January 26th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: The magic of Middle Earth

Editorial: Argentina - from role model to basket case

Al Qaeda network must be destroyed

Policy not structure the problem for National Party

Industry policy behind Celtic Tiger's success

Straws in the Wind: Great Helmsmen: past and present / A tale of two branches

Anti-war protests leave Melbourne cold

Media: When the Left calls for time-out

Letter: Exports and imports

Letter: Alcohol abuse

Trade: APEC’s demise paves the way for China’s free trade pact

United States: Year of the Right?

Japan: a nation in search of a role

History: Roosevelt’s timeless wisdom

Books promotion page

United States: Year of the Right?

by Bob Browning

News Weekly, January 26, 2002

Among the customary News Year’s Day predictions was one published in the UK Guardian, reproduced in the Melbourne Age. The year 2002, according to George Monbiot, would be the Year of the Right. Virtually everyone, he claimed, agreed that the Left was on the run.

Similar sentiments are being expressed across a range of social democratic publications. Most see America as the crucial factor in the global shift.

American hegemony is now a fact. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union left the US the world’s only superpower. Then, following September 11, the war against terrorism gave US President Bush unheard of domestic public approval on foreign policy issues. In Monbiot’s view, the Bush administration now has the confidence - some would say arrogance - as well as the military and economic might to "drag governments everywhere still further to the right".

The left-wing New Statesman agrees. The terrorist attacks on the American homeland, it argues (January 7, 2002), initially seemed to reveal a new American weakness and vulnerability. Actually it heralded a new, and in the New Statesman’s view, quite alarming American strength and confidence:

"The American performance, military and diplomatic, has been awesome. No US soldier has been lost on the battlefield. No government has dared openly to criticise the US campaign or to refuse co-operation. Arab street protests, such as they were, have faded away.

"The continuing US bombing raids - with the usual claims and counter-claims about civilian casualties - scarcely attract comment ...".

No power in history has been in the position that America now enjoys. The US has no effective rivals abroad and no dissent at home.

Hopefully the US will act with wisdom and restraint in the general interest - not merely in its own perceived national interests, nor in the narrower special interests of its dominate elites. But what guarantees do we have? One is cautioned by the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The US not only remains aloof from the United Nations, but it opposes international treaties on such issues as war crimes and arms control. New Statesman (December 10, 2001) goes as far as to say:

"Over the past two decades, the US has perverted the international bodies we have into tools for the advancement of American business interests. This administration is dominated by the corporate sector; it believes that politics should be subordinate to economics.

"US policies on global warming, arms control, the UN, an international criminal court and world trade - to mention just a few - do not suggest a nation committed to building an ethical world order".

The US can, and might overthrow Saddam Hussein whenever it wishes. Few doubt that it will conduct various sorts of military or aggressive "intelligence" operations in other countries around the world ranging from Somalia to the Philippines and Indonesia. Bush has already reversed the 1976 US ban on state-sponsored assassinations abroad, and the use of torture in the interrogation of terrorist suspects has been publicly contemplated.

The Enron Affair

Will the future exercise of America’s unequalled military and economic power be used in the best interests of the global community? Or will it increasingly advance the special interests of US-based Business?

The Enron affair - the latest American politico-corporate scandal - hardly encourages relaxed confidence in the superpower’s ruling elite. This is especially so when the Enron debacle follows incidents of the US breaking the free trade rules it imposes on other countries whenever it needs to appease its more powerful domestic lobbies - as Australia well knows.

Enron was one of the world’s largest energy trading corporations. At its peak it was the seventh-largest company in America. Shortly before Christmas, it filed for bankruptcy. The New York Times (January 10, 2002) described it as the biggest bankruptcy mess in US history.

Enron is known to have been George Bush’s No. 1 career patron. Its campaign contributions and aggressive lobbying tactics were well known on Capitol Hill. In the run up to the US Presidential elections during 1999-2001 alone, it made $1.9 million in soft money political contributions, most of it going to the Bush Republicans.

Enron was the country’s strongest proponent of deregulation of the electric utility industry and played a key role in the development of the Bush energy plan - a plan that affects US foreign policy, as in the US rejection of the Kyoto Treaty. The company generally got its way on crucial legislative votes. Its lobbying expenses during 2001 exceeded $2 million, and included a stable of lobbyists and consultants such as former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed. Vice President Dick Cheney reluctantly disclosed during the resulting controversy that Enron executives met with him or his aides at least six times when the Bush Administration, with Cheney in charge, was putting together the national energy policy.

Corporate ethics

Enron shareholders have launched a massive legal suit alleging that Enron’s 29 executives and directors "dumped $1.1 billion worth of stock while knowing the company was in danger of collapse". The suit accuses Enron of perpetrating "one of the most serious securities frauds in history." NYT commented (January 10, 2002) that Enron’s directors and executives had:

"ferociously exploited their gilt-edged political connections and harvested breathtaking amounts of cash for themselves, even as the company was collapsing ... Left behind were thousands of ordinary working men and women, people with families and obligations, who lost jobs, life savings, pensions, the works. And more carnage is to come".

Insiders unloaded hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of stock while rank-and-file Enron employees were locked into rules that left many of them helpless as the stock’s value nose-dived from more than $90 a share to less than $1. Rank and file employees were blocked from selling company shares in their own retirement portfolios, even as the price plunged.

Fourteen of the top 100 officials in the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld, owned Enron shares, according to the Centre for Public Integrity’s online special analysis (January 11, 2002). Examination of the Bush administration’s personal financial disclosure forms revealed that the largest Enron shareholders were the senior adviser to the President, Karl Rove, and the Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers.

Among the CPI report’s other significant findings was that the largest sector in which the Bush Administration is invested is the energy sector. Overall Bush’s team have 221 investments worth $144.6 million.


The future of America - and hence the world - depends on whether American institutions have the capacity to contain the siren song of massive power at a time when the public are both outraged and fearful. America’s founding fathers were knowing of human nature when they argued: "Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down with the chains of the Constitution".

The question is whether those chains are still strong enough to keep the exercise of power within bounds and adequately directed in the world’s interest?

In his Guardian article, George Monbiot argued that constitutional and other socially protective institutions are being eroded by "the atomisation of society". He thinks broadly-based, participatory political parties, trade unions and other such institutions are withering, and that:

"The absence of effective mass action has enabled tiny numbers of people to capture much of the world’s wealth, and tiny populations of target voters to capture the attentions of government".

The inexorable march of capitalist individualism may be rendering many institutional safeguards and outlets obsolete. In the recent past, collectivism was a principal source of social oppression. Now the opposite may apply?

  • Bob Browning

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