend was the Court’s placing limits on plaintiffs’ ability to bring suits or appeal them. It bothered Yale Law School Professor Judith Resnik enough to label the just-ended term “the year they closed the courts.”

Parenti would be bothered, too, although his book stresses Courts reflect the political climate of the times and notes justices not only read the Constitution but also newspapers. When, like today, the Court and president are “militantly conservative” and Congress is complicit, justices can be inordinately activist siding against the public interest. Since they have life tenure, their jobs are secure, and the dominant media hushes up their abuses. Parenti suggests a way to “trim judicial adventurism is to end life tenure for federal judges,” including those on the High Court. However, a constitutional amendment is needed to do it, and that’s extremely hard to get.

Democracy for the Few in America

In our “pluralistic democracy,” most government policies favor the privileged and work against the great majority of ordinary people. The result is social inequities and injustices prevail, civil liberties are fast disappearing, the rich get richer, the middle class is eroding, poverty and human needs are growing, and our government and dominant media say we live in the best of all possible countries in the best of all possible worlds in the USA. The preceding chapters dispelled that notion in disturbing detail so there’s no confusion how things really are, and rosy characterizations won’t change anything for most of us.

With all its faults, its defenders say “democratic capitalism” (an oxymoron) evolved through gradual reform. Though true at times, most often an unempowered unmobilized public is no match for the power of corporate capital with government and the military allied with it. Parenti asks:

— “How can we speak of the US politico-economic system (reflecting) the democratic will?”

— What democratic mandate directed government to transfer wealth from the people to the rich;

— to lavish huge subsidies on corporate giants;

— to fight imperial wars for greater corporate profit-making opportunities;

— to endanger our environment;

— to serve the privileged alone at the expense of all others it shows contempt for;

— to roll back democracy when there’s too much of it so there’s only enough for the privileged few. Unless and until that changes America the Beautiful will, in fact, be George Bush’s ugly America for most of us.

As Parenti says in summing up, it’s “no mystery what needs to be done to bring us to a more equitable and democratic society” citing specifics like:

— aid needy farmers, not rich agribusiness;

— promote conservation and ecological restoration;

— promote efficient mass transit, not inefficient polluting autos, one-fourth of which now are gas-guzzling, hugely greenhouse gas-emitting, road hogging, behemoth, dangerous SUVs no one knew they needed until Madison Avenue geniuses convinced millions they couldn’t live without them;

— reintroduce a fair progressive tax system and eliminate benefits only the rich get;

— restore trust-busting and break up the corporate giants; promote the notion that small and local are good and big and global bad;

— abolish the banking cartel-owned Federal Reserve so the government can print and circulate its own money and not have to pay private predators interest on it;

— end powerful monied interests controlling the electoral process; promote public financing supporting all candidates; abolish the Electoral College and our winner take all system; abolish electronic voting and reintroduce paper ballots counted by hand by civil servants running elections; grant the District of Columbia statehood and full representation in Congress.

— establish a minimum livable wage and guaranteed income for the indigent;

— promote full employment and the right to organize and bargain on equal terms with management;

— institute abandoned or reduced social services starting with those most important and for those in greatest need but made available to everyone;

— guarantee quality national health and dental care for all and care for the elderly and indigent;

— establish free education for everyone to the highest levels;

— pay for it by ending imperial wars and promoting peace, slashing bloated military and homeland security budgets, closing hundreds of unneeded foreign-based military installations and most at home, ending expensive weapons systems development, and cutting the size of the military to levels needed for homeland defense, not imperial adventurism.

— end gender, racial, ethnic and religious discrimination and criminal justice inequities;

— abolish the CIA, NSA and other secretive, hugely expensive, roguish spy agencies operating outside the law no democratic state should allow; abolish DHS that functions as a national Gestapo;

— return the public airwaves to its rightful owner – the public and open then up fully to all views on all issues with no corporate or government censorship;

— enable seniors, the poor and disabled to have a minimum living income adjusted for inflation with an equitable Social Security program for everyone paid for by a progressively fair tax system, not the regressive payroll tax one now in place letting the rich off the hook by burdening average and low-wage earners;

— establish public ownership over the major means of production in a true social democracy. Market forces only work for the ones controlling them assuring they benefit by exploiting most others. That’s not a radical idea. It’s plain fact.

Parenti concludes saying “Our goal should be an egalitarian, communitarian, environmentally conscious, democratic socialism (or real social democracy), with a variety of participatory and productive forms, offering both security and democracy” for everyone, not just the few the way it is now. “There is nothing sacred about the existing system.” Having failed the many, it should be replaced by an alternative one that works for everyone.

It can happen with a “fundamental change (to) widespread organizing not only around particular issues but for a movement” for sweeping democratic change. Perhaps the time will come, Parenti says, as it did in the past, “when those who (today) seem invincible will be shaken from their pinnacles” and revealed to have feet of clay when disrobed and exposed to the light of day. We’ll all then see they represented “democracy for the few,” not the rest of us, but their day is past and replaced by a new social order for everyone. That can happen if enough people believe it and mobilize effectively to get it. A later Parenti edition could then be called “The End of Democracy for the Few – How the Many Triumphed Over the Privileged.”

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on Saturdays at noon US central time.

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Michael Parenti: Venezuela (videos)

with Michael Parenti
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Michael Parenti Blog
July 10, 2007

on Jul 9, 2007

All the big media of the entire planet raised their voice against the democratic government of Venezuela for non-renewal of the license of RCTV. The continuous irregularities in its operation and its support for the coup d’état were no obstacles to preservation of its frequency, since the “freedom of expression” of the owners of the channel was the superior good. It happened that, in the middle of media commotion, the Spanish television Antena 3 organized a debate to which it invited Professors Luis Alegre Zahonero and Carlos Fernández Liria, who demolished the undemocratic argument of Nitu Perez Osuna. Continue reading