By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
The recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri and the spontaneous protests across the United States – spurred by a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson – are among the many things telling us that not all is going well for the American people.
The widespread civil unrest stems, at the very least, from frustration over perceived unfairness in the handling of the case: the prosecutor did not recommend an indictment. Worse, it confirms the underlying feeling among the black population that racial discrimination, or white racism, is still pervasive under Barack Obama, the first African-American president.
Note: The grand jury consisted of 9 white and 3 black members. They met weekly in secret over three months to hear testimonies – including that of the police officer-suspect, without cross-examination. He reportedly testified that he was terrified because the victim had looked “like a demon.”
Yes, more than 40 years after the civil rights movement shook both the US political establishment and social institutions, white racism continues to afflict multiracial America. A Huffington Post poll of 1,000 adults is telling: only 22% of whites believed that the policeman was at fault in the Ferguson shooting, as against 62% of African-Americans who thought so.
That’s not all. The feeling of racial discrimination runs deep vis-à-vis the yawning economic and social inequality spawned by neoliberal globalization. Among non-white Americans, blacks struggle hardest to survive with the lowest incomes and the worst living conditions.
A recent Federal Reserve study broadly shows that between 2010 and 2013, the inflation-adjusted incomes of the bottom 90% of Americans fell, whereas the earnings of the top10% rose. Thus the inequality widened.
The unfairness of it all is exacerbated by the tax breaks generously provided by the US federal government – mainly under Republican Party administrations – to the highest-earning Americans.
According to Wall Street executive Steven Rattner, in an International New York Times opinion piece titled “Inequality in America,” in 1995 the 400 taxpayers with the biggest incomes paid an average of 30% in taxes. By 2009, he points out, the same biggest earners paid an average tax rate of only 20% (ordinary employees’ tax rate: 35%).
“Lower taxes mean less for government to spend on programs to help those near the bottom,” says Rattner. He proceeds to show that, compared with rich countries in Europe, the US spends less for welfare programs, such as early childhood education and care, national health insurance, disability insurance, unemployment benefits, and retirement payments.
All told, social spending in America – the world’s biggest economy: GDP at $17 trillion but with the same amount in national debt – is below the average of that of the wealthiest countries. These governments “help their less-fortunate citizens to a greater extent than [America does] in ways that are not captured in the income statistics.”
Although crediting Obama for trying to keep income disparities from widening further by “forcing tax rates on the wealthiest Americans up towards fair levels,” Rattner says “much more can and should be done, like raising the minimum wage nationwide.” Also he concedes it will be harder and will take longer time to help those in the middle class “whose incomes have been battered by globalization.”
A third arena where the US is doing worse is national security, which is moored to and mired in its 13-years-and-going “war on terror.” George W. Bush started the war by invading Afghanistan in late 2001, then Iraq in 2003. Obama won the presidency in 2009 on a promise to end the twin wars.
The Afghan and Iraq wars have cost the American people a whopping $6 trillion (or $75,000 per household), as computed by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
In terms of US soldiers killed in the two wars, the Pentagon acknowledged 6,133 casualties by 2011, of which 4,400 died in Iraq. The number of physically wounded, disabled, or mentally afflicted (many have committed suicide) could be 6-10 times more than those killed.
Initially fulfilling his promise, Obama had all US troops withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, leaving behind 60,000 civilian advisers and personnel to support a government the US military had organized. Yet today, at least 3,000 American troops are back there, purportedly to advise and train Iraqi soldiers and militias.
Verily the US is back to war, mainly through systematic aerial bombing, in Iraq. The new enemy is the Islamic State, an al-Qaida offshoot whose forces have seized a huge slice of northwestern Iraq and part of Syria. (Ironically, the key IS leaders started recruiting members while they were detained in US military prisons in Iraq.)
When the IS forces swept into Iraq in June, the latter’s corruption-ridden army – trained and armed by the US at the cost of $25 billion – easily disintegrated.
What of Afghanistan? Obama has reneged on his promised troop pullout by end-December 2014. He has authorized 9,800 US troops, along with 3,000 NATO soldiers, to stay until 2015 to carry out combat missions against “militant groups.”
The targets include the Taliban, whose rule the US had overthrown but which has regained its previous strength, threatening the wobbly government installed by the Americans. Déjà vu.
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Published in The Philippine Star
November 29, 2014