Three Card Monte and the One-Party State


How lion-like the Democrats sound as they circle around Social Security, roaring their defiance! After years of servility some of them even dare to shake their fists at Alan Greenspan and hurl insults at the man.

When the chairman of the Federal Reserve put in a decorous word for Social Security “reform” last month, House minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada made so bold as to call Greenspan a “hack”. Paul Krugman, who primly chastised Ralph Nader back in 2000 for wanting to “re-educate” Greenspan, now pelts the chairman with rotten cabbages on an almost weekly basis in his New York Times column.

Presumably enough Democrats realize that if they can’t be seen as putting up a fight on Social Security, then the last supposed major reason for anyone to support their party will have disappeared. (To anyone claiming choice to have an abortion is as powerful a reason, I offer the obvious, which is that the Republicans will never formally move to rescind the legality of abortions. They will merely continue in the enterprise, in which countless Democrats have colluded, of making it harder and harder for poor women to get one.)

The etiquette of substantive one-party rule in America requires us to overlook the facts that the preliminary salvoes advertising the need for “reform” were launched by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan and that under Bill Clinton social security privatization was so far advanced that the secret team under the supervision of assistant Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers was discussing how to number the individual retirement accounts. Fortunately Monica Lewinsky caught Clinton’s eye and before long he had impeachment and the need for liberal support at the front of his mind.

So the Democrats get to boast in the midterm elections next year that they fought Bush to a standstill on the key plank in the president’s domestic agenda. Meanwhile the Republicans, many of whom have no desire to have Social Security reform hung round their necks, roll two long cherished bills through Congress, both with crucial Democratic support.

Near the end of February many Democrats in the House okayed a Republican bill to transfer large class action suits from state to federal courts. It’s the state courts that have awarded the big settlements against the tobacco and asbestos companies. Federal judges have consistently cut back the big awards. Transfer of the suits is a huge victory for the business lobby. Earlier in February the Senate passed the same bill 72 to 26. Among Democrats voting for a bill written by the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers were such supposed bright hopes as Obama of Illinois, Salazar of Colorado, Bayh of Indiana, along with possible aspirants for the 2008 nomination as Dodd of Connecticut.

Then in early March no less than 18 Democratic senators joined the Republicans in voting through a bill the banks and credit card companies have touting for years, a rewrite of the bankruptcy laws to mandate lifetime debt peonage for ordinary Americans. The House will soon follow suit.

The bill just passed by the Senate will require many people filing for bankruptcy court protection to repay a portion of their debt under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code rather than allowing them to wipe most of it out under Chapter 7. I’ve seen estimates that this change could force 30,000 to 100,000 additional filers a year into Chapter 13.

Maybe we should multiply those numbers. Many Americans have virtually no leeway on their monthly budgets. A co-pay on some relatively minor health emergency sends them scrambling to the loanshops. If interest rates start to move upwards many households on flexible mortgage rates will default, and plummet into bankruptcy and debt peonage for the rest of their lives.

If the current trend among countries such as China, Japan and India to reduce their dollar holdings continues, the dollar’s status will plummet, and eventually its role as the world’s reserve currency will come to an end. No longer will the Asian nations subsidize America’s debt, and in consequence the cost of living for ordinary Americans will start to soar, pushing even more over the edge.

And as the dollar tumbles, so does one of the keystones of what in the 1950s used to be termed reverently, the American Way of Life, meaning in coarse material terms a civilization that guaranteed its middle class affordable higher education and the decent jobs consequent upon same.

But one-party America voted for those jobs to leave. All through the 1990s enough Democrats and Republicans voted for the free trade pacts and agreements that saw blue collar jobs and now white collar jobs flow south and east. The US Department of Labor reported in March that 373,000 discouraged college graduates dropped out of the labor force in February, a far higher number than the number of new jobs created.

“So far in the 21st century,” Reagan’s former assistant Treasury Secretary (and fierce Bush critic) Paul Craig Roberts writes on this website, “there is scant sign of the American ‘new economy.’ The promised knowledge-based jobs have not appeared. To the contrary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a net loss of 221,000 jobs in six major engineering job classifications.”

So it’s fair to say this revamp of the bankruptcy laws is as sinister and menacing portent of the shape of things to come as would be the physical construction of a new debtors’ prison for the middle classes in every American town to match the prisons for the poor already planted in the outback.

And as Jude Wanniski points out:

“To make it more difficult for households and businesses to declare bankruptcy to get relief from the deflation only will cause the national crime rate to rise more quickly and sharply. It of course will affect society in other ways, with an increase in the number of divorces and abortions that quickly add up when households are under this kind of economic stress.”

What a dismal pass we have reached in one-party America. These days there are more auto manufacturing jobs in Ontario, Canada, than in Michigan, USA. Why? Canada has a national health plan. Tacitly and sometimes openly, both GM and Ford favor one here in the US, since health is the biggest item on their budgets. Both US senators from Michigan oppose a national health plan. Both are Democrats. That’s the reality of one-party America.

