by Jan Baughman
"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts."
—John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
(Swans - August 23, 2010) On those magical occasions when Mestor, our canine companion, joyously accompanies me in the car, I watch him with his head out the window observing the scenery passing by and wonder what he processes when he sees a deer, a flock of sheep, the green hillsides. We are both enjoying the experience from our respective perspectives, but the surroundings symbolize something completely different to each of us, with words and concepts that I register and that he cannot comprehend any more than I can fathom their representation to him. It is like trying to imagine being blind or deaf and understanding the concepts of colors and sounds without the shared experience of the seeing and hearing. That is the degree to which today's society appears to be divided along vastly disparate perspectives, while occupying the identical environment and witnessing the identical events transpiring in the world.
We ensure tax cuts for the wealthy and afford civil rights to corporations, while middle-class wages continue their 30-plus year decline and civil rights for actual humans are being surrendered in the name of security. How does a segment of Americans, struggling as a whole and not making enough money to benefit from the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, oppose letting them expire out of fear that it will affect them too? You don't raise taxes in a recession, as the propaganda goes -- it could weaken the (nonexistent) recovery. Actually, Warren Buffet, one of the world's wealthiest, is in favor of tax increases on the wealthy, but has he offered to donate a larger piece of his pie to the government? In fact, forty US billionaires, including Buffet and Bill Gates, pledged on August 4 to donate at least half of their wealth... to charity (Buffet is reportedly planning to give away 99% of his wealth), when instead they should donate a large portion to the very government that enabled their prosperity, letting all Americans benefit, rather than feeding the philanthropic organizations that perpetuate capitalism, as Michael Barker has documented repeatedly in these pages.
The disconnect is not new. We've been brainwashed for years to fear the "death" tax that would impoverish our progenitors, particularly those of farmers, when we die. How many of us even have an estate to pass along, or even know a family farmer -- we don't even know where our food comes from, whether an industrial farm in the U.S., or China, or Mexico. Family farms have been destroyed in this country, but it is corporations, not the inheritance tax, that have destroyed them. And yet, how many of us know someone who's been laid off, lost their home, is burdened by medical bills, is borrowing against their house or their kid's college fund to pay for private school because the public system is so pitiful that they fear their child won't get into college?
In his December 2009 speech justifying the Afghanistan surge, President Obama perpetuated the disconnect:
We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions -- from the United Nations to NATO to the world bank -- that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.
We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades -- a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, and markets open, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress and advancing frontiers of human liberty.
Where exactly are those billions we lifted out of poverty? There are 6.8 billion people on this planet, and 1.02 billion, 15% of the population, are estimated to be undernourished and the number is only rising. In the U.S. alone (with 310 million), 50 million have inadequate access to food, 17 million of whom are children. As for the forgotten homeless in America (3.5 million, of whom 1.4 million are children), funding cuts continue unabated. The homeless don't have lobbyists. A belated thank you, Uncle Sam, for your unappreciated efforts.
As for the global security that we've underwritten for six decades, well, the statistics, if you can find them, speak for themselves as the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to escalate along with buried -- literally and figuratively -- civilian casualties. What will happen to the Afghan people if we withdraw, asks the pro-warriors. We don't care about them -- we don't understand them any more than we understood the Iraqi people and culture before we destroyed them in the name of saving them. We are not fighting this war for the Afghan people, we are fighting for our own -- at least that fraction of our own that profits from its spoils.
It's impossible to fathom the mindset that accepts -- and even defends -- to be impoverished, malnourished, left homeless or foreclosed upon, fighting wars that are manufactured to feed the military-industrial complex, with civil liberties and social programs diminishing, education withering, while the wealthy systematically pilfer every dollar they can, and their government's military spending continues unabated without checks, balances, accountability, or even simple accounting. It is as if we are slaves, defending the merits of slavery without even seeing the shackles on our very ankles...
Pondering all this, I realize I have a better understanding of what goes through Mestor's mind when he sees a deer, a flock of sheep, or the green hillsides. He certainly knows danger when he sees it. He knows whom to trust and whom to sniff out and size up, and whose seemingly caring words are genuine, not empty platitudes. We could all use a bit of that canine intuition these days...
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