Because language is so often used these days to confuse and obfuscate rather than to clarify and define it is difficult, but more important than ever that voters dig feverishly beneath the surface of prevailing information sources. Getting at the truth is confounded by an avalanche of banter and disinformation that consumes much network and cable air time as well as newsprint – – such is the ongoing challenge for all of us.
In an appearance on a recent Washington Journal, James Dorn of The Cato Institute provided some insight into the mind-set of right-wing conservatives. Callers who spoke of job losses to overseas companies were told that often those losses were due to expensive union contracts that left US businesses less competitive in world markets. But should American workers have to lower their living standards in order to compete with third-world or emerging economies where working conditions and pay scales fall far below ours? What convoluted thought process dismisses the needs and expectations of ordinary Americans as if they were robotic nonentities on the fringes of society?
A global economy it may be, but surely US workers have a right to expect that trading partners be held to some semblance of fair-labor practices. Mr. Dorn said that cheap merchandise flooding Wal-Mart, for example, means consumers can fill their shopping carts more cheaply. As for our huge trade imbalance with one of the largest providers of cheap goods, China, he said we should be glad China is willing to underwrite our national debt by purchasing government paper. It seems odd that such a quid pro quo business model is acceptable in commerce-driven Cato World. For we are hardly the masters of our fate when foreign countries undercut our labor force and our conduct is influenced by governments who, well, kind of own us.
As consumers of news we are awash in talking points not only from ideologues like Mr. Dorn but from foreign initiates as well. The remarks of an Iraqi government spokesman last week sound so much like those of the president as to be almost indistinguishable.. ‘If America can secure Baghdad we can undertake our own security and stabilize our government’ – – in time he said. It’s the “in time” shudder step that causes concern. Disregarding the original decision to invade, there is so much wrong with the conduct of the war and so many problems created in the wake of our invasion, it is hard to imagine a positive outcome. That is unless “in time” means a permanent, costly commitment. And far from ameliorating regional concerns, our actions have exacerbated Middle East tensions and made players in the region increasingly agitated about our intentions.
And what we should know is often kept hidden from us. A recent interview with a congresswoman revealed that the actions of Blackwater Security forces in Iraq are never discussed by the administration nor is Blackwater funding distinct from that of the regular military. Originally this company was said to provide security for various contractors, but today many thousands of what has become a legion of mercenaries acting in our name but unaccountable to our leadership are actively engaged in combat operations.
The urge of the Bush administration to privatize everything from Social Security to our war-making capability to veterans’ care is a disturbing trend. And there is no proof that private competition produces cost savings or better service,far from it. At Walter Reed the result was a depleted support staff that may have cut a few financial corners but failed to fulfill its main function of proper after-care for wounded veterans. In the case of Social Security no-one has yet explained how private accounts could be established without adding to the national debt or to what extent private investment firms would be involved.
But Blackwater represents perhaps the scariest departure from national normalcy with its status as a para-military force answerable only to its corporate managers but hired by our government to perform a variety of functions. Blackwater details patrolled the streets of New Orleans after Katrina, for example, at enormously inflated salaries with little or no accountability or oversight. Enlisting the services of this shadowy group of militants should be of grave concern to Congress and the American people.
That a private military entity should ever patrol the streets of this country or represent us by the thousands abroad seems profoundly un-American. That we are purposely un-informed about this means that, with a few exceptions, the media and our representatives in Congress have failed to expose the level of Blackwater involvement in our affairs. The new Congress shows signs of challenging this back-door establishment of a mercenary contingent with Republican ties dispatched at the pleasure of the president. If such unfettered power doesn’t strike fear into our collective heart nothing can.
Every day brings some newly discovered corruption or weakness within this administration. It is hard keeping up, but luckily there are still investigative reporters and conscientious legislators with whom we should connect to express our concerns and our support for the work they do to ensure that our country remains dedicated to the principles that form the bedrock of our most important institutions.

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