The Republican Senate whip, Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans on the Hill have remarked gleefully that Bush’s social security reform is like three-card monte. While the Democrats circle round in dramatic defensive postured round the old New Deal program, the Republicans drive through the corporate agenda on tort reform and bankruptcy and on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Enough Democrats were with them on that too, with both Hawaiian senators, Inouye and Akaka, throwing their votes in the oil can as usual with the Alaska delegation.

And then in 2010 a Democrat can “fix” Social Security.
Nepal, the King and the Maoists

Dear editors of CounterPunch,

I am deeply shocked and saddened that CounterPunch has published such a grossly royalist interpretation of events in Nepal in Bhisma Karki’s recent piece in

Under the garb of being a pro-democracy writer, the author of this piece has basically justified the anti-democratic coup by Nepal’s king

I am not a Nepali, neither have i ever been or am at present, the member of any Nepali political or other organisation. I am an Indian journalist and write on the basis of my experiences while on a recent visit to Nepal.

At that time i managed to visit some areas with significant Maoist presence, both military and political. I also stayed in Kathmandu for many days and met a whole cross section of its civil society.

At no place in Nepal did I find one person who spoke well of the King. Well, to correct myself, except for the superintendent of police in a Maoist-controlled district and the press secretary to the King, NOT ONE person had a good word to say about the Nepal king. That included a range of people from top journalists, leaders of democratic political parties to taxi drivers, unorganized workers, human rights activists and people on the street.

The number and extent of human rights abuses committed by the king’s armed forces (using guns given by the U.S. and Indian governments to fight
the Maoists) could fill many many of your webpages. No one who has visited Nepal and not kept his/her eyes firmly shut could ever support what the king has done/is doing, as your author does.

While many people I met greatly disliked the Maoists’ cavalier attitude towards democracy and democratic processes and disagreed with
their strategy and tactics, very very few put them on the same scale of comparison as the king. In fact the regular opinion I heard in
Nepal was that the democratic parties and the Maoists shared much in common and should unite to oust the king. and all this before the king’s coup!

How on earth does Mr. Karki say that the democratic parties and the king are on one side and the Maoists on the other!!

Just look up the website and you will see how active is the democracy movement in Nepal and what actually the situation is, as compared to Mr. Karki’s fairy tale.

Lala Popat Lal
On Muslim Practices

Jenna Orkin writes to us about the responses to her “Memories of a Kawaggi (Westerner) in Saudi

Many protested the explanation someone gave me as to why Muslim women don’t take their husband’s name there. To correct the record on that, below is an excerpt from one letter by Ann Ronayne, a Muslim woman living in the Gulf:

“In this region, when a child (girl or boy) is born, only a first name is chosen for them, because the rest of their name is automatically determined. The second name is their father’s first name, the third name is the grandfather’s first name, etc., with the family name at the end. Ms. Orkin is certainly not alone in misunderstanding this; most of the Western media seems unaware of what these names represent. For example, the name “Saddam Hussein” indicates that Saddam’s father’s first name was Hussein; Hussein is not Saddam’s last name… so his sons were Uday Saddam Hussein and Qusay Saddam Hussein.

Anyway, ties of kinship are very important to Muslims, and these ties can be traced back simply by looking at someone’s name. It wouldn’t make sense for a woman to change her last name, since she would then be attributing fatherhood to her father-in-law. Muslim women find it strange that American women change their identities again and again when they marry and divorce.

The idea that the wife is not “worthy” of her husband’s name isn’t even logical. After all, she has the same last name as her male relatives. And her husband’s female relatives have the same last name as he does. As a matter of fact, many Saudis marry within their tribes, so the man and woman often have the same last names anyway……”

After reading Ms. Ronayne’s letter I realized that it would be reasonable to say that in the West, until recently, a woman has not been considered worthy of passing on her own name to her children.

Ms. Ronayne also provided an enlightening and humbling explanation of Muslim hygiene:

“…. it’s true that Muslims don’t urinate standing up. It’s a matter of cleanliness; one must be pure of filth – for example, urine – before every prayer. If they urinated while standing, there’s a good chance that some urine would drip on them or their clothes. We also wash their private parts with water after urinating, and bathrooms typically have bidets, hoses near the toilet, or water jugs. From what I understand, squatting to use the toilet is much better for us anyway, as is done with Arabic toilets (and many styles of toilets around the world). Since I was a 35-year-old American woman when I became Muslim, I have tried both ways and I can confirm that washing with water is much more hygienic.

“Muslims are sometimes surprised to find out that Americans don’t use water. They also are amazed when they see scenes in films where men stand next to each other at urinals. For one thing, a practicing Muslim wouldn’t uncover his private parts in front of others, except his wife. The other thing is that the men in the movies usually just zip up, and walk out of the bathroom without eve washing their hands, which is quite shocking).”

Footnote: My initial observations on the three-card monte game being played on Capitol Hill first appeared in The print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday. Unlike my attack on Arnold Schwarzenegger two weeks earlier, my thoughts on the one-party state was not featured on The Nation’s cover.






Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.