by Pete Karman
Central CT Chapter Green Party 

Yes, Ralph, there really is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. For eight years, the Clinton Democrats favored anyone rich over anyone not rich. Now, the Bush II Republicans are favoring a select few of the rich over the rest of the rich and, of course, the rest of us. Since being installed by five Supreme Court justices and reassured by the Democrats that they would provide only token opposition, the Cheney-Bush administration has launched an extraordinary effort to concentrate the nation’s vast wealth in the clutches those who batten off the energy and defense sectors of the economy.

Consider California, by itself the world’s sixth largest economy. In recent months, prices for electricity there have soared from $140 to as much as $1900 per MWH. In 1999, Californians paid $7 billion annually for their power. This year, their bill is expected to top $50 billion. This amounts to a direct transfer from the pockets of every individual, business and public institution in that hugestate to a handful of mostly Texas-based energy companies, who, coincidentally, form the core of Cheney-Bush’s corporate backers. Meanwhile, retail gasoline prices are zooming again across the nation.

And the only real shortage of energy is that of the news media who are content to offer every answer but the obvious on for why electricity in Fresno and fill-ups in Fort Wayne are ever more expensive: because energy companies are charging whatever the traffic will bear, with a wink and anod from the White House. They are gouging tens of billions out of Americans, be they Silicon Valley moguls or suburban burger flippers, simply because they can get away with it. Or consider the new administration’s space wars initiative. In recent days, Donald Rumsfeld, the retro-rocket defense secretary, has seriously begun pushing his infinity-based scheme to militarize the heavens. He proposes that we spend unending billions of dollars on weapons to defend us from out-of-the-world threats by virtual enemies. It hardly matters whether they’re Koreans or Klingons, Iraqis or incubi. And who cares whether our galactic gizmos actually work? The idea is to start transferring those infinite billions to the accounts of Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other big time contributors. No less a conservative that General Douglas MacArthur explained space wars-type boondoggles back in 1957 thusly: Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind the government by furnishing it with the exorbitant sums demanded.

Yet in retrospect these disasters seem never quite to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.” Or consider the parting shot of Pentagon analyst Ivan Selin from 1966: Welcome to the world of strategic analysis where we program weapons that don’t work to meetthreats that don’t exist. On the economic front, it has become clear that the swiftly enacted Cheney-Bush tax cut is not designed to benefit the run of the mill rich as much as it is to provide a bonanza for the 400 or so wealthiest American families. Indeed, those in the lowest ranks of the affluent--the $100,000 to $325,000 a year level--should not expect much tax benefit at all. However, those up there in in the $10 million-a-year and higher range will be able to buy that second Lear Jet or yacht from the Washington windfall. Apart from making the ultra rich all the richer, the complimentary aim of the Bush tax cut is to increasingly starve the government of revenues so that it will be ever less able to fund health, education, social or infrastructure progams that benefit the many. As usual, Washington’s money spigot for the corporate class will remain wide open.

Another vital and obvious question about which the media and the Democrats remain clueless is what this massive new concentration of wealth portends for the future. With an economic slowdown building and the stock market stumbling, assets are become ever cheaper. This gives the flush energy producers a terrific opportunity to buy up big chunks of corporate America at fire sale prices. In other words, are we, whether computer barons or burger flippers all going to end up working for Exxon-Mobil? Typically, the Democrats are avoiding such heavy issues. They mounted only a token fight against the tax bill, for which they received token concessions from the Republicans. In the midst of this staged battle, maverick Vermont Republican Senator James Jeffords decided to throw in his lot with the Dems by quitting the GOP and declaring himself an independent. This about-face allowed the Democrats to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 1995. The Democrats could have wielded their sudden power to demand further concessions from or even stop the Bush tax bill. They chose rather to let the White House have its way. The bill passed with 48 Republican votes, including that of the sel-proclaimed independent Jeffords, plus 12Democratic votes.

Regardless of which party gets the bigger offices and longer limousines that are among the perks of Congressional leadership, it’s obvious that ever more concentrated segments of big business holds the real majority on Capital Hill. For their part, the Republican lawmakers proudly proclaim their loyalty to private rather than public America, even while taking salaries and wallowing the trappings of power provided by a government for which they have open contempt. The Democrats, forever slumming, pretend soft hearts for the downtrodden and swear that they hate noting more than injustice--except, of course, justice. They remind me ever of my long gone father’s definition of politicians: spit in their eye, and they’ll tell you it’s raining. Cynics are already saying that the rise of the Senate Democrats is a trap waiting to be sprung. The Republicans, in full control of the White House and Congress until Jeffords’ defection, no longer have to take sole responsibility for a worsening economy and rising energy prices. In the next election, they can argue that the country was just hunky-dory from Bush’s inauguration in January until May, when the Democrats stole the Senate and screwed the country up again. It’s utter nonsense, which unfortunately not usually a negative in the realm of politics.

If you just go by the numbers, the Republicans control the White House and the House of Representatives while the Democrats now control the Senate by a single vote margin. If you o by reality, hard-line conservatives still control all three power centers. Their legislative opposition, if you can call it that, consists of a handful of relatively principled Democratic liberals torn between wavering and fighting an uphill battle not only the hard right but also against the corrupt, go-along-to-get-along standard bearers of their party.

Interestingly, the first real opposition to the Bush right is most likely to come from those large and varied business interests now expected to sacrifice at the altar of the energy and defense sectors. It’s plain that that there’s already a scrap being waged between Fortune 500companies with major investments in China and the Rumsfield crowd who seem willing to put those investments at threat by restarting the Cold War with Beijing as the new bogey man. Meanwhile on the left coast, California governor Gray Davis, a Democrat with now fading presidential prospects, has taken to lambasting “Texas energy interests” for the horrific run-up of energy prices in his state. You can be sure that business-oriented Davis has his wealth backers rather than workers in mind in this effort. Why should the agriculture, electronic and entertainment industries, the bases of the California have to ship billions to Houston and Dallas. Here in New England, the stakes are not quite as high as yet. But our turn will come.

Pete Karman is a member of the Central CT Green Party

Style Notes:

The Democrats are now in control of the U.S. Senate thanks to a switch in loyalties by Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who quit the Republican Party and opted for independence with a nod to to the Democrats. How much of a real change will this make? Don’t expect much.

When you get right down to it, Democrats and Republicans have two different negotiating styles. The Dems start with compromise, then quickly move to concession and finally capitulation. The Reps begin with contempt, move onto combat and finish off with conquest.